Ringside at The Front Street Gym

Front Street Gym

As the sun dragged itself from under the horizon we arrived at Front Street Gym. The gym sits above a north Philadelphia beer store. Its graffiti-covered metal entry is flanked by two signs distinguishing it from the other storefronts on the block. Once the heavy door swung open, the sunshine poured over the worn down steps created by the athletes climb to becoming the next champion. Whitewashed brick walls were layered with 50 years of boxing posters that tell its history throughout the years. The posters serve as inspiration for the younger generation to push a little longer and hit a little harder with the goal to one day join their ranks.


Boxing is a sport that is associated with violence and brutality but what is often overlooked is the beauty that is displayed in the ring. An athlete who dedicates their time and energy to the ancient combative sport learns to dance about their opponent, dodging thrown punches while countering with their own. The bouncy steps around the ring look more like a ragtime one-step than a battle. The precision of a one-two punch displays all of the hard work and dedication did before. This shoot was very much like a boxers creative collaboration of limbs. We wanted an experience that would start with a photograph and finish with video to add more depth to the visually engaging story.

Ezra Migel and Chris

Ezra Migel and Chris have worked together on still-video productions before. So when Chris decided to produce Front Street Gym he immediately contacted Ezra. The two had already developed a rhythm that had worked well. They have proven that together they can make great work and that always begins with a thoughtful plan. After sharing many videos and pictures to nail down the vision, they banged out a rough shot list that would guide them throughout the production.

What is truly special about Chris’ creative process is his ability to make the environment its own character.  In this case, the Front Street Gym had a personality that was larger than life. The priceless charm of the boxing gym existed effortlessly and would be priceless in an attempt to recreate.  Once the athletes step into that space they are transported to a place where there is hope of a better life and honor to be earned. We could not predict how inspired the space would make us feel.

With each shot, Chris began with composing a dynamic scene. While shooting stills, Chris bounced back over to the director role. With Ezra shooting video, he and Chris collaborate in capturing a more evolved version of the initial still shot. This workflow allowed them to knock out their shot list that ended up growing due to the complex dynamic and overall energy from our entire team. Needless to say, we were united and in perfect sync with each other. Working effortlessly together to achieve our goals. I don’t believe we could have been happier with the day. We were allowed to work with amazingly talented people in a magical space where we were able to create something special. I hope you enjoy viewing it as much as we did in making it.

THAT ONE TIME WE WENT TO PRISON

A long narrow hallway lined with tiny barred cells enclosing angry men flinging obscenities is what we expected to find at a maximum security male prison. The entertainment industry depicts the American correctional system as a scary place. So, when we were given the opportunity to enter Oregon State Penitentiary we were filled with excitement and a bit of concern.

As you might have guessed, entering a prison is no easy task. There are several obstacles to navigate in order to be approved for entry. First off, background check for all members of the entire crew. Second, a thoroughly vetted equipment list. This list was scrutinized and whittled down three times. Each list included visuals of what was included. A location like this is only possible with the use of battery powered lights. Without them, it would be difficult to get down to three bags. 

The third obstacle was squeezing two portrait subjects into a tight schedule during the facility lockdown. We reviewed the Tour Guidelines for visitors which informed us of their hostage policy that states there are inherent risks in visiting a correctional facility. After several weeks of back and forth with Oregon State Penitentiary, everything was set and ready to go.

Oregon State Penitentiary is nestled in the sleepy town of Salem. Driving through the town you wouldn’t expect a maximum security prison would live just up the road. If there was a maximum security prison, you wouldn’t expect it to be lined with large, lush trees and meticulously maintained landscaping. The stark difference from the picturesque greenery and the castle-like exterior of the prison is striking. We stood on the steps of the Oregon State Penitentiary with nothing but our gear, our IDs and just a little bit of nerves.

