Sunday, August 8, 2010

Travel Photography: Philadelphia, PA

I had a few personal goals this summer. Traveling and being some place new was high on my list. The other little things, they aren't as important. But, I made it a point to at least travel a small distance. I wouldn't have had the time or the budget really to escape to Europe like I am planning. So, I was able to do just that about two weeks ago. Just over 8 days ago I arrived back from an amazing trip in Pennsylvania. A very special person in my life invited me down to stay with her for a few days before she moved to the UK. Realizing that this trip would be just what I had wanted for my summer, I did not hesitate to pass up the chance to see Philly. The trip was planned out over the spread of a week. Work was wrapped up and one last wedding was photographed the day before I left. Being a small wedding, I was able to edit all the images in time to leave and have nothing to worry about for a few days away.
On Saturday morning, I put the last piece of equipment and luggage in my car, my camera. I kept it with me between the two seats, as I always do, because you just never know when you're going to need to reach for it quickly. Stopping at the closest Dunks, I grabbed a coffee and headed for the turn pike. I made my way up the on ramp, looked in the rear view mirror, and didn't look back for the rest of the trip. I made a few images while driving down. I was more or less thinking along the lines of as documenting my trip down, via car.

With traffic and three stops, nearly 6 hours later I reached a very beautiful rural town just North of Philly. I was greeted with a smile and a hug that would make anyone feel welcomed. That was the start of an amazing weekend in which passion, creativity, and art were shared, discussed, and experienced. Saturday afternoon we relaxed and spent some time looking at photographs and just enjoying the first few moments of my trip. Dinner came very quickly. It was already planned out for us what we would be having. I chopped and minced some herbs and cukes while the rest of the meal was being prepared. Side by side we cooked what became a very interesting dish. Bulger, the main ingredient in Tabouli salad was something I had never heard of before. I am not a culinary genius by any means, but I have been watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, so I must know something about food, to an extent that is. Or, at least I hope I do.

But I was very anxious to try the dish that we prepared. Warm, grill-toasted pitas were what accompanied this wonderful mix of fresh vegetables and herbs. This culinary delight was the start of my adventures in new food tastings for my weekend in Penn. Needless to say, that the Tabouli was a wonderful and pleasurable experience. There was enough left over that we were able to enjoy a nice lunch with it a few days later. Having had the chance to sit, the herbs came together to form a stronger flavor and tantalize the palate. I am sure I will be enjoying this again shortly. After we enjoyed a dinner of conversation and generous hospitality, we had a few minutes of rest before getting ready to head to the city to have an adventure in music. We arrived to a very eclectic and uniquely decorated hotel where the sounds of the band were already playing. Making our way past the door man, we greeted some family. The sounds of music brought out family and friends and gave myself a chance to meet some very welcoming people. Over a beer, we discussed art and photography. It fast became a surreal moment, being caught up in the discussion while sitting an a very European looking setting. The hotel had this old world, almost Irish appealing quality about it that brought me to a new place. Lots of smiles, lots of laughter, and a genuine happiness to be there made for a very pleasant night. The sounds of the band carried on as we said good byes. We sat in the car for a few moments before departing the city. Truths and desires were shared and future memories were created. It was an emotional yet passionate discussion between two people that one could find in lesser contemporary movies. Calling it a night, we drove back to the house. Sunday was going to come fast and by then I was starting to feel a little exhausted. A nice comfortable bed sound good at that point. The road home was very quick, not a lot of traffic occupied the road, which made the drive shorter than the the way down. It was still a sight-seeing trip back though. The architecture in that area is just amazing. It has this euro-stone feel to it. Unlike the modern, newly constructed homes and buildings, these seem to present the area with a personality and decorate the cities. It redefines the term, curb appeal. The head lights peered through the neighborhoods. Stopping behind my car and in front of the house. That was the end of my first day in Pennsylvania.

