What troubles these waters

Part of larger project documenting pollution in the part of the Scioto River that runs through Columbus, these images were mostly shot in the Winter of 2017. The focus of the project is to highlight the amount of pollution bodies of water in the United States face, using the Scioto River as an example.

 The downtown area of Columbus as seen through the remains of an old Television that was propped up on a rock on the eastern shore of the Scioto River. 

The downtown area of Columbus as seen through the remains of an old Television that was propped up on a rock on the eastern shore of the Scioto River. 

From high above, at a bird's eye view, the Scioto River looks like a long jagged scar cutting through downtown Columbus. When Lucas Sullivant arrived in what would become Columbus, Ohio in 1797 he erected the first settlement in the area on the Scioto's western bank. Before him the Hopewell tribe built their mounds and villages along its' banks. Throughout the year kayakers and paddle boarders enjoy themselves on the normally calm waters that drift under the Broad Street Bridge and provide a scenic view of the downtown area. After summer rains and winter ice melts however the usually tranquil waters can turn fierce. Sullivant himself witnessed the river's fury as his settlement was wiped out in the late 18th century, and again in the spring of 1913 the neighborhood of Franklinton was nearly wiped out as the Scioto rose and flooded the west side of the city. 

The river is now the main source of drinking water for Columbus, Ohio. A new threat looms beneath the chilly waters of the river. Agricultural pollution in the form of fertilizers and pesticides, storm water runoff from the new construction all along the river front, and the trash from generations of Columbus residents finds its way into the rive, threatening its ecosystem as well as the quality of the water itself.

High above in one of the new sky rise apartments the river looks clean and well. Geese float gently along the river, and the new Scioto Mile bustles with activity and radiates beauty; but down on the shores a different story is told. Discarded television sets, a galaxy of litter built over a century, and sewer runoff poison the waters. Invasive species of fish, mollusks, and plant life are creeping in and slowly but surely erasing native species. There is no doubt that the Scioto River of Lucas Sullivant's time is completely different from the Scioto River Columbusites know now. This being known one has to ask, what will the Scioto River look like farther into the future if we don't curb the problems facing it now?

The Scioto River isn't unique in these problems. Worldwide bodies of water such as this big and small face the same threats. Whether a stream or a river, an ocean or a pond, the impacts of humans upon their water sources is long lasting and far reaching. These bodies of water will be here long after we are gone, their future however lies in the present.

 A White Heron finds a snack in the quiet waters of Scioto Audobon Metro Park.

A White Heron finds a snack in the quiet waters of Scioto Audobon Metro Park.

 Workers start a days labor on the Scioto Mile in Downtown Columbus. The shores of the Scioto Mile, a project completed in 2015 by the city, feature native plants and a restored Scioto River with the removal of the dams that used to interrupt the flow over water through the downtown area. While the efforts to restore the river make some headway, there a many underlying issues facing the river that replanted native plants and dam removal won't fix.

Workers start a days labor on the Scioto Mile in Downtown Columbus. The shores of the Scioto Mile, a project completed in 2015 by the city, feature native plants and a restored Scioto River with the removal of the dams that used to interrupt the flow over water through the downtown area. While the efforts to restore the river make some headway, there a many underlying issues facing the river that replanted native plants and dam removal won't fix.

 The tracks of a bird in wet mud pass a discarded water bottle on the east shore of the Scioto River.

The tracks of a bird in wet mud pass a discarded water bottle on the east shore of the Scioto River.

 A mound of trash lay on the east shore of the Scioto River only 50 yards from the newly built Scioto Mile.

A mound of trash lay on the east shore of the Scioto River only 50 yards from the newly built Scioto Mile.

 Looking down onto the bank of the Scioto River from a bike trail along the Scioto River near where its' largest tributary, the Olentangy River, intercedes it.

Looking down onto the bank of the Scioto River from a bike trail along the Scioto River near where its' largest tributary, the Olentangy River, intercedes it.

 Ice creeps onto the surface of the waters where the Olentangy bleeds into the Scioto River a few miles upstream from Downtown Columbus.

Ice creeps onto the surface of the waters where the Olentangy bleeds into the Scioto River a few miles upstream from Downtown Columbus.

 Low water levels near the intersection of the Scioto River and Olentangy River reveal dirty secrets hidden beneath the soil at the bottom of the Scioto.

Low water levels near the intersection of the Scioto River and Olentangy River reveal dirty secrets hidden beneath the soil at the bottom of the Scioto.

 Newly built high rise apartments are reflected in the waters of the Scioto near Confluence Park in Downtown Columbus, Ohio.

Newly built high rise apartments are reflected in the waters of the Scioto near Confluence Park in Downtown Columbus, Ohio.

 Sky scrapers loom in the distance as morning light illuminates an empty whiskey bottle on the west shore of the Scioto River.

Sky scrapers loom in the distance as morning light illuminates an empty whiskey bottle on the west shore of the Scioto River.