Once inside we went through a series security checkpoints. Every step of the process was efficient. The staff was friendly and helpful through it all. We quickly moved to our first location and set up to shoot in cell block D. Once we were in the heart of the facility, it was evident how calm and quiet space it was. Unlike our chaotic expectations, we felt comfortable in the space. Of course, there was a bit of excitement buzzing around, we were a photo crew, something completely out of the ordinary. Even with our unusual presence the men lounged in their brightly colored cells patiently waiting for the lockdown to end.

Our first subject was Megan Lowe, a Corporal Correction Officer at OSP. She began her career at the Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI) in 2014. She was inspired by her father to follow a career in correction. Megan’s petite frame was weighed down by the required gear but her presence was enormous. Watching her walk down the block you saw her confident control in the space. She was one of the reasons we felt so safe there. She provides the order needed for peace.

We spent a few short but fulfilling moments with Megan. She allowed us to collaborate in her domain and we could not have asked for a smoother experience. Wrapping up in the housing block it was time to pack up and move on to our next location to meet Patrice, another staff member of OSP.  She is also doing amazing things but that is another story for another time.

To Be Continued…


Do you want to know what I did last summer?

I’ve always felt connected to trees. I grew up surrounded by them and being an only child in a relatively remote area, I will always call them my friends. We heated our home with wood throughout the duration of my childhood. The interesting part of that is that we never cut down a living tree. You see, my father had the responsibility of managing a large forest parcel adjacent to our land which was owned by a family that lived about 300 miles away from us. They chose to have this land logged twice during my upbringing. When a tree is harvested, the loggers are usually only interested in the stock of the tree. what’s left behind is a normally a very significant part of the tree consisting of a variety of small to large limbs.

Titusville, Pa

In the spring of 2016, I was back home visiting my folks with my son, Calvin. One afternoon, Calvin and I decided to go on a long walk of exploring on my parents’ property. The great motivation for my son was to search for salamanders near our creek, Indian Run. On the way back from the creek I saw what I thought was a large fallen tree in the distance. We navigated closer to find an enormous Red Oak that had rotted near its base and had been forced to the forest floor by a significant wind storm.

Fallen tree and Calvin for size

My first impression of this fallen giant was its sheer enormity. It really was quite big and it appeared to have taken down another dozen trees in its descent. Another thing I noticed quickly was how beautifully clean it was for about the first 20 feet from the ground. After a few minutes of admiring the tree and of course taking some photos of the monster,  I decided to head back home and engage my father on our find.

Dad and Calvin examining the Red Oak

My dad was certainly interested in the tree and had a vague recollection of hearing an enormous crash in the woods a few months prior. He journeyed back out with us to examine the tree and he realized that this was the largest tree on his property.

Dad next to a cutting of the Red Oak

Fantasizing for a moment, I told him that I thought this tree could be preserved and given a second life through milling and repurposing the slabs, boards, or any other way you might want to craft it. He agreed and we wasted no time in beginning a process that one could only describe as a labor of love.

Fallen giant

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you a story about cutting up a tree.  Well, over the past decade I’ve found that diversifying my creative outlets has always led to growth in my photography and it’s creative expression.  The clearest example of this was in 2008 when the economy went through the great recession. Business slowed and instead of sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring, my wife and I chose to renovate our kitchen and the first floor of our house. Through this process, I was forced to make design decisions in a creative realm that was quite foreign to me. With my wife as a guiding light, I was forced to have an opinion on everything we chose to create in that house. I began to reflect on how those decisions could influence my photography and the design that it was packaged within. The tree milling process is quite similar and will force me to learn and grow in a creative space that is foreign to me.

Julianna

Back to what we actually did this summer. In a perfect world, this tree would have fallen on level ground that was easily accessible by a log skidder. In reality, this tree was on a hillside and if I wanted to drag it out of the woods I would at least need to take out a dozen healthy trees to drag it out of the woods. I hated that idea. Being someone who is willing to compromise, compelled to follow through on a goal, and always up for a challenge I decided to find a way. The solution was a chainsaw with a very long bar and a contraption known as a Granberg Alaskan Mill.

