Harry Chapin

I always think back to my days at Morehead State University whenever I look at this picture of Harry Chapin.  He did a benefit concert at Morehead State, a beautiful college campus in the hills of eastern Kentucky.  I was a freshman at the time.

My love for photography really began with this concert.  I was a photographer for the public relations department at Morehead State and I was assigned to shoot this event.  I liked Harry Chapin’s music,  so this was a real treat for me.  He did not bring a band, only his guitar.

My first concert to photograph was The Spinners.  I did not do very well.  They kept moving around too much.  Harry just sat there on a stool…so much easier.  I did manage to get some good shots and I realized the power of the camera  and how you could produce an image that evoked feeling.

After the concert, I walked with Harry Chapin, just he and I, out the door of Wetherby Gymnasium into the cold night air.  I remember thinking how cool this is and not because of the temperature.     We talked about the possibility of sending these photos to him (actually I talked about it, he seemed deeper in thought about something else, probably how to get rid of an annoying teen age photographer who thinks he is better than he really is).  Anyway, as we were standing beside his rented Plymouth Duster with him holding  his guitar, I knew then I would always remember this moment. Then he asked me that all important question  I will take to my grave, “How do I get back to the Cincinnati airport?”

Harry Chapin was actually very pleasant on that night after his show.  I was very saddened when I heard of his death.  I will always remember the night when a big-time singer/song writer was kind to a young man from eastern Kentucky.

It’s funny how some things always stand out in our memory.  I can still smell my freshman dorm room at 212 Alumni Tower, and no, not because of a stench of two eighteen year-olds living together in what could be a small walk-in closet.

I remember lying in my bed with a high fever wishing I was delirious instead of  listening to my roommate and another friend argue over my lifeless body as to which was the best remedy…freeze the fever out  or keep me warm.  It looked like a bad comedy routine with one friend opening the window to let in the frigid January air and the other closing it and piling another blanket on me…repeating this dance over and over again.

I remember turning in my first Comp 1 paper.

At the sacrifice of hours of carefree college life to write our papers, we strode collectively up to the instructor and laid our finished work upon the altar.  When I placed my paper on the pile, Mr. Morrow peered up at me over his glasses.   After seeing the title of my paper, “The Baseball Life of Hank Aaron”, he said to me in his very southern drawl,  “That is uh mighty schahluhly subject Mr. Nickell.”  (That word is scholarly for you Yankees that don’t understand Southernese.)

I walked out of the room and down the hall, feeling quite pleased with myself.  Then suddenly I felt the cold sting of higher education sarcasm.   As I opened the door of the Combs building, with the crisp autumn afternoon hitting me in the face, I looked up into that bright blue eastern Kentucky sky and felt the pride and satisfaction of eliminating my first career choice…writing.   After all, that is what college is about– finding out all of the things you ain’t good at.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.

Moving Through Florence

Florence is a beautiful city.  I wish I could expound on its history and setting and sound worldly and knowledgeable  but I cannot.

You see when my wife and I were planning a trip to Italy, she wanted to do a tour so we would know what we were seeing and know the history and the meaning of it all.  At least that’s what I thought she was thinking.  As it turned out, not having faith in my honed sense of direction, all she was thinking was to prevent us from getting lost or kidnapped in a foreign country.  Nevertheless, I was able to convince her that we would  be able to navigate on our own and it would be more relaxing.  I’m sure the tours did not stop for gelato every half hour like we did.  I hate looking at watches and having to be somewhere at a certain time, especially on vacation.  We did download a few of Rick Steves’ tours on our iPhone and iPod and that was very useful.

Like Rome, there were some things that amazed me about Florence.  I was struck by the number of people riding bicycles in the city and weaving their way in and out of traffic and through pedestrians, and there were a lot of pedestrians.

As you may be able to tell from my previous blogs, I like to photograph motion.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it is because it requires some skill and technique.  To show motion in a still photograph is pretty cool.  Since the digital age, more and more photography is relegated to the processing programs.  I think I like motion because it still has to be done through the camera lens.

Anyway, I took numerous shots of bicyclists in our three days in Florence.  This shot is my favorite of all of them.  I did it in black and white to give it more feel and drama.  This was taken outside of the Uffizi gallery along the Arno River.