 The corpse of gull lay next to a discarded tire on the east bank of the Scioto River 20 yards from a sewage runoff that drains into the Scioto River near newly built high rise apartments.

The corpse of gull lay next to a discarded tire on the east bank of the Scioto River 20 yards from a sewage runoff that drains into the Scioto River near newly built high rise apartments.

 Artificial flowers float in storm water runoff on the east shore of the Scioto River. The orange grime gathering over the soil is Iron Oxidizing bacteria. 

Artificial flowers float in storm water runoff on the east shore of the Scioto River. The orange grime gathering over the soil is Iron Oxidizing bacteria. 

The pollution in the Scioto is not unique, nor limited to the rivers and lakes of Ohio. Throughout the world waterways are polluted and concern for the ecosystems and the effect that this pollution has on others is disregarded. What we cast off into these rivers and streams may not affect us in the present, but like every other problem it only gets worse the longer it is neglected. Beneath these waters a rich record of human history is buried, if we don't take action to care more for the resources available to us now, we may not have much more of a future share.

 

-MH

Force of Nature

On September 9th I and my two colleagues Seth Herald and Megan Jelinger traveled down to Florida to document Hurricane Irma and the people who were affected by it. We drove through the same storm that had wiped out the Caribbean and wreaked havoc on parts of Florida. The following are my images and writings on covering Hurricane Irma and spending time with the people who came home to find their lives changed by its wrath.

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The day is growing late and the shadows growing longer as Juan Zumaya maneavuers his small boat through the deep black waters that now cover what used to be Bonita Commons, a neighborhood in the city of Bonita Springs, Florida. The puncturing smell of raw sewage, gasoline, and rot hang over the entire area. The wrath of Hurricane Irma might not have been what most Floridians had expected, but for those living in Bonita Commons, the storm came with merciless ferocity. 

"We've had floods before, but never like this." Juan comments.

The flood waters had risen in the week before, after fallout from Hurricane Harvey drifted through the area, they had yet to recede when Irma arrived. 

Personal belongings float in the yards of half submerged houses, occasionally other boats can be heard, heading out to either rescue those who stayed or to retrieve personal belongings from homes. As the sun sets over the horizon the mosquitos come out in full force and most of those who stand on the high ground of the main road pack up what they gathered and leave to wherever it is they are staying for the time being.

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It is early afternoon, and the heat of the day is upon Bonita Springs. Looking out into the flooded neighborhood is blinding as the noon sun reflects of the surface of the fetid water. One man who is putting gas into his boat makes a joke about alligators swimming around at night on his street. It is true though, the day before an alligator had been spotted near the back of the neighborhood near the overpass.

Jose Gonzales Jr. and Jesus R Angel are wading through the tea colored waters with two boats in tow. They are helping Jose's parents gather the remaining personal belongings from their flooded home on Pawley Avenue.

The Gonzales family had evacuated North to Alabama as Hurricane Irma made its way up the Florida Peninsula. When they received the all clear, they returned to find their home flooded. In their haste to evacuate they didn't have time to pack up all their personal belongings, and upon returning had stood for a while on the main road by their neighborhood in disbelief. 

Jesse Martinez, son in law to Jose and Olivia Gonzales, lives not even a mile up the road from Bonita Commons and armed with a pair of old waders and several kayaks, joined the family as they transferred their belongings from their home to his. 

Going through the belongings that were ruined in the flood brought Jose and Olivia's daughter Selena Gonzales to tears. Pictures, diplomas, and family heirlooms ruined beyond recovery overnight. 

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Jose and Olivia are pulled on boats to the dry land on the main road. The family jokes with each other as they leave. Despite the severity of the situation, Jose Jr. says his parents are just glad everyone is ok and for that they are happy. 

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Luis Arango was one of the lucky few whose home remained safe from the floodwaters. Resting on a small hill just a few feet higher than the other homes, the water crept up to within several feet to his garage then stopped. 

"I had installed some cameras before we evacuated to Lake City, and I was watching the water rise higher and higher, and I kept thinking 'This is it'" He comments. 

With his wife and daughter still in Lake City, Arengo enlisted the help of his friends Carlos Hernandez and Walter Crespo, as well as Crespo's 13 year old son Jonathan in returning to his home.

The first steps to take were transporting a generator and gasoline to the home, then taking down the steel sheets that cover the windows and doors of the home. A full days work in nearly 100 degree heat. 

Walter Crespo spoke of he and his traveling from near Tampa to help Luis. "No other country in the world is like the US, our name even, it isn't like France, or Spain that is just a name, it is the UNITED states, and when we pull together and unite we can help each other overcome anything. That is what I am trying to show my son here."

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At 2:30 in the afternoon the hot Florida sun is beating down on everyone. Florida natives comment on the heat as they wipe sweat from their brow and avert their eyes, but with a smile add "I mean it is Florida". While the heat of the day is to be expected, what is most supprising among those who've lost so much is the sense of camaraderie and community. 