Sunday came quick and we had certain time we needed to be ready for. We had plans to meet a friend of at the Barnes Foundation. If you are unfamiliar with whom Albert C. Barnes was, you can read about him here on the Barnes Wikipedia page. Without to much detail, I will say this, Barnes collected art. He collected a lot of it and his foundation, though it is going through some hiccups, holds a massive collection of Cezanne, Renoir, and Matisee paintings. His collection is from the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Modernist periods of art. One of the major, and seemingly largest paintings we enjoyed was by Henri Matisse, Le bonheur de vivre. Eagerly we took corners and rooms, each with a surprise as to what we would see next. I happened to see paintings I studied when I was going to school for art and photography. Paintings that in real life took my breath away. Like paintings by Georges Seurat. I have seen some photo reproductions of his paintings. Pretty interesting to see people duplicating paintings with photography. Unfortunately, I was not able to have my camera join us as we strolled through the small rooms filled with paintings by the masters. We met with a friend. Discussed some art and some other off the topic conversations. We made plans to reconnect after lunch for some portraits and some dinner. We were starved and ready to move on from the art. We had a chance to see pieces of art that both made an impact and an inspiration on our own work. Lunch was very interesting. There are stores spread out in the Philly area called WaWa. On my way down I had heard commercials on the radio advertising them and their "Hoagies" Hoagies are what Subs or grinders are to New England. However, WaWa is much better than Subway. You walk in, use a touch screen to order what you would like, and minutes later your number is called. How convenient is that? I had always thought that restaurants needed a touch screen ordering system. I guess that is step one to reaching that. We ate and enjoyed our lunch while the rain started to come down. We sat in the car for a few moments waiting for it to let up before heading out to Philly to meet up with rest of the evening. By the time we reached Philly, the rain let up and it became sunny once again and gave us some great light to work with in terms of shooting. This was the first chance I had really had to make some images.

Being in such an historical city, you might think that I would have done the touristy thing and over shot the landmarks. Well, I didn't and would not have. We were pressed for time, had plans, and made portraits and photographs that are more meaningful than capturing the bell. Granted it would be nice to see those some day, but it wasn't immediate on my list of things to enjoy while in Philly. Instead, I made photographs of the things that mattered, were important, and of how I saw Philly. We were privileged to be have a nice penthouse to shoot in and provided us with some great views, outstanding light, and a chance to work on some fine arts images. Before we made some portraits, we headed over to this great restaurant bar called Eulogy. Eulogy is a great little Belgian Tavern located on 136 Chestnut Street in Old City, Philly. We had a beer each and got a little more acquainted. Their list of beers was longer than most restaurant menus. I enjoy Belgian beer and knew that I would like a lot of what they had to offer. I do however, regret not remembering what I had ordered. But, if you are passing through Philly, I suggest you make a stop there if you are thirsty or just want to take a few minutes to enjoy the environment the staff creates.

Old City Philly has this feeling about it. It is unlike Boston and New York City. I've lived in Boston and have seen enough of New York City to know there are so many differences between them and Philly. It isn't due to their size difference. Philly, steepled in history as being a founding city for our country still has old world characteristics about it. This is especially prevalent in the fusion of contemporary architecture with the historic structures and layouts of the city. When I travel or visit a place of immense history I become mesmerized by the possibility of who walked those streets before me. Some pretty important people once occupied Philly, as well as visited and walked the same paths I could have taken. I feel the same way at times when I walk down certain streets in Boston. I feel as if at times I just appreciate what was created for us. We passed a few narrow streets, buildings that look as if they have been standing since 1771, lightly stepped on the cobble stone streets. I did a lot of staring, seeing, and wondering while being amazed. Philly, unlike Boston, and New York City at times, always had a photographic opportunity. Every where I looked there was someone or something waiting to be captured. I could have spent so much more time capturing how I saw the city.

After Eulogy, we headed back to a penthouse suit to do some portraits. That evening was more than just about making artistic portraits. It was about talk, forging new memories captured by images, and saying small good byes as friends enter the world to concur new adventures and see new places. We spent some time shooting, making some great portraits, and fast became very hungry. Calling it a wrap, we organized everything, and before I knew it, we were back walking on the historic streets of Old City. I was excited for every chance to see the city. As we were heading out, the sun was just about the end of the golden hour. It was close to being completely set.

