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 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!
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.
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
Thrilled to announce today that four of my portraits were named as finalists in the 2018 One Eyeland Photography Awards in the Professional Portraits — People category. My images of Michael Polczkalski, Edreys Wajed, Philip Brunner, and one of my War of 1812 Reenactor portraits were all recognized this year.
This year marks the start of a new collaboration between myself and Buffalo’s amazing Irish Classical Theatre Company. In the coming months I’ll be working with the cast and crew to create a series of character portraits of the company’s players in their roles from theatre’s seasonal productions. This first set of portraits are of actor David Lundy in his role as Seán Dóta in the play Sive by John B. Keane (which just closed to great reviews). Up next in their production schedule is Sense & Sensibility with Frost/Nixon, Hamlet, and Entertaining Mr. Sloane to follow throughout 2019.
I’ve loved traveling to New Mexico the past few summers to photograph the musicians, artists, and characters of Santa Fe and Albuquerque — its a world apart from the cold and snow people so often associate with Buffalo. The landscape itself is living art.
Infamous in both photography circles and bars across the country, Aaron Ingrao is on a whiskey-soaked multi-year journey across the country to document the lives and passions of Americas hardest working bartenders (and to squeeze in some quality mountain biking along the way). I shot this for a liquor.com story about Aaron’s trip in his vintage trailer along with his dog Luke (which he claims was named after me) to tell the story of the America’s craft cocktail revival and the bartenders behind it as part of his project Keepers of The Craft. Aaron was briefly home in Buffalo for a visit that coincided with the story, so we were able to meet up at Ballyhoo — one of our favorite local bars, to shoot these these portraits.
I don’t remember a lot of what happened after the shoot, but I think it had something to do with a bottle of Four Roses.
Did you know that my team and I have a public Spotify playlist where we post some of the best tracks we’ve been listening to in the studio and on road trips? Usually curated by me, but sometimes by Cassandra Lyons, Brandon Watson, or the occasional special guest! We’re a music driven group and big on the sense of atmosphere it can create for shoots and office hours in the studio. Usually updated weekly but there can be the occasional delay on extremely busy weeks/months.
Right after my return from an incredible trip New Mexico this summer I hopped right in the truck with my crew to head to Boston MA to shoot this assignment for M&T Bank as part of a series of client success stories. I love working with the creative team from Crowley Webb, the agency behind this project. The subject is David DiAntonio — the CEO of McCue Corporation, a company that makes industrial barriers and safety barricades. Always great to see my work in use!
I was immensely proud when former Buffalo Sabres Captain and Western New York Native Brian Gionta was named as the captain of the 2018 US Olympic Hockey Team. A veteran of teams like the New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens, Sabres, and Bruins, Brian actually turned down additional NHL offers as his tenure with the Sabres came to an end in order to play alongside Team USA in South Korea – a long time dream of his. I was even more excited to get to create some portraits of him after he was announced as team captain for a brief back page interview piece with him for Sports Illustrated.
Tom’s second solo episode while I was back home in Buffalo with Alistair Huxley Copping — the newest addition to my family!
In this episode Tom chats with Lynn Goldsmith about her images of figures in entertainment, sports stars, film, literature, and “the ordinary man on the street”. Her images appear in numerous collections: The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, The Museum of Modern Art, The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Museum Folkwang, The Polaroid Collection, The Kodak Collection, etc. Her work over the past 50 years in the editorial world has appeared on and between the covers of Life, Newsweek, Time, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, National Geographic Traveler, Sports Illustrated, People, Elle, Interview, The New Yorker, etc.
Middlebury Magazine sent me to Cleveland OH for a cover story on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ GM Koby Altman back in March. We got to spend the better part of a day with Koby shooting portraits and documenting what a game day is like for him leading up to tip-off as he and the Cavs geared up to Face the Milwaukee Bucks that night.
It took a while, but I finally got my friend David Butler back in front of my camera after all these years.
Dave is a production designer, art director, and set dresser for feature productions like Marshall, The First Purge, TMNT 2, The True Adventures of Wolf Boy, Emelie, Sharknado 2, and After the Sun Fell – And that doesn’t even begin to touch on his decades of work in theatre and television.
We first met back when I was the studio manager at the wonderfully infamous production space in Buffalo, NY that David would do prop and set work for, and I consider myself unbelievably lucky to still be collaborating with him for the past ten years or so. He has built almost every set piece in my studio and he has been a true guide in helping me to turn my ideas into the finished images I share with you.
Tom flies solo in this episode as I was back home in Buffalo with my family in the final days before my wife’s due date!
Ron Haviv is an Emmy nominated, award-winning photojournalist and co-founder of the VII Photo Agency, dedicated to documenting conflict and raising awareness about human rights issues around the globe. Tom and Ron discussing what Haviv has learned while covering more than twenty-five conflicts in over one hundred countries. Ron has produced an unflinching record of the injustices of war and his photography has had singular impact. His work in the Balkans, which spanned over a decade of conflict, was used as evidence to indict and convict war criminals at the international tribunal in The Hague. President George H.W. Bush cited Haviv’s chilling photographs documenting paramilitary violence in Panama as one of the reasons for the 1989 American intervention.Haviv’s work has been featured in numerous museums and galleries, including the Louvre, the United Nations, and the Council on Foreign Relations. Haviv’s photographs are in the collections at The Houston Museum of Fine Arts and George Eastman House amongst others as well as numerous private collections.
Big thanks to Adorama and The Photo Bridgade for their continued support!