In June 2021, India Walton scored a major upset victory over four-term incumbent Byron Brown in the Buffalo NY Democratic mayoral primary. And the recent endorsement of the Erie Country Democratic committee has cemented her as the party’s official candidate as she prepares for the upcoming November election. Her most visible opponent will again be Byron Brown — as he attempts to promote a write-in campaign to retain his current post.
I’ve been lucky enough to photograph India on two separate occasions. The first was before her I’ve been lucky enough to photograph India on two separate occasions. The first was before her mayoral campaign kicked off – when she was serving as the executive director of the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust and working as a NICU Nurse (while also serving as a union rep). I was tasked by Buffalo Spree to photograph India as part of an issue focused on community organizers and influencers.
The second time I got to photograph her (which resulted in the above image) was during the early months of the Pandemic when Spree again featured her — this time in a series of portraits of social justice activists in Buffalo. Soon after this, India announced her intention to run against Brown for mayor and later left her positions in nursing and with the land trust to focus on policy development and campaigning. India’s victory over a candidate who outspent and out-fundraised her and who ultimately refused to debate her made national headlines. My images of her have since appeared in several national publications – including the New York Times. India also got some well-deserved shout-outs from important progressive political figures, including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who have given India their support.
If she wins in November, India will become a lot of firsts for this city — the first woman mayor, the youngest mayor since the 19th century, and the city’s first Democratic Socialist Mayor (not to mention the first democratic socialist mayor of any major city since the 1960s). She is running unopposed on the ballot – facing only a potential write-in challenge from Brown.
A website is great, but there’s nothing quite like sitting down with a photo editor or art director and actually going over your work face-to-face. The chance to get feedback, share stories, and build genuine rapport has helped me develop long lasting relationships with many clients. I miss these meetings and getting to catch up with my friends in the magazine and advertising world.
Sadly, I haven’t been on many portfolio showings due to the global pandemic during the past year. But I’ve been searching for ways to create a facsimile of this experience that will mesh well with the Zoom calls I now make every week instead of in-person meetings
Enter Issuu. Back in the day, I was one of the editors of a small independent style and music publication called Auxiliary Magazine. We used Issuu as a cost-effective way to distribute a digital version of each issue to readers. I’ve used it over the years for promos and small collections of personal travel work. But as of today (at least for the rest of this year), Issuu will be entirely replacing my print portfolio.
Using a glass of whiskey as a lighting gel was a new one for me, but it seemed appropriate for a portrait of Tim Stevens – The owner of such mainstay bars in Buffalo, NY as Lucky Day Whiskey Bar, Ballyhoo, and Graylynn (as well as Dram Box, a mobile bar and cocktail catering service)
After spending some time in San Diego as the head bartender at Prohibition, Tim returned to Buffalo. He soon opened Ballyhoo – the first of his three bars in the city. Ballyhoo quickly garnered praise for its super accessible menu of cocktails, lack of pretension, and delicious sausages and sides. Over the next few years, he followed up with the whiskey-focused Lucky Day, and the gin-focused Graylynn – each with their own unique vibe and flavor. Each of the three spots feels like a fully formed institution in its own right. Besides the fact that one can count on stellar service and libations from each of these businesses, they are wholly unique from one another.
I had heard of Tim long before I got the chance to photograph him or even have a drink at one of his many fine establishments — primarily thanks to Aaron Ingrao, a fellow photographer. He, for years, has been working on a project focused on chronicling the evolving history of the American Craft Cocktail movement called Keepers of the Craft. Tim’s name was one that Aaron brought up often and with great reverence.
I just found out that my portrait of David Brugh of Crockett and Co. was named a finalist in the 2020 One Eyeland Awards. This portrait was taken as part of an eyewear feature in Buffalo Spree Magazine which featured David among other local figures like Dr. Jaquelyn Malcolm, Harper Bishop, Alexa Wajed, Linda Mesi, Michael Poczkalski, and Deb Habes. I’ve included the other images from the series below.