Several people came down to Bonita Springs from other parts of Florida with their bass boats and canoes in tow to help clear brush, transport people in and out of the flooded neighborhood, and to bring food and water to those who need it. 

Adorned in little more than a t-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes Jay Berbue and several friends from other parts of Florida go about trying to clear the flooded streets of fallen trees and branches. The sound of chainsaws and boat motors has become a background drone as Jay and his partners continue working in the hot sun. 

"I was about to leave to go up to Canada with my boat and do some fishing, but when we saw this about happen I called up some of my friends and we came out as soon as we could." Jay comments as he wipes sweat from his under his hat. 

The day is long, but as the sun dips down towards the horizon scores of others like Jay have shown up to hand out food, water, and blankets. 

 

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While the full power of Hurricane Irma was not felt in Florida as it was in Barbuda and Cuba the devastation in Bonita Springs will remain a scar for quite some time. As the water continues to stand stagnant in Bonita Commons' streets, mosquitos breed and the risk of mosquito born diseases rise in the area. Black mold sets in quickly after floods, and can quickly over take the inside of a home making it completely inhospitable. The residents who continue to filter in will have to deal with these battles in their uncertain future, but for now most are just thankful to have the ones they love safe and by their side.

 

 

Dispatches from Charlottesville

On August 11, myself, Seth Herald, and Megan Jelinger, traveled down to Charlottesville, VA from Columbus, Ohio to cover the Unite The Right Rally. This post is a collection of notes and photographs from that weekend and my experiences as the planned Rally turned into a free for all brawl which climaxed when White Nationalist James Alex Fields jr. drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters.

 

August 12, 12:10am

We arrived at our airbnb in Charlottesville late in the night, shortly after midnight. After dropping off our equipment we went to Applebees for beers and food. During our dinner Seth found the breaking news article about the torch march by the White Supremacists on the University of Virginia. Before leaving for Virginia we talked about whether or not the supposed numbers of White Nationalists would be accurate and whether or not the rally would break into a riot, after seeing the news of the torch march we all began to get the feeling that the next day violence would break out.

 

August 12, 11:30 A.M.

We woke up around 9:00 am and prepared to go downtown to where the rally was set to be held. After making a quick stop at Dicks to get Megan a helmet we ordered and uber and made our way down. The ride down is when I started getting nervous, there had been rumors that fights were already happening as the White Nationalists marched towards Emancipation Park. As we came into town, almost all the streets were closed off, not 100 feet from where we left our Uber, a National Guard unit was forming up. As I snapped pictures of them I noticed that they too were on edge. Down the street the sounds of air horns, chanting, and shouting could be heard. By this time, as I would later find out, White Nationalists and counter protesters were already clashing, both sides wielding wooden rods, flag poles, and pvc pipe.

The three of us discussed our plan of approaching the park. The day was warming up, but there was a cool breeze still floating that brought the acrid scent of sulfur to our noses. Megan and I made our way up the street as Seth hung back to get more photographs of the National Guard MPs. As we made our way up the street a procession of White Nationalists passed by carrying confederate flags and nazi flags, we noted that many of the members of the procession carried poles and shields. They were followed close behind by a long procession of cops clad in riot gear. Unbeknownst to us the clashes near Emancipation Park had escalated, the gathering at Emancipation Park had been declared an unlawful assembly as the permit for the Unite The Right Rally in Emancipation Park  had been revoked and the Rally was supposed to take place in a different park outside of town.

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We stopped first at a nearby park, Justice Park. Seth attempted to speak to members of a militia who declined to speak of the events, only that the permit had been revoked and clashes had been breaking out all morning. From there we made our way down to Emancipation Park. 

August 12, 11:43 AM

As we made our way to the park we began to hear chants as well as sounds of violence. We rounded a corner and were stunned at the scene of violence before us. White Nationalists had charged through counter protesters and into the park and now counter protesters had circled back behind them. Skirmishes were breaking out, being fought tooth and nail with fists, poles, mace, and whatever the participants could get ahold of. White Nationalists had maced several counter protesters and were throwing smoke bombs at the growing crowd. Counter protesters hurled water bottles at the White Nationalists and fought with the few that remained on the street. A water bottle struck the ground in front of me followed by a wooden pole that bounced off of a discarded shield. After snapping a few shots I decided to put my helmet on. Newspaper dispensers laid on the ground where a scuffle had taken place before our arrival, the stairs nearby were stained black from the discharge of a smoke bomb. The White Nationalists hurled racial remarks at counter protesters and deflected the hail of debris being thrown with homemade shields as they retreated into the park. I snapped several photographs on the street before entering the park and the epicenter of the fighting.

I began choking on the overwhelming stench of smoke bombs and mace as I entered the park. Riot police stood in a long line with their shields up in the middle of the park. An officer on a megaphone repeated the message that the gathering had been declared an unlawful assembly and that everyone needed to clear the park or face arrest. Bottles, wood poles, smoke bombs, and other debris continued to be hurled back and forth as counter protesters entered the park. Several people were bleeding from injuries on both sides. One man behind a barrier for the White Nationalists continually shouted, "Fags and niggers leave the park." The White Nationalists had set up makeshift barricades and hid behind barricades that had been set up by police in the days earlier as they continued to hurl smoke bombs and spray mace at counter protesters. Counter protesters maintained distance but traded missiles with White Nationalists as they chanted back "Nazis go home."