Alaskan Mill Starter Kit

As you can see, this device looks something like a metal shop experiment gone wrong. It really was the right solution. 

Handling this machine is nothing short of grueling. It took me about an hour to cut each of the 8 slabs you see. My body was wrecked after just one cut and I made a number of mistakes along the way. 

After milling the last slab of the first of two major chunks of the tree, my father and I still had to get the slabs out of the woods. Fortunately, my father has always owned a reliable tractor and a much more reliable trailer. Gravity helped us the most at this stage of the game and after about 5 hard hours of difficult labor, we finally got these 14’ beasts out of the woods.

Dad with his trusty trailer

The process has been quite rewarding. I still have a long road to go in finishing the conversion process, but when it happens I will surely be proud to show off the results.

Calvin and the 14′ cuts of the Red Oak

To be continued…

Meejin Yoon – Architect and Designer

Women’s Work began with a suggestion to Chris while out to lunch in NYC with an Art Buyer friend of his. She suggested that he meet this interesting woman named Heather. Heather Marold Thomason, the infamous butcher, was the first subject for Women’s Work. This is how many of the subjects we have included in this project have been introduced to us. Someone approaches us with “I know someone who would be perfect for Women’s Work”. That is just the way we were introduced to Meejin Yoon.

Meejin Yoon

We are in a perpetual search for more women that would be inspiring additions to our ongoing project. Sometimes someone is found when you ask the right questions to the right person. Neri Oxman was the connection for us to finding Meejin Yoon. Neri is an architect, designer, and professor at the MIT Media Lab. We had the pleasure of working with her in 2012 on a cover shoot for Wired UK Magazine. During a back and forth email exchange regarding her interest in working together again, Neri suggested her friend Meejin. As an architect, designer, the first female head of MIT’s Department of Architecture, and on January 1, 2019, she will be the new Dean of Cornell University College of Architecture. She will be the school’s first woman in that position in its 122-year history. Meejin is a dream candidate for Women’s Work. She first hit our radar in 2010 with her Light Drift installation. The project placed temporary interactive lighting along Schuylkill Banks in Philadelphia. The installation could be seen from blocks away and the illumination drew in the public like a moth to a flame.

Light Drift – Photo from Philadelphia Mural Arts

While chatting about the project we learned that Meejin also needed some personal photos done for a mid-July deadline. After some discussions of schedule, we landed in Boston for a day trip on July 17th. Planning on a one day shoot in Boston with multiple possible locations would require us to get out the door extra early. The team met at Philadelphia International Airport at 5:15am and by 6:45am we had boarded, waiting to take off. The only concern we had was the weather. When you plan on shooting outside it truly is a roll of the dice as to whether or not you will have beautiful skies.

After a short sleepy flight we arrived at Logan International airport and once bags were loaded in our rental car, we were ready to meet up with Meejin. Our first location was at Höweler + Yoon Architecture firm. In 2005, Meejin and her husband, Eric Höweler, founded their design-driven architecture practice and creative studio. They believe that design is an instrument for imagining and implementing change – social, cultural, technological, and environmental. Located in Boston’s Chinatown, their office, which was formerly their home, has been through some changes since they started. When we arrived they were in the midst of growing and expanding their space again. It is always a pleasure to enter a new creative space. The walls were covered with past and future projects, while 3D models sat on communal tables. An entire wall of shelves, filled with colorful books, laid waiting, ready to inspire. To avoid being too much of a distraction to the quietly working staff we got down to set up for some portrait shots near the front open area of the office away from everyone. With a straightforward concept, we were able to bust through the shot list. We were ready to move onto our next location at the Collier Monument in MIT’s campus in hopes of beating the inevitable rain.