Waxlight Bar à Vin is a wine-focused restaurant in Buffalo, NY’s Black Rock Neighborhood. Owned and operated by a supergroup of some of the city’s most daring and forward-thinking culinary, wine, and cocktail minds. If this team were a band – they’d fall somewhere between Mad Season and the Traveling Wilburys. Each of the members brings a strong following of their own, having worked in various storied establishments across the US and globally. Edward Forster, Joseph Fenush, Jess Railey, Tony Rials, and Jeff Yannuzzi have created a space where people can both enjoy themselves and explore the unique aspects of taste and experience that this team crafts with a total lack of pretension. I don’t know many places where the staff, let alone the owners (one and the same here), will gladly nerd out with you about the finer details of the food and drink they’re serving.
Just reading over some of their menu items has me drooling right now. I should never write about restaurants I’ve photographed when I’m hungry.
Bomb Squad Boxing is a great community program aiming to prevent violence through boxing and provide guidance and mentorship to those who come to their evening workouts. I first met coaches Terry Williams and John Elmore when I worked on a cover story for Super Lawyers magazine that featured John’s involvement with the program and his day-to-day work as an attorney. I got to know several of the participants during my visits and wanted to come back to do something in-depth for the program that they could use to help raise awareness about what they do for the community.
My team and I created this series of portraits of the attendees of an evening training session at BSB in a single night. Sadly the Covid-19 Pandemic has put many of the group’s activities on hold for the time being, but I hope that once they can reopen that I will be able to return and expand this project further.
Just weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the US and everything more or less shut down for a few months, I was lucky to get to squeeze one last trip out of 2020. I spent a week in Havana, Cuba —staying in a hostel that doubled as a convent and was run by the nuns. I spent my days and nights exploring Havana and the surrounding areas — meeting other photographers, artists, dancers, boxers, fishers, farmers, and chefs. I loved photographing this historic city — however briefly.
Then I got home, and everything changed. My 2020 calendar got wiped clean, as almost every assignment and project I had that involved international travel got put on hold or outright canceled. I kept busy shooting small local advertising jobs and headshots for several months and put completing these images on the back burner for too long. But as 2020 turned into 2021, I decided that it was time to sit down and revisit the rest of this library of images, finish the collection, and share them — It felt like the right time finally.
After spending the last year homebound, I miss travel. I’ve been looking back fondly on this last trip: Early morning coffee on the Plaza Vieja, getting demolished by a giant wave while I was walking along the Malecon, incredible food and drinks at the Paladares I ate at, navigating the narrow and rickety network of docks that seemed to go on forever at Cojimar village, and spending several nights at my new favorite bar — El Dandy.
Hopefully, when things return to some semblance of normalcy, I’ll get to make a more substantial return trip to create more of these portraits of Havana. In the meantime — enjoy!
I wanted to let you know what I’ve been up to since the Covid-19 pandemic has put many of the projects I had lined up for 2020 on hold. I’ve still been working (albeit on smaller, less travel-oriented projects), spending a lot of time with my kids (which has been one of the small silver linings I’ve been able to say that the last year has given me). I’ve been spending a lot of time re-examining my creative philosophy as well as my relationship with technology.
It’s focused on my addition to pens, paper, stationery, and all things related to analog creativity. Tools that help me think, create, and make without being tethered to my computer or phone 24/7
I spent the last several years of my creative life either on set, on a plane, or sitting in front of a computer — either retouching photographs or developing new workshop materials. I was attached to digital devices at all times to manage my schedule, communications, and even to organize my thoughts. When the first lockdown went into effect, I had just returned from a trip to Cuba (a return visit is high on my priority list once I can do so safely). But soon after I got home, the world became a very different place.
Dealing with massive anxiety issues, being unable to grieve or gain a sense of closure regarding those I had lost properly, and being cut off from most of my family in Canada due to border closures was mentally and emotionally taxing. And without my regular outlets of social interaction, travel, and the personal photographic projects that I use to balance my corporate and advertising workloads left me with little more to do in my evening hours than compulsively doom-scroll the news or binge Netflix.