Counter Protesters spilled into the park from multiple sides. I found myself with other members of the press in the mid ground of the battle. Several White Nationalists attempted to chase down a counter protester who had thrown a water bottle at them but were forced back. A stream of mace from a White Nationalist splashed across my lens and lips. I retreated momentarily as I began coughing and gagging then reentered the no man's land. A White Nationalist broke the line and charged a counter protester. He grabbed at his gas mask and elbowed him in the face. Another counter protester charged in and knocked the White Nationalist to the ground and kneed him in the face. Several other counter protesters charged in and one landed a blow across the head of the White Nationalist with a flag. Two other men had charged in with pvc pipes and mace and brawled with the counter protesters before being forced back to their own disintegrating line.

A water bottle struck me in the chest and another passed by my head and I became aware of the possibility that journalists might be being targeted. I looked to see if I could spot Seth or Megan in the fray. Two men from the White Nationalists charged out after a counter protester who gave them the finger, swinging a Confederate Flag. They were immediately overwhelmed by counter protesters, and after a flury of punches and kicks retreated back to their line having forfeited the Confederate Flag. A group quickly grew as the flag was torn apart and set on fire by counter protesters. 

Seth and Megan were photographing the flag burning as well. We reconnected for a moment to make sure we were all ok. Seth had caught mace or pepper spray on his camera and his mouth, but was ok, and Megan hadn't sustained any injuries or caught any pepper spray or mace. I broke from the cluster where the flag burning was taking place. The White Nationalists had formed a line as barricades had been broken down by both sides. Brawls continued to erupt as the area that had been a no man's land shrank. Yet again a White Nationalist broke the line and charged after a retreating counter protester. He knocked me down in his pursuit but I scrambled up and followed his chase. He was quickly engaged in a fist fight by a counter protester who wrestled with him for a brief moment before knocking him down. As he rose he continued swinging but was caught by the punches of another counter protester. More White Nationalists broke the line and dispersed mace and pepper spray on the crowd and retrieved their comrade.

I left to join where Seth was, close to the police line which had started advancing on the crowd. White Nationalists, including one of the ring leaders and key speakers Richard Spencer, began to push against the police line. More smoke bombs were set off as the White Nationalist's line began to disintigrate. A White Nationalist swung a Kekistan flag at counter protesters and dared them to come near. He hurled insults and called for the White Nationalists to hold against counter protesters and police.

Police began advancing in on the chaos and I left the park to the street level, where several smoke bombs were smoldering out and several others just beginning. I took a moment to wipe sweat and mace off my face. Several counter protesters placed buckets over the active smoke bombs that had landed on the street near me but not before I inhaled the fumes. I leaned against a wall and coughed, the fumes were acrid and choking. 

Megan and I proceeded up the street only to be stopped again by a thick cloud of what I believe was tear gas. After a moment or both of us retching, we regrouped and proceeded towards where a large crowd was gathering at a corner of the park. A small group of White Nationalists were shoving against a police line as they tried to get back into the park as counter protesters hurled insults and chants again of "Nazis go home." Police officers, who had gathered on the steps that spilled into the street, shoved the White Nationalists off the staircase and at the counter protesters after a brief struggle. With only shouts of "Shame." and traded insults, the White Nationalists were permitted exit down the street away from Emancipation Park. The park had been cleared of both White Nationalists and counter protesters by noon, the scheduled time for the rally to begin.

August 12, 12:00 PM

I made my way down the street after the White Nationalists had left. In a small alley off the road members of a militia armed with rifles held a police tape line while several injured members of the White Nationalist group were treated for pepper spray and head injuries. Two men, one wearing a 'League of the South' t-shirt and the other in a white suite with a 'Make America Great Again' cowboy hat and pepe the frog meme patch held each other. A person with makeshift medic symbols offered their services to the injured men but was turned away by militia members. Two men who had been involved in the brawls at the park stood near the militia members and taunted the counter protesters. Militia members told the two men to "Get the fuck out of here". Three men in the group that had struggled with police at the park exit walked away with their arms around each other's shoulders. One on the left had a bandage over his head but was helping support the one in the middle.

August 12, 12:30pm

A line of White Nationalists protected by militia members made their way through the mass of counter protesters. Both sides exchanged words but no brawls broke out around me. I could still taste the mace that had got into my mouth and took a drink of milk from a medic. People dressed in religious garb marched through the crowd and sang a song. I met up with Megan again, she said that for the most part it seemed the White Nationalists had left. I walked down a side street and was told that they were closing the street. I made it to the Downtown Mall and called Seth. 

