The Story of Photos Over Time As often happens, I sat down at my computer one morning—on the desk, a hot coffee to my left and Harriet, our 16-year-old Maine Coon, looking out an open window to the right—and decided to revisit photos I’d taken. …
Tip #1: Have a Camera On You This should go without saying; but I must say it. If you don’t have any type of camera on you, something amazing WILL happen. A beautiful vista will present itself; an extinct species will be revealed; and/or the …
Adventure, Rest and Everything In Between
We were sitting in a plane, about to take off from a small airport toward Placencia. A pilot and co-pilot checked switches, controls and gauges while we passengers were facing a stretch of runway that ended at the sea.
A couple of thoughts entered my mind here: This is the most beautiful view I’ve ever had from inside an idling airplane; and, I know how much runway a plane requires for takeoff, this doesn’t seem like much. Being a passenger in a plane is not the time or place to lose courage or confidence. Let the adventure begin.
Our plane lifted in time to avoid water contact and we soaring with the sea birds in no time. The pilots were pros and they landed us with perfect smoothness and precision as we touched down minutes later.
You’ve seen them: someone posts pictures from an aquamarine-water coastline paradise, and you wonder: How do I get there? It looks too good to be true but lucky for you, it’s not. Placencia is located in the Central American country of Belize, on the 16-mile long Placencia Peninsula, with the small fishing village located at the tip. Around 6,000 people live on the peninsula with 1,500 of them located in Placencia.
It’s one of those locations that are peaceful, immediately. As soon as stepped out of our taxi into the warm air, we marveled in the quiet that surrounded us. Up above, pterodactyl-like profiles of frigatebirds’ wings were visible as they glided without flapping their wings for what seemed like an eternity. As we walked toward the heart of the village, we saw mango trees all around and noticed iguana tracks in the sand.
Placencia’s Beautiful Vibe
There are a couple of routes to take to and from the heart of Placencia. One is Placencia Road, where motorized vehicles are allowed. The other is a sidewalk that holds the distinction of being the “World’s Narrowest Main Street” according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Coming from the Rust Belt in the Midwest, the amount of vibrant color was not lost on us or taken for granted. The colors we saw were bright and numerous. When you’re accustomed to earth tones or dirty-snow tones, seeing bright pinks and yellows is quenching for the eyes.
Sea and Seafood
A couple of snorkel trips were on our agenda and we couldn’t wait. Whale sharks migrate off the coast of Belize between March and June snorkeling with them was our top priority. Thanks to the fairness of the local dive-shop operators, we decided against snorkeling for whale sharks since there numbers had been low at the time we were there and our chances of seeing one would be slim. Instead, we opted for a couple of different snorkel trips; each one providing us with encounters with tropical fish, turtles and nurse sharks.
Seafood is a specialty here because of its proximity to the sea. There is no shortage of eateries in the village and surrounding area. Our favorite restaurant—we went there twice—was Rumfish and Vino. As soon as our menu-browsing eyeballs landed on conch ceviche, lionfish and red curry snapper, we needn’t look any further. Our choices were solidified as soon we tasted each dish; all of it was divine and fresh.
Bowling in Belize
When it is as beautiful outside as it is in Belize, it can seem sinful to do anything within the confines of walls. This is especially true when that activity can be done in almost any town back home. When that activity though is at the Jaguar Lanes bowling center, you best get inside and roll.
This place caught our attention during a day when we rented a golf cart to travel the length of the peninsula. We saw its sign on our Belizean-home return trip and pulled in promptly. There are four lanes, paper score cards and carved jaguars to guard your gear.
A couple of Belikins—the national beer—in hand, bowling balls selected, and we had the ingredients for a perfectly balanced good time. With the exception of the barkeep and a couple of guys watching fútbol on the television, we were the only ones there. We’d have played all day there if league play wasn’t about to take over the lanes for the evening. Plus, we had more of Belize to check out.
See You Soon Belize
We met a host of locals and characters on our excursions. Everyone was extremely accommodating, helpful and relaxed. With an annual average temperature of approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit, even the temperature was welcoming.
In fact, everything about Placencia was laid back. It’s easy to walk around and get lost—although, not too lost since it’s a small peninsula, which is perfect. Tourism is a thriving industry in Placencia, but it’s not overwhelmingly so. We enjoyed walked when we could since it afforded us the opportunity to slow down even more, see the art crafted by locals and enjoy the pace of daily life.