As someone who has often described themselves as “chronically allergic to boredom,” I was ready to crack; I knew that I needed to make a positive change to pull myself out of this funk. I also knew that I needed to throw myself back into something to give my listless creative energy some focus and motivation — so for the first time in years (and at the suggestion of my wife, Erin, who had been pushing me to do it for ages), I started to keep a daily journal again. At first, it was to track habits that I wanted to institute during quarantine to give myself some structure: Did I exercise today? Go outside? Read? Meditate?
It helped to keep me accountable during a time when the days all started to seem to blend into one — but it quickly grew into a habit of its own. Suddenly I had two journals — one for daily task tracking and accountability and one that served more as a traditional diary. I also kept stacks of legal pads and open notebooks around the house to record thoughts, creative inspiration, reminders, and more. I went from being an Evernote power user to maybe logging into the site once a month or so to reference a note from a few years back.
I started to realize that keeping a paper journal and writing with a pen in hand was beginning to alleviate that anxiety and restlessness I had been feeling. It helped me regain a sense of connectedness and became a therapeutic outlet — a place to dump all the mental baggage of the day I didn’t want to carry with me. It was also a key catalyst in reclaiming my creative motivation and restoring order to what at the time was a very, very disordered mind.
My journaling time became something ritualistic and soothing. Sitting down at the table with a favorite playlist and a mug of tea in the morning and evening to write and order my thoughts was a panacea for me. I also started to fall more in love with writing tools — pens are a defined form, a simple concept with a stated and easily understood purpose. But within the parameters of that construct, I have come to appreciate them as marvels of engineering, innovation, craft, artistic expression, and in the case of some vintage pens — tangible artifacts of history that still have practical use and purpose. I went from almost exclusively using a keyboard to record my thoughts to be the type of person who had a favorite pen (and later to be the type of person who has SEVERAL favorite pens)
They are a lot of fun to write & tinker with, are more environmentally sound than frequently tossing disposable pens away, and are more pleasurable to write with. I love the idea that I can change inks on a whim to suit my mood or the purposes of a letter or journal entry. Fountain pens also suit my writing style and help me be more relaxed when I write, which helps with my legibility and some painful wrist and shoulder problems — I can use far less pressure writing with a fountain pen, which I appreciate.
I also think that some fountain pens’ intended permanence/non-disposability allows you to have real emotional connections with them. I will always cherish my BENU Briolette because it was the first fountain pen my wife gifted to me (and it has a funny story behind it). Some have served as markers of milestones in my life — something I bought myself to commemorate accomplishing a particular personal challenge or crushing significant assignments at work. Some look cool and appeal to the side of me that loves aesthetics (hence my love of Sheaffer pens with inlaid nibs). Others may represent something different entirely — for instance, I’m currently trying to find pens from each of my family members’ birth years: ’44 ’47’ 66′ and ’81 to create something of a family archive in writing)
I like my tools to be useful, engaging, and thought-provoking, but I also want them to feel like they have a purpose. I am not a fan of status buys or flashing around precious pens that you are too afraid to write with. That’s not to say an expensive pen can’t be well designed, a great writer, or stunning, but I’m going to be a lot more concerned with how something writes, feels, and how I connect to it rather than how I relate to its brand cache and marketing.
Where did the name come from?
I’ve disliked my handwriting for years (and there will be several posts on this blog about how I am trying to reteach myself cursive down the line). I also have some nasty shoulder issues (from years of lugging camera bags and lighting cases), so sometimes writing with proper whole arm movements can be painful for me, making me write with my wrist a lot more than I should be. One of the best hacks I’ve found for improving my writing and making it less painful has been to write with a card under my wrist to reduce resistance and let my hand glide a little easier and freer as I write, rather than anchoring it statically in one place. I tend to use playing cards or tarot cards for this. When brainstorming titles with my wife, I was writing with an ace of spades under my hand, which ultimately sparked the idea for The Ace of Pens.
I hope you’ll check out my new blog at theaceofpens.com. I’ll be back next week with some new photographic content focused on my previous Cuba trip next week.