For the first time I got to experience Tapas. Not ever having been to Philly, I was unable to decide where to go. I was ready and open for something new and exciting. That was just what was in store for me. We made our way over to Amada Amada is a spanish tapas dining experience in a trendy and professional environment. One thing that I really appreciated was the table in which we sat at. The tables on the bar side consist of what looks like some very old reclaimed wood. Their decor is a contemporary mix of old and new merged together to enhance their delectable menu. We started with Sangria. Blanco is a mix of white wine, appel, pear, and orange. Myself, I had Tinto, which was a combination of spiced red whine with orange, apple and cinnamon. It was such a great combination and made think of the approaching autumn season. Our dinner consisted of a few variations of tapas. We ordered a few plates and shared them. Now, if you are unfamiliar with what tapas are, or haven't already googled it questioningly, then let me explain. Tapas are small portions of food on a plate. It is not you average piece of food. It is a dining experience that consists of portions of food with flare. We had four plates Queso Deagabr Baked goat cheese, tomato basil and almonds. Patatas Bravas which are spicy potatoes. Very delicious. Accompanying these two plates were two more wonderful dishes, Pulpo A La Galleg, Spicy Octopus and Piquillos Rellenos, Crab-Stuffed Peppers. After dinner we had an amazing desert. Pastel Con Escabeche, A warm brown butter cake with seasonal fruit escabeche and almond ice cream. After some slight hesitation, my spoon dove in and I took a bite of surprise and happiness. It was great. The flavors of the fruit, cake, and melting ice cream came together in one delectable bite. A short time later we were walking back to the penthouse to grab our belongings, equipment, and say a good bye or two. From there we headed back to call it a night.

Monday morning came quickly. Plans change quickly some times. We had a day planned to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But, being like most museums, they were closed for a Monday. It would have really benefited our day to be in the city again, as we had dinner plans that evening in South Philly. We took a short trip to this little area that was filled with shopping, dining, a not so good coffee shop. Kind of like a Friendly's type diner. There was however a cheese shop that looked promising. But, it was closed. We ended up in a Native American store where there was some amazing pottery and a beautiful teal/aqua ring that made its way on the hand of the woman I was visiting. She was very eager to purchase it. The ring really made her eyes come to life. Shortly after that, we made a few photographs and headed back to get ready for the dinner party we were attending later that night.

Our drive into South Philly brought back a reminiscent feeling of Holyoke. The city in which my studio resides. There of course is a vast difference between the two cities. South Philly just being an urban outer section of Philly, kind of like a borough, is not similar in layout and history like Holyoke. But the way the buildings line the streets and how the people appear to live is similar to parts of Holyoke. It was a unique but nice area in terms of being an urban landscape.

A few knocks on the door, a slight pause, loud barks and greetings from family and dogs brought us into a very nice evening. After the greetings came great conversations and amazing food. This was day 3 of my culinary adventure in Philadelphia. Fresh Mojitos, a tomato appetizer (blanched tomatoes soaked in vodka for an hour, served with a salt and pepper season), fresh salad, and an amazing pasta dish with the freshest mozzarella I have ever had. Our dinner was well prepared by our host. Everything having been so fresh made for a more appetizing dinner than what you will find in most restaurants. It was an intellectual evening that embraced discussions from music to art to politics. Of course, business was discussed as well as a brief discussion of ones career, education, and job. It was a very stimulating evening that was brought to an end with a great desert. Peach pie, something I normally wouldn't eat, was very good. I am not a huge fan of peaches, but this pie reminded me of my grand mothers apple pie, which only comes once a year, so this spoiled me and left me excited after having ate it. Saying good byes, it was a pleasure to meet yous, we found ourselves exiting the door, exiting South Philly, and on our way back for the night. Tuesday was going to come very soon. Tuesday was my final day in PA.

Tuesday was supposed to have been a day at the Gardens and a very nice Vineyard. But the Philly Museum Art need to be visited. The change of plans came because of the Museum being closed on Monday. Our day Monday started a little later than we had planed and with the dinner party in the evening we wouldn't have had the time to get to the Gardens or Vineyard and have made it back in time. So on Tuesday we enjoyed a nice breakfast and made our way to the Museum. I was so anxious to see what was inside the walls of this massive building.

Two days prior we saw a massive collection of Renior. That was one exhibit we could by pass to enjoy the rest of the Museum. I could spend another two hours discussing what we saw. To spare the boredom of art criticism, I will just say this. Visit the Museum. There are pieces of work that I learned about and studied while in school for art and photography, and to be able to see these pieces of art were breathtaking. It is almost indescribable to try and explain the feeling I get when looking at a Picasso. I was introduced to some new artists that I had never seen before, such as Miro, Demuth, Modigliani. Of course I did see Van Gogh, Degas, Picasso, Manet, Monet, and one of my favorites, Seurat. I walked into one room of the Philly Museum where I was greeted by

Cy Twombly. (Pictured above) His work moves me. Well, some of it that is. I had an art course once where the professor suggested I study his work based on the types of mixed media paintings I was working on. Yes, thats correct, before photography I used to pre-sue other forms of art. Because of this trip, the passion we shared, the creativity, and the works of art we saw, I will be experimenting this fall with some painting. I was inspired by what I saw and what we discussed. Art seriously impacts photography. There is such an inspiration that can be drawn from both genres. As a photographer, there are certain pieces that I find compelling to look at and can draw inspiration from. Especially artists like Degas who frequently made photographs as part of his studies and work. Degas wasn't just a painter, he was at times a photographer.