Don’t be fooled by this photo and think all I like to take is motion shots,  I shot a couple of thousand pictures in Italy…one good thing about the digital age.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.

Rome at Night

My wife and I went to Italy in the late summer of 2010 to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  We tried to plan a trip for our 10th, 15th, and 20th anniversaries but something was always coming up and preventing us  from doing so (those darn kids  we have to take care of).  I’m sorry, did that thought slip out?

Rome was our first stop in Italy.  We landed in Rome at about 9:00 AM after a sleep deprived flight from Detroit to Amsterdam to Rome.

Our first clue as to the fast-paced life in Rome would be the taxi ride from the airport to our hotel.

We “spun the chamber” at the taxi stand and hopped in our ride, seemingly an  innocuous event.  The cab was small and did not look like it had enough horse power to match my first car, a 1965 Corvair that would shake and shimmy at 50 mph.  Looks can be quite deceptive.

After informing our driver of our destination, he welcomed us on our first visit to Italy. I did not know we were preparing to embark on a taxi ride that would make the New York and Chicago cab drivers look like they trained behind the reins of an Amish wagon.  While my wife and I were still in a sleepless haze, he shot out of the taxi stand with a sly grin. I felt like Slim Pickens riding the bomb in Dr. Strangelove minus his level of excitement.  We weren’t sleepy anymore.

Can you be terrified and at the same time be impressed?   Those thoughts don’t seem to go together, but oddly enough that’s what I was thinking as exhaustion turned to shock.   We watched our driver perform levels of multitasking heretofore I thought were not humanly possible.   He was talking to someone on bluetooth in Italian, while he was typing on a keyboard in the seat beside him and following the progress of his fingers on a monitor mounted on his dashboard, at the same time turning to pleasantly converse with us in English, all the while driving 70 miles per hour (sorry, 112 km per hour).   He was speeding through traffic along roads that had four lanes painted, however, there were six lanes of cars.  The one task he did not perform was to look in his rear view mirror as he navigated this roving chaos.  My wife and I quit talking after five minutes.  Instead we just looked at each other as if to memorize the face of the one we loved so we could be sure to recognize each other in the afterlife.

Rome is an incredibly wonderful city to visit.   Like that cab ride, I was ever amazed at how fast and furious the city moved.   I wanted to get a photo that showed the movement of Rome.   This photo was taken during our night walk across the city.   I did not have a tripod so I had to hand-hold this shot.   We stood at this intersection and watched the traffic for a few minutes while I contemplated  how I wanted to compose the shot in the camera.  I was pleased with the result since I had to hold the camera and shoot at 1/25th of a second.  It captured the movement of the traffic while keeping the buildings in focus.

We stayed in Italy long enough to make us long to return.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.

The Pivot

I can watch baseball with my hair on fire, and if you have seen me lately you would think I’ve done that  a few times. There are few things more relaxing than being in a ball park on a warm summer evening or a sunny afternoon and experiencing a baseball game.  I have enjoyed them from the time I was a wee lad when my dad would take us on a three hour trek up to Cincinnati for a Sunday double-header to watch the Reds, usually playing the Cardinals, in old Crosley Field.

As a right of passage, I have taken my son to many baseball games and they are some of the best days of my life.  One particular weekend a few summers ago when my son was in high school, we headed out for Pittsburgh to watch his beloved Atlanta Braves play the Pirates.

There are some plays over the course of a baseball game that show the beauty and grace of the sport.  One particular play is when the second basemen turns a double play, called the pivot.  He takes a throw from the shortstop or the third baseman and has to coordinate his movements, by stepping on the second base bag at the same time he catches the ball and with the slight-of-hand resembling a marquis magician, he gets the ball out of his glove and throws across his body to the first baseman–all while the runner is baring down, wanting to knock him into left field.  It is a marvelous thing when it all comes to fruition.  The amazing thing is that this happens a countless number of times over the course of a season.  On this particular play the second baseman is vulnerable to harm and the really good ones, knowing this is about to happen, still hang in there and make the play and suffer the consequences.

This photo is of one of these plays, the pivot, performed by Neil Walker.  I like this shot because it shows the peak of the action of the play.  I just happened to have a good seat in the stands that gave me  this vantage point.