I spent a few weeks in September of last year traveling throughout northern Vietnam, taking pictures and getting to explore a country that has long been on my bucket list. I flew out of Toronto and through Taipai (about 16 hours airtime) before landing in Hanoi to spend a few days getting prepped before I headed further north. I was not at all prepared for how the heat and humidity were going to hit me that first day there – listen when people tell you to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Because after nearly 16 hours on planes in the past day, I was more than a little bit dried out and sleep-deprived. That first day almost took me down after just an hour outside.
After some rest, recovery, and a few liters of water, I found that getting my camera out and wandering was the cure-all it usually is. I hit the city’s old quarter to do some portraiture and street photography – wandering around these busy streets was some of the most fun I had in Hanoi – watching vendors selling from storefronts, curbside stalls, & bicycles, the smells of smoke and cooking meat wafting down the streets, and the shade of giant trees and narrow alleyways giving a respite from the heat and the bustle of commerce for both the residents who congregated in them and myself.
Other highlights of my brief stay in Hanoi included a visit to the Temple of Literature as well as a chance to photograph the residents of and visitors to Train Street – where a few times a day trains speed down this residential street, within mere feet or in some cases inches of clearance between building and pedestrians.
Later that night, I had a chance to experience train street from another point of view – as a passenger on an overnight train to Lao Cai. This was a fun experience, although I didn’t get much actual sleep as I’ve realized that sleeper cars aren’t really designed with the very tall in mind, so I spent a good part of the night with either my feet propped up on a wall to make myself fit while I read, or precariously balanced on the edge of the berth in the fetal position.
Another night of sleep deprivation was worth it, however, because there were so many sights to see on this leg of the trip. From looking out to the window as we sped down Train Street watching the nightlife in the roadside cafes and bars, to seeing the sun come up over foggy lakes and fields as we entered the far north of the country. I remember opening the curtains and looking out the window at one point in the very early morning and feeling like the world had turned black and white overnight, as the heavy fog gave everything a monochromatic vibe that was only sometimes broken by the colorful signs and towns that became more prevalent as we approached our destination of Lao Cai.
After a great breakfast (the first bowl of Pho I got to eat in Vietnam), I paid a quick visit to the border between Lao Cai and Hekou, China, as well as the Den Mau temple which sits within view of both the border crossing as well as the Red River. From there, the next destination was Bac Ha – which would be where I would lodge for the evening.
After checking into the hotel, we headed to the nearby Can Cau market to spend the afternoon shooting many of the vendors and patrons, It was here that tragedy struck when my camera took a fall and tumbled to a rocky demise as it bounced down the stone path a few times. The lens tore entirely off of its own mount and busted up the body as well. It looked like I would be spending the rest of my trip shooting with a single backup body I was loaned (Thanks Robin!) and a single lens (which actually turned out to be a really great experience in the end, as being severely limited in what gear I had access to really led to a bunch of interesting creative choices and improvisations in the coming days)
Can Cau was my first taste of this sort of tightly packed local market. I loved wandering around the stalls that specialized in goods ranging from dried chiles and fermented sauces to fruit, corn whiskey, clothing, toiletries, fish, and meat (not to mention the pots of bubbling soups that reduced and become more intense as the days selling, drinking, and socializing went on) These gatherings were something I got very fond of in the coming days as I visited other markets throughout the region.
Once we returned to Bac Ha in the afternoon, it was time for a brief break and then a long walk up into the hills to visit homes and farms along the way, making a large circuit around the valley before returning to the main town for dinner. We met farmers prepping pigs for market the next day, people distilling corn whiskey, and people slaughtering chickens for that night’s dinner, along with construction workers, children, and farmers loading their day’s harvests onto trucks and motorcycles as their days came to an end.
