Friday, December 31, 2010

Striking Out in Erwin, NC

Every time I see a bowling alley, I get a little nostalgic. Not because I can say I owned my own bowling ball and shoes. (I did) Or that I took bowling as one of my PE requirements in college. (an easy A) But more about a particular holiday season many moons ago in Augusta, GA.

One year for Christmas, the company I was working for gave its employees the choice of a frozen turkey, ham or a folding golf chair as our Christmas bonus. Most of us being single, and used to cooking our meals in a microwave, opted for the chair. 

But some chose the turkey. These were obviously the very few of us that actually possessed real culinary skills.

And what better way to spend the holidays than with friends and little frozen turkey bowling?

In the spirit of the holiday season, and to take advantage of our recently acquired frozen butterballs, we held a very festive holiday party, complete with friendly games of frozen turkey bowling.

A couple of my coworkers had the perfect apartment to host our league. They had a long hallway with hardwood floors that ran the length of their apartment. Someone bought a plastic bowling set from the toy store and we were in business.

We didn’t have the conveniences of modern bowling lanes: computerized scoring, automatic ball return or mechanical pin resets. As could be expected, the bowlers were usually at the mercy of the folks at the other end of the hall to act as the turkey return/pin setters.

There was definitely a little bit of a competitive spirit in the air that night. But like bowling alleys, it’s not just about the sport. It’s also about the camaraderie. 

As for me, I left my bowling shoes at home.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hitchhiker's Travel Guide to the North Carolina Galaxy

This time of year brings a level of excitement and anticipation that knows no bounds. 

But I’m not talking about the excitement that surrounds the jolly old fat man that makes his rounds on Christmas Eve. I’m talking about the North Carolina Travel Guide.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work on the travel guide for the past few years and always can’t wait until it’s finally unveiled. With a photo deadline around July, it’s about five or six long months before I can see my work in print. That’s five or six excruciatingly long months.

When you consider that most of our magazines have at most a three month turn around time from when the photographs are taken to when they show up in the magazine, that’s a long time. If you think about it, that’s almost three years in dog years.

But, it’s always worth the wait.

Check it out here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

S' Wanderful

It’s funny how little you know about a place even though you’ve been there numerous times.

Having been to Sumter, SC, on many occasions for work, I’ve passed under the footbridge on Liberty Street but never taken a gander at what lay beyond the fences.

To my surprise, behind the tall black fences lays a 120-acre garden, the Swan Lake-Iris Gardens, that contains all manners of flora, from camellias, to day lilies, to azaleas. But the most prized of them all, are the Japanese iris.

Swan Lake was never meant to become an iris garden and has been called by Southern Living Magazine a “lovely mistake.”

Hamilton Carr Bland first tried planting Japanese iris at his home in the 1920’s. After several unsuccessful attempts at getting them to bloom, Bland had the iris bulbs dug up and dumped into some swamp land.

The following spring to Bland’s surprise, the bulbs burst from the ground into what would become the Swan Lake-Iris Gardens.

But if the flora doesn’t impress you, the fauna definitely will.

Swan Lake is home to all eight species of swans from five continents. The first swans, Australian Black Swans, arrived in the 1920’s and the collection became complete with the addition of Bewick Swans in 1977.

The collection includes Royal Mutes Swans, Black Necked Swans, Coscoroba Swans, Whooper Swans, Trumpeter Swans, Black Australian Swans, Whistler Swans and Bewick Swans.

The birds and their waterfowl brethren are amazing to see. 

Over the course of several days, I visited the lake at different times, gathering video and pictures of these beautiful creatures. And I’m convinced that swans only do two things: eat and groom themselves.

(If they’re not doing those two things, it’s because they’re in transition from one to the other.)

They’re magnificent to watch as their heads and necks disappear under the water to feed on the vegetation at the bottom of the lake. Their bodies floating on the surface like a fishing bobber, mooning awestruck visitors. As they surface, water droplets dripping from the bills glisten in the late afternoon sunlight.

I think half my pictures and the majority of the video I shot in Sumter comes Swan Lake.

My only wish is that I would have found what lay on either side of that footbridge sooner.

For Swan Lake-Iris Gardens, truly is S’ Marvelous.

God Save the Queen (City)!

The epicenter of the Queen City lies at the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets. Standing at the four corners of the intersection are four sculptures created by Raymond Kaskey. Each one is a monument to what has made the city what it is. They stand for Future (features a woman hoisting a baby into the air), Transportation (features a very muscular railroad working holding a large hammer), Commerce (features a miner and a banker) and Industry (features a female mill worker, reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter, with a bonnet on her head.)

Charlotte has a lot to be proud of. It’s the largest city in North Carolina and the 18th largest city in the country. It’s also the 2nd largest banking city and home to Wachovia (which is now part of Wells Fargo) and Bank of America, second in size only to New York City.