Mike Ryan, Meejin, and Chris

Collier Monument was completed by Höweler + Yoon in 2014 in memory of Officer Sean Collier. Three days after the Boston marathon bombing the 27-year-old MIT patrol officer was shot and killed by the two suspects while on duty. The Collier Memorial is located at the site of the tragedy and is composed of thirty-two blocks of granite that form a five-way stone vault that resembles an open hand referencing MIT’s motto, Mens et Manus (Mind and Hand).

Meejin

With an impending grey sky looming above us, we built our necessary equipment and began to shoot. The Collier Memorial is an inspiring space. What we learned was that it was even more mystical when the rain pours onto the dynamic structure.

The sky literally opened up and dumped buckets of water on our heads. We rushed to Ray and Maria Stata Center for shelter.

Chris

Once the rain transitioned from a torrential downpour to a light drizzle, we headed back out to shoot a bit longer.

Noel Pattani, Meejin, and Chris

As everyone knows, cameras do not work well in the rain. So even though the precipitation had slowed down it was still a risk. To help keep Chris and his camera dry, our producer Noel held an umbrella over him for protection from the elements.

Noel and Chris

Meejin was a complete delight during this difficult portion of our day. To ask someone to sit in the rain and look as if they aren’t getting rained on is challenging. We could not have asked for a better subject and after a few different shots, we called it.

We had a third location which was also outside at the construction site for Meejin’s newest project located on the MIT campus. We decided to break for lunch in hopes of the rain would pass. Coming to the end of our meal the rain only got heavier and unfortunately, Meejin had to return to work. We thanked her for spending most of her day with us and parted ways.

When we headed to the airport there was a palpable a sense of accomplishment for such a productive day. We had a successful shoot even though we weren’t able to fit in the last location. After checking our bags and clearing security we headed to our gate. Once we arrived, we snagged a few lobster rolls. As we sat there enjoying our tasty treats an announcement was made declaring that our flight would be delayed due to the unfortunate heavy rain. The initial delay stretched out to four hours. Our long day had now evolved into a never-ending marathon. It wasn’t until around midnight that we heard the sweet sounds that our flight was boarding. With tired eyes and a mild buzz, we gathered our bags and made our way onto the plane back home. We don’t love same day round trips but sometimes you get the opportunity to work with someone so special that it is clearly the right call.

Montana with Field and Stream

Historically, the flow of our year is defined by travel. The summertime usually provides a few breaks to spend some extra time with our families and that time at home to recoup is essential to our well being. However, when Field & Stream proposed an opportunity to work with Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, all of that R&R was out the window. After a month long of uncertainty, our schedules aligned and we boarded a plane to Montana, ready to embark on an experience of a lifetime.

Yvon Chouinard

We set forth on our adventure through the beautiful landscape of Montana and we were pumped, to say the least. Thanks to Field & Stream we were on our way to spend two days fishing with Yvon and Kenton Carruth, Co-founder of First Lite Outfitters. Kenton is one of the nicest guys you could meet and if you are not familiar with THE Yvon Chouinard, then google him. We’ll wait… These two men live out life with a love of the outdoors as a guiding force. They both created clothing companies that cater to those who share that love of the wilderness. We traveled from Philadelphia, Pa to Augusta, Mt to spend some time in this majestic place and help tell the story of national public lands and the challenge to their future as a thriving place for future generations to enjoy.

On the road to Augusta, Mt

The plan was to meet in Augusta at Buckhorn Bar at 6PM. When we arrived at the quaint town, we noticed piles of sandbags scattered outside some local businesses. The town had recently experienced some seasonal flooding. The excessive amount of rain would show itself useful later in this tale. 


Augusta, MT

We arrived at Buckhorn Bar, passing under a pair of mounted horns as we entered. We walked into the dimmed lit neighborhood watering hole and found everyone already there with a beer in hand ready to eat. Fried chicken, the house specialty, was the cuisine of choice for the evening. Over a pint of beer and a basket of chicken, we began to get acquainted.