The next day I awoke early to visit the central market at Bac Ha, a weekly event that seemed to go on forever as it wound through the streets and plazas of the town, each area dedicated to a different type of ware. We started in a small side market that was selling fresh, dried, and preserved produce of all types, as well as hosting a variety of stalls where barbers were plying their trade and giving haircuts in the early morning sun. From there, we moved across a large bridge to the livestock market where huge crowds were buying, selling, and grading various water buffalo. The crowding here was intense, as both patrons and animals worked to push through the masses, it wasn’t unusual to see someone hop up out of the crowd and onto the elevated platforms around the loading bays to escape the throng and get a better view of the animals. I even found myself scrambling up on these ledges and walls for respite on occasion or to navigate around a particular ornery animal. As we left the livestock area, we saw even more animals being loaded off of trucks or being walked to the fair as we started to enter the mid-morning hours.
Next, we paid a visit to one of the small local restaurants surrounding the market for more Pho, and wrapped up our morning of exploring with a final walk through the market’s fish and meat areas – where people were busily haggling for various live fish, cuts of pork, organs, chicken, tripe, and whatever else may have struck their fancy from the stalls that morning.
That wraps up my retelling of the first leg of this amazing trip! I’ll be back soon to share part two of this adventure that takes a look at my visits to the Topas Valley, and Punahou Village and Meo Vac!
I have a great relationship with Buffalo Rising, one of my local clients here in Buffalo. They are a blog dedicated to sharing what’s best about this city — food, art, architecture, and the fantastic social good work that happens in this city. I get to offer a lot of input in regards to the stories that I find most exciting about the people and groups that are doing great things here, and Buffalo Rising has given me a lot of freedom to cover these.
Buffalo has a large refugee population, especially those who have come from countries like Burma, Bhutan, and Somalia. And over the years, several organizations have dedicated themselves to providing entrepreneurial opportunities to these refugees – including the West Side Bazaar, which I’ve covered on this blog before, as well as The Refugee Women’s Workshop at Stitch Buffalo.
Stitch Buffalo provides a means for women from diverse countries, including Bhutan, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Angola, and more, to create and sell handcrafted goods and apparel to the local community. The products are often created by the women at home, as well as during the several times a week workshop sessions at Stitch’s central retail location where they can socialize, collaborate on projects, and learn new techniques and skills from each other.
Over 200 women have participated in the program since its founding, with 40-50 artists being active at any given time. The community that has sprung up around the workshop is vibrant and caring, with women often swapping stories, assistance, and advice with each other and those volunteers who help to operate the program and retail store.
I was incredibly lucky to get to meet and photograph some of these women and learn more about how they came to Buffalo. Most of them first learned their intricate embroidery skills while living in refugee camps prior to making their way to America, and continue to refine their skills under the direction of the program’s founder Dawn Hoeg. You can read about a few of these women’s journeys on Buffalo Rising.
Be sure to check out some of the behind the scenes that Buffalo Rising Shot about the project.
The first image, above, is one from my recent trip to Vietnam. Taken during an early morning walk through the public markets in Bac Ha, features a man overseeing the water buffalo in the market’s public livestock area where people buy and sell the animals each week. The image was awarded an honorable mention in the personal work category. I’ll be sharing a lot more imagery from this trip in an upcoming post.
Even more excitingly, my portrait of Tom Moriarty of Moriarty Meats was awarded 2nd place in the editorial category! I shot this image for Buffalo Rising, a blog that covers news and culture in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. It is part of an in-depth story I shot for them on Tom, his wife Caitlin, and the whole animal butcher shop they run together that specializes in locally grown meat. You can read the whole story here.
Tom Moriarty had recently finished studying butchery in France when he returned to Buffalo. He soon met his future wife, Caitlin, who had recently relocated here to work as an architectural historian (and Buffalo is a city with a deep architectural history.) Over the next few years, they regularly spoke about Tom’s dream of opening a butcher shop. While it didn’t immediately get off the ground, an opportunity eventually materialized when the owners of the long-standing Zarconi’s meats announced that they were retiring. Tom and Caitlin quickly found themselves moving into the historic butcher shop on Grant Street. Opening their doors to customers who were looking for something different than what the big grocery chains offered.