The baseball field can be a lonely place when you are having a bad game.  Baseball is a unique team sport in that you are pretty much on your own on the field.  Your teammates cannot bail you out if you goof up.  YOU have to hit the ball, YOU have to field the ball, YOU have to make the throw and everyone sees your mistakes.

I had a game filled with those mistakes.  It could have been the worst game ever by a high school baseball player, at least it felt that way.  I was a junior in high school and after playing second base my sophomore year, I was moved to shortstop.  This is the  star position of the infield because the shortstop usually gets the most chances to make plays.

After a long two hour bus ride to Louisa, Kentucky we began a game that I would often think about some thirty eight years later.  After committing four errors at shortstop, my coach moved me to left field, where I quickly misplayed a routine fly ball into error number five.  Mercifully, my coach sent in a replacement and  I walked off the field to the delight of the other eight players  looking at me with both pity and contempt  as if I were a leper being led out of the village .

We lost that game by a single run.  I had a large contribution to the other team’s run production.  I slowly walked to the bus feeling like Charlie Brown after one of his meltdowns.  Being the last one to board the bus, I was looking for any solace or words of encouragement that would make me not want to sling the back emergency door open and take a swan dive into the grill of a following semi. Alas as I slowly lifted up my head and made eye contact with our crusty old bus driver, he uttered those words that kept me going to this day, “Son, who in the hell told you that you could play baseball?”

It was a long ride home.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.

Return to Friday Night Normalcy

In most small towns across America in the fall, Friday nights mean one thing — high school football.  This has been the norm in all places I have lived from California, Texas (especially Texas), northern Kentucky, and my hometown of West Liberty, Kentucky.

This is a picture of the first home football game after the tornado destroyed the field and the facility six months ago.  This has been quite an accomplishment I must say.   I had my camera set on a speed of 3200 ISO for the football action so the shot is a little grainy.  I know it won’t hang on the walls of many people as a masterpiece of photographic technique, but I liked the shot of the field with the sunset.  I just wanted a picture of the moment  that West Liberty and Morgan County, Kentucky took a big step in the return to normalcy.  Friday nights will once again be reserved for high school football, one more victory over the tornado.

Whenever I go to a high school football game, I never fail to reminisce about the one year of high school football I played in my senior year.  You see in my mind I was a touch football legend, catching passes in the pimply faced secondary across the few impromptu back yard playing fields of West Liberty.  I was always afraid to play high school football because I was rather small in stature.  So when my senior year came around, I figured 17 years of growth would be enough to inflict maximum  force.  My DNA worked overtime to produce a superior specimen at 5’9″ and 145 pounds…perfect for football I presumed.  Also, I was highly nearsighted and had to wear glasses under my helmet…another bonus.

There was one play that, surprisingly I remember, tells me my instincts may have been a little off.  In my first game, the coach sent me in with a play that would be a pass to be thrown to me.  Full of excitement and confidence and thinking about all of those passes I caught on the touch football fields, I relayed the play to my quarterback.  Now I had practiced this play numerous times without any calamities against my teammates and it seemed so simple.  I lined up at tight end (did I mention I was 5’9″ and 145 pounds?) and I was to take one step toward the defensive tackle and fake a block, then dash out to the flat for a five-yard pass to pick up the first down.

For some reason the defensive tackle, who was larger than some of the cars I’ve owned, wasn’t too receptive to my coming toward him.  I must have invaded his personal space because he hit me with a forearm shiver to the chin that snapped my head back like a Pez dispenser.  Fortunately, he knocked me in the general direction I was supposed to go.  Unfortunately, he also knocked my glasses down inside my helmet so I could not see the football coming.  As I was staggering out to the flat like a drunken sailor, our quarterback, who had not only an accurate arm but a strong one also, stuck the ball in my midsection so hard it knocked the breath out of me.   After making the catch, two linebackers pounced on me reminiscent of those nature films where the cheetahs devour the lonely straggler in the back of the pack.

We got the first down and I stammered off to the side lines with the strap of my glasses dangling out the back of my helmet like a ten year-old girl’s pony tail and proceeded to have the most fun I ever had playing a high school sport.

If you like this picture, you can see more here.