But you have to be careful taking pictures outside one of these institutions or any other corporate headquarters located along Trade or Tryon. Security guards are everywhere and discourage picture taking, even from public places like sidewalks. Which is sad, because there are so many beautiful buildings with awesome architecture in downtown Charlotte. And it seems more are being added everyday.

Here’s an interesting tidbit, Bank of America actually started out as the Bank of Italy in 1904 in San Francisco, CA. 

Even our banks are melting pots.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Faster Than a Falling Acorn

The lab technician hovers over the young forest like a a mother bird stands over a nest of hatchlings, using a pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass to arrange the tiny seedlings on a petri dish.

In 2000, four companies came together to form ArborGen. US Companies Westvaco Corporation and International Paper and New Zealand companies Fletcher Challenge  and Genesis Research and Development pooled their years of research and expertise to develop a new breed of trees.

ArborGen in Summerville, SC, uses breeding and biotechnology to create what the company calls “SuperTree Seedlings.” A name that sounds like a lesser-known member of the Justice League, complete with it’s own set of super powers. The company’s goal is to produce trees that grow faster and produce more quality wood per acre, while being resistant to disease and cold.

Today, the company produces over 250 million seedlings a year, including four types of pine trees and numerous hardwoods including Eucalyptus, Oak and Black Walnut.

In a time when sustainability has become a household name, ArborGen is hoping their products will help meet the ever increasing global demand for renewable resources.

Sounds like a job for SuperTree.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One Scoop or Two, the Rent is Due

In a perfect world, more people would own rental property if the rent was paid in ice cream. And ads for personal injury lawyers would be replaced by ads for personal trainers. Life would be grand.

Now throw in an 18th floor view of downtown Charlotte and you have one of the prime rental properties in the city. Of course, the thousands of roommates you’d have to share it with might be a deal-breaker. And you just know a few of them aren’t going to clean up after themselves.

But such is life for the bees living on the rooftop of the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Charlotte. 

The hotel is the first LEED Gold certified Ritz-Carlton. They unveiled their green roof on the eve of Earth Day in 2010. It features a roof covered in sedum, a species of plants that is more desirable for rooftop covering than grass. The roof also has a few planters with vegetables, herbs and decorative flowers. But we can’t forget the roof’s centerpiece: the two beehives.

The bees’ rent for this week went to ice cream. The honey they provide also goes to flavoring other delectables when supplies and tastes permit.

For the bees, there won’t be a problem when their lease comes up for renewal because they’ve got to be great tenants. Besides, I seriously doubt the landlord’s going to kick them to the curb if their rent is late.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Small Spaces, Small Flashes

A lot of times, our jobs require us to work in small, confining spaces; spaces that are closer to the definition of a closet instead of a room. The new cath lab at Paris Regional Medical Center's, in Paris, TX, would definitely count as one.

The cath lab is actually two rooms. You have the people in with the patient performing the procedure and you have another group of people monitoring the procedure on the opposite side of a big window.

The big problem is I couldn’t light this picture like I would want to.

Most of the time when we shoot in a hospital, we have to stage the photos. Usually we just get a few staff members together, dress them up in gowns, stuff a few pillows under a blanket and I can light the room like the Fourth of July…..

And Presto! We have a very well lit surgical procedure taking place.

But, there are rare opportunities when we actually get to photograph a live procedure.

This is one of them.

In the other room in this photo, an actual procedure is taking place. That knocked out the possibility of lighting that room. And I didn’t want to light the entire room with the technicians watching the computer screen, because you’d see everything that’s in that room: from the trashcan, to the empty soda bottles, to basically anything that could be a distraction from the picture itself.

But, I couldn’t count on the computer screens to illuminate just the technicians. The screens aren’t powerful enough and directional enough.

I had to add a little light. 

If you look really hard, you can see it. (I didn’t intend for it to be visible. That’s why I tried, and obviously failed, to hide it behind the monitor.) It’s in the middle of the frame, up against to the monitor with the green lines.

The light is a small portable strobe with a grid on it to narrow the light beam and direct it toward the technicians. It’s meant to mimic the light coming from the monitor without illuminating the entire room.

It also helps draw the readers’ eyes toward the technicians and then back to the other room. If both rooms were lit equally, you wouldn’t get the same effect.

But most importantly, it creates a little drama. Not as much as on ER and Grey’s Anatomy, but definitely good enough for the Business Images of Ark-Tex Region.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Expectant Mother Ship

If a Beluga Whale and a 747 had a love child, it would surely look a lot like Boeing’s 787 DreamLifter. 

The DreamLifter came about after Boeing realized they needed a faster way to move parts between suppliers in Japan, Italy and the United States. The company transformed a 747 into a bloated, oversized cargo plane capable of hauling three times the capacity of a normal 747 cargo plane, allowing the company to move parts faster than the previous method of by cargo ship.

This DreamLifter is parked near the Boeing facility in North Charleston, SC. The plane is used to ferry parts for the 787 DreamLiner back and forth from North Charleston to Everett, WA.