Whole animals are brought in from local farms that Moriarty partners with early each week. Tom breaks these animals down by hand into the various cuts, chops, sausages, offal, and prepared meals that stock the shop’s display cases. As the weekend nears, the case gets emptier and emptier, and when it’s gone, it’s gone until the shop restocks the next week. Beef, pork, and chicken are stocked weekly, while lamb, goat, rabbit, turkey, and seafood offerings vary from week to week.
A cow coming into Moriarty’s will be turned into a multitude of the nearly one hundred cuts of meat available from the animal.—Both the widely popular ones many of us know from the grocery store likes ribeyes and strip steak, as well as others like the bavette and onglet. Some of Tom’s favorite cuts include the tongue, oxtail, and the surprise (or crescent) steak, unique cuts that all pack an unbelievable amount of beefy flavor for those that try them.
I’ve become a regular customer of the shop since this shoot. It is close to my neighborhood, the product is fantastic, and Tom and Caitlin are always happy to make suggestions and share recipes. On one of my family’s earliest visits, Erin was looking for something to make slow-braised tacos with — she usually would use chuck or brisket for this. Still, Tom suggested that we try beef heel. While I’m a somewhat adventurous eater, my wife is a little less so. – she’s notorious for eliminating anything from the pot that could be considered “a weird piece.”
Nevertheless, she put her trust in her friendly neighborhood butcher and since become a convert to using this and other less popular cuts. I’m a fan of many of the prepared meals they use their locally sourced meat in — I am not exaggerating when I say that they make hands down the best beef pie I have ever eaten. It has quickly become a staple at my house for quick dinners that still taste amazing and nourishing.
This shoot is a fantastic example of what can happen when you’re genuinely passionate about your subject matter. Not only did I create images I love, but I dove deep into the subject matter and stretched myself creatively. I’m also happy to share aspects of my work that you don’t usually see, like reportage and directing. I learned so much from Tom about what he did and how he and Caitlin build relationships with their customers. Moriarty Meats will soon be moving to a new, more expansive location, but that can only mean good things for the city as this emerging and vital business continues to grow.
I teamed up with Crowley Webb this year to create a cool series of posters, banners, and graphics for The 11 Day Power Play — a really amazing event in Buffalo NY that is aimed at raising money for cancer research while simultaneously putting on the worlds longest hockey game — 11 days worth of one.
Each of the pieces features one of the players who will be participating in this years’ community shift as well as the person that they are playing for — each of whom have been touched by this insidious disease in one way or another.
As the son of a multi-time cancer survivor (and a Buffalo Hockey fan) I’m proud to donate my time and work to supporting organizations like this one.
Lately, I’ve been collaborating with set and prop stylist Jack Wrafter on some fun personal projects. I get a lot of joy out of teaming up with my friends in Buffalo’s creative community for cool side shoots – be they stylists, artists, dancers, or something else entirely. We decided to combine our unique skills to create these portraits of actress, dancer, and singer Arienne Davidow at Jack’s event space here in Buffalo – Georgette. Arienne is a rising star who has had roles in Spamalot, Nine, Equivocation, Lady Windermere’s Fan, and more.
I had a rare opportunity to photograph architect Robert Traynham Coles this year. Now in his late 80s, Coles had a 50+ year career in the world of architecture, and his innovative and eponymous modernist home and studio in Buffalo’s Hamlin Park is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Robert T. Coles, for lack of a better word, is a legend in Buffalo. An African-American architect who battled racial discrimination through his career and who left an indelible mark on a city already heralded for its historic and preservation-worthy architecture. His visions for the JFK Recreation Center, the Merriweather Library, and myriad other private homes and public buildings that he designed are indicative of his commitment to an “An architecture of social conscience” a goal to create and advocate for public spaces that were more humane, civilized, and inspiring to those that occupied them while still being aspirational examples of mid-century modern architecture that emphasized light and openness. His designs for private home often blur the boundaries between residences and the outdoors.
Coles is also noted for his passion for social advocacy and efforts in the civil rights movement as he fought against housing discrimination, segregation, and the poor state of schools throughout his career. He also put great efforts into attracting more minority students to the study of architecture.