We had a few hours to enjoy the Museum before heading out to another exciting location. Before I venture off to that topic. Above you will see an image of a robot. It is a robot in the cross walk. I have seen that robot before. Not located in Philly. It was about 280 miles north in the city of Northampton, MA. I do not know the story of such bot, but I am sure there is good reason as to why I have seen him twice in two different parts of the country. After the Museum, we headed down to Old City once again to visit the Historical Society. My beautiful tour guide and host at one point and time had worked there. I stood in the preservation and conservation room. I was surrounded by documents, books, and other works that were hundreds of years old. I unfortunately do not have anything visual I can write and share. I can say this Martha Washington had an impressive cook book. I was given the opportunity to step into a building that housed some important documents and meet the people that are the ones to conserve them. It was very interesting and very inspiring. We stay for a minute, it was a chance for my beautiful host to say a good bye before she left the country. It wasnt really a good bye, more of a good luck to you and an Ill see you when I see you. That is term that I like best when saying see you to someone you know you wont see for a period of time. We finished up with our meeting there. By that time of day it was nearly 5pm. I was planning on leaving for 6pm. Being in the city, hungry, and about 45 minutes from the house, I didnt see that working out like I planned. Which for me, was not a problem. I was happy to stay later. We made our way over to a little sushi place just a few blocks over.AKI Japanese Fusion Bar and Restaurant provided us with our last decadent dinning experience in Philly. We ordered up a nice beer, some sushi, talked, discussed art, the historical society, and the future. It made for a peaceful final meal. On my end of the table, the emotions were heightened as the, "Ill see you when I see yous" were on my mind. What seemed like a surreal vacation was fast ending. Below are the last images I made in Philly. They were made just before the Historical Society and just after Sushi. Take note of the man in the cross walk. Sometimes images are just presented for you to record as in the case of this man using binocular hands to view a woman across the street.

Ending our dinner at AKI, we walked back to the car and said farewell to Philly. I will be back again some day. The ride back was a little quiet. It was a little emotional as the vacation was now coming to an end. Our conversation became serious and quite sobering in an emotional way as we were approaching the house. We spent about another hour talking as I began packing up and getting ready for the road home. To understand more as to why there was a high level of emotions being displayed by us, Mandy was at the time getting ready to move out of the states. Upon the publishing of this she has now be out of the U.S. for a few days now. It was the last few moments of being together before she moved. We continued talking as I prepared to leave and make the trip back. It was getting considerably late to be heading back. By the time I place all my equipment and belongings in the car it was just after 9. I had a 5-6 journey home. One last hug, a few more words, a wipe of the eyes, and the car door was shut. Heading up the street to exit the neighborhood, I took one final look in the rearview mirror, smiled, pulled out on to the street and made my way to the gas station to fill up.

I made my way to the WaWa one last time to get some gas. After fueling up, I grabbed my ipod and got on the road home. I had a journey a head of me. I wasn't ready to leave, I had to be back to the studio though and there was work lined up for when I arrived back. It was a great vacation of passion, brilliance, art, inspiration, great conversations, and new photographs. On my way home, I made a point to keep my camera in my passenger seat to document the road home.

It took me 6 hours to drive back. The time did not go by slow. I had a chance to think and reflect back on an amazing trip. I made images that were not typical, nor expected, but show how I saw Philly. It was a great trip and what came out of it can only be described by words similar to passion


Dave lapham Photography said...

I am jealous of your trip. You took some great photos. I love your eye for urban photography. Keep up the good work!!

Anonymous said...

This whole posting was excellent, from the food to the art and is alive! Great work, Jeff!

Jeffrey Byrnes said...

Dave, Thank you for the compliment and the inspiration to keep shooting. I appreciate you taking the time to read and leave your comment.


Jeffrey Byrnes