When the North Charleston plant starts full production in 2011, it is expected to produce three 787 DreamLiners a month.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blessing All God's Creatures, Big and Small. And a Banana Too

They circled the field in front of All Saints Episcopal Church in Florence, SC, on a cool October morning. Waiting for the priests to make their rounds.

The blessing of the animals is held in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, and for his love of all God’s creatures.

It was quite the menagerie. The cages at the zoo must have been empty. St. Francis would have been proud.

They came alive and stuffed - not the trophy type hanging above the mantle. And in singles and in pairs. There were even photos subbing for those too cumbersome to fit in the backseat. 

There were cats, dogs, birds, ferrets, fish, turtles, hermit crabs and a guinea pig or two.

And we can’t forget Banana, the California Kingsnake.

One by one and two by two, the animals received their blessings. “…a blessing of health and wellness. And that they may continue to be a source of joy and wonder for their owners. For the rest of their lives. Amen.”

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Visitors taking a tour of the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology, in Florence, SC, get a special treat as they step into the “Cave” located on the second floor. They walk into what appears to be more of a lounge than an actual “lab” Several tv’s and a projection screen line the room. One of the few clues to what awaits them can be found on the arm of a couch. A very industrial-looking pair of sunglasses. 

Put them on and the room starts to pop.

One of the highlights of these virtual displays is the projection of a jet engine. To those unfortunate enough to get the short stick and miss the first round of 3D glasses, the image looks blurry and out of register. 

But to the lucky ones, the image comes alive.

Like a scene from a sci-fi movie, viewers can take the engine apart with simple hand gestures and not worry about getting grease on their hands or that recently pressed white dress shirt.

As 3D becomes more mainstream - just look at the movie listings and the new 3D tv’s starting to pop up - you realize how forward-thinking this program is at SIMT.

It’s not the future. It’s here today.

Now if you could just get a pair of 3D Oakley’s or maybe a pair of Versace’s, then it will truly be mainstream.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sticking Your Neck Out

No, this isn’t a miniature giraffe or even a super-high rez Google Earth picture of the African plains. This aerial view is courtesy of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s giraffe feeding station.

Just outside the zoo’s African Village, visitors are able to feed the giraffes with pieces of lettuce and interact with the long-necked curiosity seekers. But, to my surprise, this fella wasn’t interested in eating his veggies and thought my camera looked more appetizing as he came in for a closer view. 

Or taste.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Once Bit, Twice Spurred

Jay and Lyn Ocken met in college where both competed on the Ball State equestrian team. They soon fell in love and got married.

Jay teaches machine shop and Lyn teaches art. But, it wasn’t until about 2003 that they started toying with the idea of making their own pieces of equipment for their horses. The duo applied for, and received, a Lilly grant from the Lilly Foundation and soon left for Canada and Texas to learn their respective arts.
Jay is the metalsmith, using a welder or jeweler’s saw to shape and meld the pieces together. Lyn, using her own designs, or those supplied by the customer, steadily engraves the pieces with what is equivalent to a miniature jackhammer. 

Together, they form Ocken Bit and Spur Makers, making handmade custom cowboy gear. Some of their pieces can take over 40 hours to shape and are created for customers from as far away as New Zealand.

But in the end, it’s their love affair with horses that gives them the inspiration to continue crafting and sharing their one-of-a-kind pieces with other horse lovers.

(This is from a story for My Indiana Home)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Clean Sweep

My lighting umbrella brushes the ceiling fan as I move it about the old 1740’s era building that the Broom Place in Boykin, SC, calls home. I manage to dislodge at least a centuries worth of dust; if not older. Susan Simpson jokingly tells me that I’ll have to come back later to clean up the mess I’ve made. At least I hope she’s kidding.

About 40 years ago, fed up with her job in a stuffy office, Susan Simpson answered a newspaper ad selling some old broom making equipment. On a whim, Simpson replied and soon found herself the owner of some not-so-brand-new broom making equipment. In fact, the few companies that sold broom making equipment had long been out of business. The equipment was at least a hundred-years-old.

Simpson didn’t know how to make a broom. To make matters worse, neither did the woman who sold her the equipment.

She realized she’d have to teach herself.

Broom making is a lost art. It’s gone the way of, well, think of when your grandparents used to start of by saying “Back in my day....” 

It’s the period of time before that. 

Not many people make brooms by hand anymore. And the ones that do, aren’t jumping at the chance to teach others. Besides, brooms are mass produced today. Machines spit out a hundred brooms faster than Simpson can make one. 

But that’s what makes Simpson’s sweepers so special. Each one is made by hand. The way your grandmother, actually, your great-grandmother would have made them. From the dying of the broomcorn on the outside of the broom, to the stitches that hold them in place, they’re made from scratch using equipment that you can’t find replacement parts for anymore.

But if you fancy one of Simpson’s colorful brooms, you better get your name on the list. It’s about a three month wait.