Coles studied under and worked with luminaries of the architecture world like R. Buckminster Fuller, Eero Saarinen, Minoru Yamasaki, and Carl Koch of Techbuilt. And when he did eventually close Robert Traynham Coles, Architect P.C. in 2012 it was the oldest African-American owned architectural firm in New York.
“I believe that because architects have the ability to see things as they can be, they have a special task, which goes beyond simply designing the physical environment. They must be activists involved in the social and political life of the community. They must address their efforts to change in these areas as well so that people can make the needed adjustments to an increasingly challenging and rich urban world. They must, in their works, build the demonstrative alternative to the way we live today. They must be initiators as well as implementors – leaders, more than followers. They must truly be revolutionaries who see their architecture as a broad movement to enhance the quality of life of urban people.” Robert T Coles – 2004
I was recently very humbled to be asked to serve as a judge for the 2019 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year contest alongside legendary food and photography figures like Alice Waters and David Loftus. The contest has been promoting the best in food photography and food photojournalism since 2011. It was a tough assignment to be critical of so much amazing imagery from around the globe and I strongly suggest you drop by their site to see the gallery of this year’s winners in a number of categories.
If you asked me how I envision a shoot at a vineyard going, I’d immediately start to describe experiences from past projects I’ve shot — sun-drenched days in lush fields photographing dozens of workers amongst the vines, dressed comfortably for warm weather, and with a cold drink handy to beat the heat (or at least a few glasses of wine after the shoot wraps…) Things that would probably not be a part of that description would include my heaviest coat, hand-warmers, breath hanging in the air, frost on the ground, and about a gallon of hot cocoa to get through the pre-dawn chill.
I was in Hydes Maryland, just outside of Baltimore on the first day of a weeklong assignment with Crowley Webb for M&T Bank. It was early December and we were in town to shoot a variety of stories about businesses and community organizations in the Baltimore area that had found success through their partnerships with M&T. The first shoot of the week was at Boordy Vineyards, and it was going to be cold.
As the state’s oldest winery, the land that comprises Boordy Vineyards has been worked by Rob Deford’s family since the 1700’s. As the president and a chief winemaker of the vineyard, Rob presides over the four generations that currently work and live on this historic land — hand-harvesting grapes from the 46 acres of non-irrigated vines spread across two micro-climates in both the Long Green Valley and the western Blue Ridge Mountains at the family’s South Mountain Vineyard. Boordy vineyard produces approximately four hundred and fifty thousand bottles a year.
Even when I’m photographing wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes region or even Southern Ontario in Canada (where we’re no strangers to the ice and snow), we tend to stick to the warmer months for these sorts of projects (or at least that’s when magazines and clients tend to assign them to us) so when my assistant Brandon and I arrived at the winery well before sunrise and found hard ground covered in frost we weren’t quite sure what the rest of the day would have in store for us. I’d never photographed a vineyard in winter — but I’m so happy I have now.
My own experiences with viticulture and vinification had been limited to a handful of past projects, some relatives who were briefly in the business of growing grapes for ice-wine in Canada, a disastrous attempt at home winemaking when someone bought me a kit as a last minute-birthday gift (I am still apologizing to everyone unlucky enough to taste that failed experiment), and an overly enthusiastic if unrefined appreciation for drinking the end product of a vineyard’s efforts (i.e. I like drinking wine a lot), but outside of a few personal favorite bottles I’ve come to appreciate I lean heavily on people like Kelsey from SommMom to help me out when I need to choose bottles to impress someone at a party or give as a gift.
I’ve always had a misled belief that wine was a seasonal thing — tend your grapes in the growing months, harvest, and repeat next year. I now have a more fully realized sense of just how year round the tasks of grape growing and winemaking are. My talks with Rob as we photographed him set me straight on just how much goes into the process of caring for the vines and land during the winter, and how active the process of fermenting, blending, and aging Boordy’s wine is. December now feels like a wholly appropriate and beautiful time to photograph a northeastern winery like Boordy — and seriously? That sunrise was everything I needed to make me love Maryland on a winter morning.
