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.
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!
Alternative Press is one of my favorite magazine clients to work with – partly because they send me on assignments to make portraits of great musicians like England’s You Me At Six (who I shot for their December issue)and they always give me a ton of freedom in how I want to interpret each band’s vibe. Sometimes it comes in handy that my studio is right in the heart of Buffalo’s entertainment/theatre district – because I’m usually no more than a five-minute walk from most of the city’s best venues and that gives me ample time to set up the kind of dark moody images I like to create with a group like YM@6.
Check out this stripped down live recording of You Me At Six’s Room To Breath
Orchestrating one of the biggest business comebacks of the decade can be a lot to deal with, but imagine adding some major family drama, billions of dollars, and thousands of at-risk jobs into the mix and you have the recipe for Maggie Magerko’s life.
One of my most recent out-of-town assignments took me to Pittsburgh, PA for Forbes Magazine – more specifically to Eighty Four, the town from which the largest privately held building materials supplier in the country, 84 Lumber, takes its name. The job was to create a series of portraits for a stranger-than-fiction story of Maggie Magerko – the current president and owner of 84, and her father, Joe Hardy – the company’s founder. The once thriving no-frills lumber yard and building supplies chain had gone through a rough period, having had to close a large number of stores and lay off thousands of employees in order to stay afloat through a brutal housing recession that had a devastating effect on the business. An untimely investment in a resort property that soon grew to over $600 million in costs by the traditionally frugal Joe just added fuel to the fire and increased the growing tensions between father and daughter.
Despite all of this, Maggie, once at risk of bankruptcy both personally and professionally, has put it all on the line to rebuild the business, and it’s working.
This was one hell of a story to work on, and I can’t even begin to do justice to the engrossing saga the actual article is – I suggest you pick up the latest issue of Forbes (Feb 9 – 2015 edition) and check it out for yourself.
On a side note ~ I’m no stranger to shooting in cold weather, being the strapping and tough snow loving Canadian that I am, but this one was a little chilly even by my standards. I’m super thankful that I had the foresight to invest in some quality winter gear just before shooting outdoors in a lumber yard in the middle of a Pittsburgh winter.
St. Mary’s College of California sent me and my team on assignment to photograph Brenda Martinez for an alumni profile in their 2014 annual report. Brenda is a sixth Grade teacher in Western NY who runs a bilingual classroom as part of the Teach for America Program. Having taught in San Francisco and Mexico prior to taking her current position in Buffalo while she works on her masters, St Mary’s wanted an image that took Brenda out into the landscape of the region she now calls home. Though she’s a native of the far warmer climate of Pittsburgh, California, Brenda was more than happy to tough out a very windy autumn day on the shore of Lake Erie to get this shot.
Our location that evening was Wilkeson Pointe, a spot just outside of the city that’s recently been turned into a great public green space that includes paths and wind powered sculptures – it’s definitely one of the nicer places in the city to catch a great sunset. Despite the beauty of the shoreline at the Pointe that day, It was tricky working with the strong winds that were coming off the water, but thankfully we were able to set up some screens and wait for brief breaks in the gusts to make sure her hair wasn’t blowing all over the place – the result was this image that’s calm, but still has a beautiful sense of movement to it.
In June, Phoenix Focus reached out to me to photograph University of Phoenix alum Nadine Streleski-Flanders for their fall 2014 issue. Nadine is the Director of Clinical Education for non-profit health care provider Kaleida Health in Western New York. It’s a great story about how her return to school to further her knowledge of nursing, business, and education catalyzed an unexpected career turn that found her in a new role at Kaleida – one that was created specifically to make use of her unique combination of skills. Continue reading “ON ASSIGNMENT: NADINE STRELESKI FLANDERS FOR PHOENIX FOCUS”→