August 12, 12:45pm

A line of White Nationalists marched their way down Water Street and to the Market Street Parking Garage where police stood guard with an APC. Some of The White Nationalists hurled insults at the police as they passed by, mostly accusing them of not intervening. 

August 12, 1pm

I regrouped with Seth and Megan in McGuffey Park. A crowd of counter protesters had gathered here and were drinking water. We rested for a moment. Seth was approached by two women who shouted at him and told him to leave the park because he was taking pictures, and lectured us as they attempted to make us leave the public park. We stayed in the park and rested for a moment. A large group formed and began to make its way towards the Downtown Mall. Megan and I followed the group while Seth stayed behind taking pictures. We arrived at the Mall and dispersed from the group. After a few moments we saw a large group of White Nationalists leaving and followed them to the Market Street Parking Garage. Various people including non-protesters shouted at them, several cars passed by and shouted at them as well. As the White Nationalists entered the parking garage a Silver Dodge charger with substantial damage to the front and back passed by. A large chunk of the fender was dragging on the ground and rattled loudly as it passed. Counter protesters cheered, and shouted as many thought that the car had been smashed. Several cries of a report of shots fired rang out, word spread that something bad had happened on Water Street and Fourth Street. Megan and I sprinted down the street and arrived at the scene of the assault. The smell of burning gas and rubber filled the air, people were shouting a car had driven into a crowd. Blood was splattered all over a portion of the sidewalk near where three people lay. Medics began giving chest compressions to one of the women on the ground while less injured people sat on the sidewalk bloodied and in shock. I began shooting pictures of the chaos. After a few moments I began to feel dizzy and sick and stopped taking pictures. Police arrived on the scene and forced the crowd back. I looked around to see if I could see Seth on the ground or crowd. I handed my water bottle I had been carrying to a woman tending to a severely injured woman. EMT workers arrived on the scene and began tending to the wounded. The woman who was receiving chest compressions still lay motionless as EMT's surrounded her and continued to give her chest compressions. As the wounded were moved out those who were near and who had been aiding them began to break down into tears. My eyes watered as I continued to photograph. As they moved the woman who had been given chest compressions I could see she was dead. I spotted Seth and Megan and we regrouped. I made my way across the street to where Seth was and continued to photograph the still fresh blood on the ground and a tuft of hair stuck to the back of a car where a woman had been pinned.

August 12, 1:35pm

Seth, Megan, and I departed the crowd and made our way down Water Street. More ambulances were pulling in and the crowds were being pushed away to make room. Seth asked if I was ok, and mentioned how upset he had been at not knowing if Megan and I were victims in the crash. A woman at a bus stop began to have a seizure and medics rushed in to treat her. We met with a group of other press members from National Geographic and Washington Post. I began to feel dizzy again and drank 2 bottles of Seth's water. What happened still wasn't processing in my brain. The group of us walked to a small restaurant called the Whiskey Jar where we sat down. Seth received a call from The Atlantic that they wanted to purchase his pictures. The Washington Post and National Geographic people started to transfer their images. For a few moments no one spoke. Seth left to meet up with another photographer, his friend Ruddy Roye. Megan and I departed the restaurant after we finished our water and drinks. 

 

August 12, 2:00pm

I was still shaky from the events of the day as we walked through the Downtown Mall. National Guard soldiers had gathered in a line blocking an exit from the Mall, Police officers stood in a perpendicular line blocking off another section of the mall. I met up with Seth and several other photographers. After snapping a few photographs Seth, Megan and I departed from the mall and walked about half a mile up the street to where we called an Uber. A man gave us flowers and told us he didn't want to know yet what had happened but to be safe.  Our driver arrived and we departed back to our AirBnB. 

August 12, 3:00pm

Once back at the AirBnB we set to work transferring our images. I responded to text messages on my phone that had been sent by friends and family. I felt drained and emotionally spent on the days work. The fighting in the park played over and over in my head as well as the assault. We heard news that a police helicopter had crashed, but Seth was on a deadline to send in photographs and I was too exhausted and was trying to find an outlet for my photographs. I began feeling sick going through my pictures. I started feeling the weight of the day and what had happened and tried to bury the feeling as I sent emails out to editors.

 

AFTER:

My photos of the car passing by on Market Street were bought by Getty Images. We photographed a vigil the next day at the site of the assault and departed back to Ohio late in the evening after a dinner with Ruddy Roye. The ordeal was the most intense situation I have been in and a lot of emotions have come out of it. It was an incredibly exciting situation to be photographing history and the event, but it much more terrifying and upsetting than exciting. 

 

On the Streets of Columbus Pt. 1

Street photography is a discipline that at first glance seems easy enough, in theory what could be easier than snapping candids of passerbys in the city? The reality though is that street photography is incredibly difficult and challenging. There are many off days, I've spent countless hours wandering through city scapes and suburbs with no results, only with hopes that the next morning or evening will be better. That is, for me, where the real reward for street photography lies. When everything lines up just right, and you snap that shot and know you got gold. I've been doing street photography for about 8 years now, and over the past year have really dedicated myself to the art. Every weekday morning and many evenings I take a 2-3 hour walk around Columbus with whichever cameras and lenses suit me for that day. 