Buckhorn Bar

Once our bellies were full and thirst quenched, it was time to fish.  We hopped in our trucks and headed off to a nearby lake in Fairfield. Driving down a dusty dirt road, we chased the sun in hopes to take a few pictures before the day ended.  We made it with only a few moments left of daylight.

Fairfield, Mt
Fairfield, Mt

Yvon was the first to pull his fly rod out and began doing what he came to Montana to do. At the same time, with his tool of choice, Chris began documenting the gorgeous moment we were experiencing. 

Yvon 
Chris and Yvon

Unfortunately, the sun didn’t stick around and we were left to enjoy the tranquillity of our surroundings. Once the warm rays safely tucked themselves behind the mountains, we too packed up. Our shelter for the evening would be one of the few private hunting lodges inside Bob Marshall Wilderness. With an early morning ahead, we quickly settled into slumber.

Chris, Kenton Carruth, Hal Herring, Yvon, and Ryan Callaghan

6am arrived quickly and soon enough we were on the road again, this time to the South Fork of Sun River. Normally the water levels of the desired location run low. However, the recent flooding allowed us to travel by boat with ease. 

South Fork of Sun River
South Fork of Sun River

The seldom fished pools just above the Gibson Reservoir provide anglers a perfect scenario; low fishing pressure and a heavenly backdrop. The blissfully ice cold water was bustling with rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout. The fish in that section of the Sun River were not large but they were hungry and striking every fly that hit the water.

Kenton and Chris
Chris and Yvon

When you stand in the steady crystal clear current, looking around at the perfection of nature, you understand why Yvon and Kenton passionately feel the need to preserve and improve our public lands. The idea that future generations could be deprived of these experiences is epically tragic.  

Yvon and Garret Smith

Yvon uses his voice and resources to advocate for and protect our public spaces. His firm stance against the current White House’s policy to reduce National Monuments caught him locking horns with Utah Rep. Rob Bishop. Bishop called to his constituents and fellow Republicans to boycott Patagonia. What Bishop didn’t realize was that those he was calling to arms were outfitters and the boycott request had the exact opposite effect. Patagonia’s sales increased by 600 percent that month.

There are people in this country with plenty of funds that want to end public lands. They wish to divvy up the open space to private owners, which would keep hunters and fisherman at bay. This is not how Yvon and Kenton had envisioned our nation’s public lands in the future. They value a life experiencing the outdoors quite similar to that of Theodore Roosevelt.

“The beauty and charm of the wilderness are his for the asking, for the edges of the wilderness lie close beside the beaten roads of the present travel.”

Theodore Roosevelt
Yvon and Kenton 

On a personal note, our very own Mike Ryan was personally mentored by Yvon and caught his first ever trout on this trip of a lifetime. These memories have fueled his new found passion for this leisurely sport. 

Yvon and Mike
Mike and his Trout

Lisa Calvo – Oyster Farmer

The sun had just begun to look over our shoulders as we approached the beach of Cape May Court House, NJ. Nature had beaten us to the punch on their morning assignments. Seagulls were flocking over their breakfast feast as the tide rolled away from the shore. There was a morning breeze that swirled and helped to offset the smell that was left behind. These were our first impressions upon arriving at Lisa Calvo’s oyster farm.

No matter who you are, there’s always a great sense of anticipation when you meet someone that up to that point you could only envision. The small cottage where Lisa stores all of the needed equipment blended in with the rest of the buildings on the paved but sandy beachfront street. Lisa was the first to greet us. One by one we met the rest of her crew – Patty Woodruff, Diane Driessen, and Sarah Borsetti quietly walked over with coffees in hand and sleepy eyes; a 6AM call time comes early for everyone. We muddled near the quaint cottage as both of our teams prepared for the work ahead. Once all needed supplies were loaded into the beach cart, we headed down to the water.