We were working with a fairly large production team with both a full video crew shooting a commercial spot as well as me running a small and agile stills unit that was tasked with telling these stories like I might for an editorial assignment – weaving in and out of the moments between takes of the commercial shoot to build lighting setups on the fly or find quieter more journalistic moments in totally different parts of the farm at any given moment. It was an incredible amount of freedom to have on such a structured shoot, and allowed us to find just the right shots and moments to tell a parallel but different kind of story than the commercial did – one better suited to the print ads and out-of-home uses these images were destined for. I’ve loved working with both Crowley Webb and M&T on this and the other stories in this series like the Meyer Brothers Cider one I shared a few months back – more of which are coming soon!
I made a frantic dash to the store to buy a new pair of rain boots the night before this shoot.
We knew it was going to be a wet morning long before my team and I headed out to Gasport NY for a shoot at New Royal Orchards. The motion crew for this project had been there a few days before to shoot the broadcast component of this campaign, and it rained the whole day on their shoot. In fact, it had been raining heavily for the better part of a week (or maybe it was weeks? Hello, Western New York in the autumn!) before our pre-dawn arrival at the orchard to photograph Garett Mayer in what we thought was going to be a torrential downpour. We were suited up in new boots, rain jackets, and equipped with enough umbrellas, covers, and sandbags to keep the gear dry and in one place (because who wants to chase runaway umbrellas on a windy day?) We were ready for anything from a flood to windstorm…
…But what we got was a light drizzle and a gorgeous sunrise; however, the boots still helped with our early morning trek through the mud as we carted gear out to those perfect rows of apple trees that we had scouted at New Royal. If you can’t tell, I come from a long line of “I would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it” types — here’s to being passionately in to over-preparation!
In the last few months of 2018 we spent several weeks working with the kick-ass team at Crowley Webb on a series of print ads for M&T Bank to accompany the commercials that were being shot by the aforementioned (and also kick-ass) film crew — you can see their spot here. We created portraits in Buffalo NY, Harrisburg PA, and Baltimore MD, that focused on successful businesses and community organizations that had strong relationships with the bank — and worked at locations that ranged from rain-soaked orchards, to funky ice cream parlors, to an NFL playing field. Some were chosen for their growth & success, some for the quirky appeal of their business, and others for their legacy & longevity in their communities.
Garett Mayer is the 5th generation owner of a cider mill and growing beverage business that’s over 165 years old. In fact, it’s one of the oldest family-owned businesses in all of New York State, and their relationship with M&T has lasted for over 90 years.
How’s that for longevity?
A trip to the Mayer Brothers store for fresh hot cider and donuts is a REQUIRED fall activity in Buffalo, and I’m pretty sure that autumn would actually get put on hold and Halloween delayed if the mill and store failed to open — you have to go at least once (the apple is our state fruit for a reason).
And as important tradition a visit to Mayer Brothers is for many, it’s easy to lose sight of the enormous amount of work that goes into products like cider — from planting, cultivation, and harvest to pressing & bottling. That’s why it’s so endearing to experience Garett’s connection with and deep reverence for the farmers that grow apples for Mayer Brothers in person. As we spoke with him during the shoot and in between setups he told the crew and I what qualities he’s looking for in the apples they press into cider, the relationship that he has with the orchards, how he plans to grow the business, and about his family history in the area — going back to the beginning when his great-great-grandfather bought the cider mill to serve as a place that farmers and families could bring their apple harvests to be pressed.
The final ads are below, and I’ll be sharing even more stories of incredible businesses from this campaign in the coming months. This was one of the most fulfilling and fun projects for me to work on last year because the subject matter is so close to what I am interested in as a photographer (and it doesn’t hurt that the team from the agency and the client have been incredible to work with!). I’ve spent so much time documenting the journeys, struggles, and successes of unique entrepreneurs, makers, and doers in Buffalo — and now I’ve been given the opportunity to help tell those stories on a much bigger stage and in other cities across America through this project. I can’t wait to share more with you.