There are no specific tools, no you don't need a leica and a 50mm lens, no you don't need black and white film, no you don't need a moleskin diary or slacks and dress shoes. The only thing you really do need is patience, and of course a camera. There's been mornings and evenings where I sit in one specific spot for hours and waited out a moment. Sometimes it happens, other times the light changes and the moment never comes. That is the fun in it though, and over the years I have come to learn alot about people, weather, luck, and light while walking around with cameras dangling from my shoulders. 

Here are the images I am most proud of, the little golden gems I elated over and wanted to rush home right away to edit and post.

 Red White and Boom on West Broad Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. July 4, 2017.

Red White and Boom on West Broad Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. July 4, 2017.

 East Broad Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. May 14, 2016.

East Broad Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. May 14, 2016.

 State Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. March 13, 2016.

State Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. March 13, 2016.

 Barber Shop on Gay Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. June 8, 2017.

Barber Shop on Gay Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. June 8, 2017.

 Broad Street and North High Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. November 28, 2016.

Broad Street and North High Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. November 28, 2016.

 North High Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. November 5, 2016.

North High Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. November 5, 2016.

 Towne Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. October 20, 2016.

Towne Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. October 20, 2016.

 Broad Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio February 25, 2016.

Broad Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio February 25, 2016.

 East Broad Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. December 20, 2012.

East Broad Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. December 20, 2012.

 East Town Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. December 13, 2013.

East Town Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. December 13, 2013.

 Lisle Alley, Columbus, Ohio. December 15, 2010.

Lisle Alley, Columbus, Ohio. December 15, 2010.

 Nationwide Boulevard, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. August 8, 2016.

Nationwide Boulevard, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. August 8, 2016.

 East Long Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. August 14, 2016.

East Long Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. August 14, 2016.

 4th Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. February 25, 2016.

4th Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. February 25, 2016.

 North High Street, Short North Columbus, Ohio. June 17, 2017.

North High Street, Short North Columbus, Ohio. June 17, 2017.

 Oak Street, Olde Towne East Columbus, Ohio. June 26, 2016.

Oak Street, Olde Towne East Columbus, Ohio. June 26, 2016.

 Upper Cup Coffee Shop, Parsons Avenue, Columbus, Ohio. May 7, 2016.

Upper Cup Coffee Shop, Parsons Avenue, Columbus, Ohio. May 7, 2016.

 Little Palace, 4th Street, Downtown Columbus, January 24, 2017.

Little Palace, 4th Street, Downtown Columbus, January 24, 2017.

 Krogers, Front Street, German Village, Columbus, Ohio. May 1, 2016.

Krogers, Front Street, German Village, Columbus, Ohio. May 1, 2016.

 Self Portrait, Cleveland Avenue, Columbus, Ohio. May 7, 2016.

Self Portrait, Cleveland Avenue, Columbus, Ohio. May 7, 2016.

 North High Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. July 4, 2017.

North High Street, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. July 4, 2017.

 State House, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. June 20, 2017.

State House, Downtown Columbus, Ohio. June 20, 2017.

 

 

Vast: A Love Note

The first time I really took notice of just how vast and empty the outskirts of Marion are was when I responded to the scene of a homicide. It was a 20 minute drive to the location, a small strip of 4 homes surrounded by prairie and farmland, and when I arrived dark clouds were gathering in the distance. Knee-high grass blanketed the ground and the changing winds of the storm drove rolling waves of cool air across the grass. While I stood watching the grasses sway, the shadows of the clouds began to creep from the horizon and quickly overtook the warm sunspots. It was beautiful, and in that moment the places I had referred to as 'The Middle of Nowhere' became much more. It wasn't nowhere, it was much more special than that dismissive label, it was freedom, a feeling that if you wanted you really could just disappear. There have been many times since that as I've driven along Groundhog Pike, or Linn Hipsher Road, that I've felt the compulsion to just drive and drive, because out there it is possible. Out there it seems anything is possible. 

The following writing and photographs reflect, I hope coherently, this sense of vastness, how it relates to my own emotions of where I am at in my life, and the nature of the many smaller towns that dot the Ohio and midwest landscapes and the people that inhabit them.

 

Light falls early, and like water from a burst dam, the golden rays of morning quickly flood the landscape. Already the killdeer and Meadowlarks busy themselves zipping over the heads of Deer, still alert and grazing before the sun is too high. 

A lone car, headlights burning through the thin morning fog, hurries its way down the gravel road into town, pursued close behind by a cloud of dust that is a brilliant orange in the morning sun. The sound of the engine cuts through the sounds of the morning, but quickly it passes, and slowly dissapears into the horizon, the red glow of taillights melting to nothing over a small rise.

Thick billowy clouds in the distance hide the still dark sky, though it is rapidly draining to a deep blue, the diamond glow of stars still shine brightly far above the streaking contrails. Out at the municipal airport, a pilot too stares up into the waning night sky as the sun slowly bleeds its rays into it, reading every subtlety. The warm styrofoam cup of fresh coffee warms his hand, and its smell makes his mind wander back to stories his grandfather told him of heroes who flew the skies and navigated by the same stars. 