Lisa, Sarah, Diane, Chris, and Mike walking to the farm
Lisa and Chris amounts the rows of racks

As we waded through the knee-deep water of low tide, we approached a series of racks perched out on a sandbar. Each rack looked like a bed frame cut off just above the legs. Upon each rack was a layer of netted bags. Each bag contained an appropriate number of growing oysters. Different sections of racks accommodate oysters at varied stages of growth. Lisa’s team focused on a section comprised of matured oysters that were ready to harvest.

Netted bag holding oysters
Lisa, Patty and Sarah

After a short set up, the oyster team quickly fell into their familiar process. While standing around a metal table supported by sawhorses, they began to sort the oysters. Meanwhile, camera in hand, Chris transitioned into shooting mode. Using PVC piping as a gauge of size, the team divided the oysters into three buckets. One bucket was for ideal large oysters, one for less attractive large oysters, and one for those that needed more time for growth. The ideal large oysters go to market, small ones return to the algae covered bag and the ugly ones, well that day, we ate them!

Sorting oysters
Lisa, Sarah, Diane, Chris, and Mike
Chris enjoying an oyster

We spent the majority of our morning gaining a better understanding of the positive environmental impact of oysters. These uncanny bivalves are particularly efficient at cleaning the water they live and grow in. For instance, a single two-inch oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day. That is 16,800 gallons of water filtered in one year. Their presence in southern New Jersey has not only improved our dinner menus but also the cleanliness of the waters enjoyed on its coast. Lisa and her team are making a significant impact and at the forefront of a thriving industry. We are grateful for the opportunity and education from a world that we were always curious about. Perhaps you can put yourself in our shoes the next time you order a dozen oysters from Cape May.

Sophia Davis – Montana Cowgirl

On a beautiful summer day in mid- July, we traveled to Springdale, MT to spend the day with Sophia Davis, a genuine cowgirl. Sophi and her family manage and live on Lone Star Land and Cattle Company.  Our early morning drive towards the sun led us to what seemed like an endless dirt road. The conditions were arid and a trail of dust followed us for almost an hour. By the time we made it to Sophi our car was covered in an adventure appropriate coating of dust. 

After an anticipated meet and greet, we headed out to wrangle the cattle. With Mike at the wheel of a Polaris and Chris sprawled across the back bed, we followed. It was Mike’s maiden voyage as an ATV driver so you can imagine the communication with Chris was hindered. Mike was driving on rough terrain while Chris gave his best attempt at managing the camera and directing Mike.


Working so closely with these gentle giants was quite exhilarating. We watched, navigated, and photographed as Sophi weaved back and forth to maintain their forward progress. All of this in spite of these cattle clearly not excited about our foreign presence. In hindsight, it’s clear that managing us was much more challenging for Sophi than were the cattle.

Once Chris was satisfied with what he had shot, Sophi seamlessly returned the cattle to their pens and we all broke for lunch. We ventured into the town of Livingston for a quick bite. Livingston is a famous town that now is becoming a bit of a high west hot spot.

Before we returned to Sophi we took a few moments to explore some of the 50,000-acres of Lone Star Land and Cattle Co. property.  Traveling under the big blue skies one finds themselves in awe of spectacular views. The vastness of the plains was only interrupted by small herds of pronghorns feeding amongst the grass.

Pronghorn Antelope

When we reunited with Sophi she was accompanied by her two delightful children (Ella, 4 and Hunter, 2). With their help, we were given a thorough tour of the ranch and its inner workings. Following this, it was time to make our way towards the final stage of our adventure.

Sophi and Hunter
Chris and Ella

At one corner of the ranch was a field dotted with freshly cut & baled hay. If you grew up outside of the city, it’s always nostalgic to see these scattered across a monumental landscape. With Sophi mounted on her trusty steed, Lucy, we began to shoot. It was certainly one that we wish hadn’t ended so soon.

Montana is a spectacular space to exist in. With a terrain that only ends at grand and majestic mountains. Above in the sky, the clouds dance effortlessly. The depth of its beauty is breathtaking. It was an honor and a pleasure to capture the breadth of the landscape around us.