A farmer is already working on his machinery, before the sun awoke, he had already started his day and it won't end until after the sun has gone away over the treeline at the end of his field. 'The soil is good here, so we are good here' his grandfather had once said to him on a hot day late in the summer while he worked in the old barn. He remembers still how the dust from the wheat harvests glowed and danced in the sunbeams that had found their way in through the cracks in the walls. He remembers the taste of sawdust and sweat, and how the air hung stagnant in the barn with the thick smell of oil and rotting wood. He remembers how the dirt from helping his father in the tractor stayed under his fingernails for months, and how by the end of the summer his bare feet were hard enough to run on the gravel road. He often wonders if his grandchildren will ever have any memories of him that are as tangible as his. 

The soil is good, the soil is very good. To even those who are not farmers but still abide by the instinct to create and grow gardens in their backyards, the gift of the soil is tremendous. Glaciers had once pushed onto the land, flattening it like dough, and when they melted deposited this thick rich earth in their wake. Earth that countless hands would toil and work to make a living, hands that would be blackened by it, hands that would bleed into it, hands that would one day become a part of it.

It wouldn't only be the crops though that would spring from the rich earth. Cheaply built but expensive homes began dotting the landscape at the end of the last decade. Their windows reflect the rising sun far across the farmland and prairie, they are stirring now too and coming to life. Isolated settlements like islands sepperated by the grasses and blacktop rivers that intersect here and there. Children grow up here, and in time the landmarks they establish and use everyday will dissapear as more settlements are built.

The schools have stood solid for the better part of a century. From the air, the baseball diamonds and the track look like alien symbols, such contrast on the landscape. The teachers working at the school remark on the 'bring your tractor to school day' and the prom which was held in the humble gymnasium when they were students at the same school. Nowadays though, fewer students are catching the school bus from the end of a gravel road, even fewer have ridden a tractor. Many are now learning computer programming or earning college credits before they graduate. With all the opportunities available to them now, most of their futures lay in other lands. This many of the older teachers will tell you with pride, but burried beneath, an undertone of sadness. Times are changing, and the world changes faster than many would like.

Somethings stay the same though. The history teacher still drinks two cups of coffee in the morning and stands on his porch, looking out over the vast expanse of untouchable prairie. The math teacher still has coffee breath but his co-workers are too polite to tell him. The poster with the graduating class of '72 is slowly decaying, despite the faculty buying a better poster frame for it. The baseball field is still mowed by a man with the last name Barger, who also coaches the baseball team, but it was his father's father before him who first decided to start a baseball team. The baseball team that would win a state title for the first and only time in the school's history. 

The old roads run parellell to the infinite row of telephone lines and both keep their secrets, but memories good and bad still mark certain sections. A rock with the fading red comment 'I Still Love You' watches over a bend in the road before it comes to an intersection. Small crosses with flowers and balloons that dance gently in the wind remind motorists of old and personal tragedies. Some old and forgotten, and some still new and fresh with their sorrow.

In time, the efforts and structures that were built by man decay and become only another part of the landscape. The old house that may be haunted is slowly consumed by Ivy, its windows long ago broken out with rocks, its floor caving in. The one room schoolhouse that one time served as the townhall and church, is now merely a marker and a chimney. In the heat of the summer, when the locusts chir and the doves coo, when there is not enough shade to be found, and the beads of sweat gather and run from your hairline and burn your eyes, the youth find solace in the cool waters of the quarry. At one time the lake functioned as a staple of the nearby city, where livings were earned and production was key. Now teenagers plunge with a deep faith from the cliffs and into the icy water. Water so clear that on a clear day steam shovels and heavy equipment can be seen resting like shipwrecks on the bottom. They say several teens drowned here, most recently the quarry was closed after a drowning. The calm clear water gives way to a deep blue darkness far far down, like the secrets of the town, the calm inviting waters are not always as they seem. Sometimes the most inviting things in life hide a deep treachery far below the still surface, where the darkness overtakes the light.

As the harvest rolls around, the farmland comes to life in a special way. The rich smell of cut wheat, soy beans, and dirt hang thick in still air and overcome the senses on a windy day. Combines and tractors kick up clouds of dirt that seem to hang in the air forever. Bails of the harvested crops dot the land in the same way herds of gazelle do in the Sahara. Hard work is important, the times keep moving and there are those who accept and understand the only way to keep up is to speed up. It is a law that is understood by many, yet not all abide by them. Sweet tea home brewed in the sun sits on the unpainted back porch, condensation running down it. The brilliant gold color of the straw when it is time for the harvest is pleasant and relaxing. An old radio plays the best country music from the 70's  Why rush? Time has a way of catching up with everything, and its not always guaranteed that the work put in yields desired results. The laziness of the summer day is made to enjoy, the landscape and smells are to remind us to slow down a little, enjoy what's around, and appreciate that the glory of everything is fleeting.

Flies buzz and the smell of decaying vegitation and dead fish hang thick in the air over the wetlands where a Green Heron waits patiently in the shallow water. The rich green of the algea hides the minnows and tadpoles beneath the still water. Spring peepers and bullfrogs chorus in with the locusts and crickets. With the final days of summer coming to a close and the familiar smells and sounds of fall growing to an invitable crescendo, the heron will soon be leaving the prairie for warmer lands. For now though, he is patient and content with the small ponds he's called home for the summer, and he will return once the snows thaw. 

BirdofVast.jpg

While the summers are lazy and hot, the winters in the vastness are cruel and aggressive. The cold winds rip mercilessly across the landscape, and in a fresh snow throw up blinding curtains of white over the roads. But in the cab of a snowplow there is warmth. The radio plays the most current rock hits and drowns out the grind of the plow as sheets of white powder erupt into the crisp cool air. It's a tedious job, and in the prairie, surrounded by the emptiness of an endless white horizon, the urge to doze is almost irresistible. The smell of coffee fills the cab and along with the heater, keeps the driver warm. A sasquatch air freshener hangs from the rearview mirror, bought in Cleveland last summer when she and her younger sister made the trip up to watch a Cavaliers game. A stack of books on Robotics and linear algebra threaten to topple off the passenger's seat as she maneuvers the snow plow around a curve in the otherwise straight and narrow road. She has to hold the tower of literature steady the same way she does when her daughter is riding with her and the driver in front of them breaks to fast. As soon as her shift ends, she'll be making her way on the same roads she plowed to the career center for afternoon classes on Fanuc Robots. Honda is hiring robotics programers, one of her teachers had told her, and once she earns her OSHA certificate she will be more than qualified for the job, and that will bring a nice change, but on mornings like this she doesn't mind the warmth and comfort of the cab.

The snow stays on the ground for weeks sometimes, with tempertures warming then cooling, melting then freezing. Through the windows of a farmhouse, caked with a thin layer of ice on the edges, the white sky touches the endless white ocean of old snow. A woman puts on her thick soled boots as she prepares to go and check the mail box at the end of the drive. Not much mail comes anymore, the occasional card from her children updating her on the weather down in Florida, the messily scrawled notes from grand children, and of course pointless letters in envelopes marked 'URGENT' from scammers hoping to swindle 'old timers' out of their money. The walk down the gravel drive is cold and windy, a semi truck roars by on the road bringing with it a cloud of loose snow in its wake. The american flag her late husband had wired  to the mailbox post shudders violently with each gust of winter air. It is tattered now and she knows eventually it will have to come down, or be torn from the thin dawl rod holding it. It holds memories though, they had met at the Steel Plant, where they would both spend almost half a century working as husband and wife. When they were married the company had sent them a piece of rebar with their names ornately etched into the side like a piece of modern art, it still sits on the fireplace mantle next to his ashes.

Spring, like winter, comes on slowly. The heavy grey clouds that threaten snow storms gradually give way to darker sagging rain clouds. Spring showers pound the land and the small streams that had slowed to a mere trickle suddenly swell and surge with violence. Warming temperatures melt the last of the now grey and black walls of snow on the sides of the roads and the endless prairie transitions from the cold and barren landscape to bright explosions of green brought on by spring rains. The smell of blooming flowers and prairie grasses growing is faint but distinct in the changing air.

Spring fades slowly into summer. The graduating seniors are turning their tassles and stepping into the next grand adventure of life and the crops already planted. The days are becoming hot and the shade is scarce under the noon sun. Clouds stretch out as far as the eye can see, painted on the rich blue canvas of the sky. A car travels swiftly down a strange road, the driver admiring the freedom of the endlessness. He is no stranger now to the land, on days that allow it he often finds himself returning to the same spots, and sometimes when he's lucky, finding new areas that promise hidden treasures. The land whispers in low tones, awakening in him a sense of adventure and possibility that is so easily lost and forgotten anywhere else. The car slows to a stop and the purr of the engine dies down. Now, only the sounds of the wind and the birds can be heard. Through a viewfinder time can be stopped and moments preserved. Eventually his time of exploring will come to an end, with only his photographs and writings lingering, and long after he is gone and the photographs and writings lost to time, the cycle of the Vastness will continue on forever, unbroken and unyielding.

From fighting to fair weather, (Photographs from Feb-April)

With winter bleeding away without much of a fight, spring and all the new bright and lively smells and colors that accompany are quickly taking over the Ohio landscape. Marion and Columbus, my two main stomping grounds, are coming to life in the same way that the forests and fields are as well. For this I am glad, the longer days, and the gentle temperatures that feel just right, of course it wont be long until we'll all be complaining about humidity and heat.

The following photographs are selected images taken from the months of February to April, both personal work and photos from my job at the Marion Star. There is no particular theme this time around, just a handful of photos I've made that I enjoy and hope you do as well.