Before the trip, I thought one week would be plenty of time in Placencia; in fact, it wasn’t quite enough. That’s a good thing. Leaving a place as quiet, beautiful and welcoming as it was and wanting more, just means we’ll have to return, as soon as possible.
Exploring Small Towns in the Thumb My first job as a photojournalist was at The Times Herald in Port Huron, Mich. Port Huron is located where Lake Huron meets the St. Clair River, in the southeast of Michigan. Look at the palm of your right …
Hemingway Fished Here
The first time I remember hearing the word ‘Seney’ was in the late 1990s or early 2000s when a friend and I were helping a buddy move back to college in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A road on our helpful journey we were to take was called the ‘Seney Stretch’; just hearing the name was yawn inducing. “The Most Boring Stretch of Road in Michigan” some have called it. Others would argue the “…in Michigan” could be replaced with “…in the U.S.” or “…in the World”. Another fact up possibly up for argument and somehow dodging of scientific fact is the length of said “Stretch”. After some digging, it appears that it could be 25 to 30 miles long. Travel it though and you’d be justified in thinking it could be 50 miles long or even 60. It’s a stretch of curveless highway between the logging-historical railroad towns of Seney, MI and Shingleton, MI. I’ve traveled the Seney Stretch numerous times and even with the updated 65 miles-per-hour speed limit, it doesn’t get much quicker.
The second time I heard the word ‘Seney’ was when the town was placed in heaps more stunning light as it was mentioned as an area of Michigan that Ernest Hemingway took a train to in 1919, fished for brook trout at and was inspired to write “Big Two-Hearted River”. In fact, the actual river Hemingway fished was the east branch of the Fox River; Hemingway used the name of nearby Two Hearted River in his title as a distraction to any potential fishing competition away from his favored river. Hemingway interests me greatly because of his described persona, his literary prowess and the fact that he spent the summers of his youth in an area only an hour north of where I grew up, and a 10-minute walk from where my dad once lived.
Look up the history of Seney and a town will be described as a logging town not for the weak or meek. A wonderfully researched article written by Jack Jobst can be found and read here. It was a hard-scrabble town with no doubt numerous characters and all the drama that late 1800s and early 1900s lumbering work and folk could bring. With a free morning during a recent family trip to Grand Marais, another logging town about an hour away, I decided to take a trip to Seney and absorb the history of this town I’d heard of but never explored.
Seney today is an extreme contrast to what it once was. There are a few structures that are standard to any small town: two gas stations, some lodgings, places to acquire food (and drink too of course, it’s Michigan), a post office and pockets of modest homes. The only people I saw were a group of off-road vehicle operators about to embark on an adventure and a person pulling in to the town watering hole, Andy’s Seney Bar, on a weekday morning.
Putting shoe bottoms to pavement is how I best connect with any place so after parking my vehicle and stepping around Seney, I started my walk. There was a 5 mile-per-hour breeze and a nice blanket of cloud cover with the occasional hole to allow for a sunbeam or two. Train tracks and a depot turned museum, in the distance, drew me toward them as I thought about Hemingway traveling the same tracks and stopping at the same depot. About 30 yards west of the depot was the Fox River, flowing nicely under the train bridge. After reading about all the logging and workers in the small town, my inspiration turned from Hemingway to the town’s history of logging and raucous off-shift tree workers. It’s almost unimaginable to think about the town in all it’s “wild west” glory while standing at a train crossing and watching a crow fly overhead. It feels good to stand there though, to feel the Seney air and to be thankful of not having to drive the Seney Stretch.
At a first glance, you’d think you were in a small fishing village along the East Coast. White and grey seagulls hover close as fishing boats chug into port. Vessels of all types moored in Harbor. Waves from Lake Superior lapping or crashing—depending on the …
The great American road trip. Epic excursions to places far-flung and unknown. Misty mountain peaks near spacious, swathes of majestic valleys. If money was no object, these would be spectacular places to travel and photograph. Money is most definitely an object though, and the places I find myself most often are close-flung. Here’s the secret: it’s not about traveling the farthest or to the most out-of-the-way locales. The secret is that the beauty is around you.
Even around northern Michigan, the pull to travel to Lake Michigan or one of the many naturally-amazing areas is strong. Recently though, I found myself driving in the opposite direction of the pull. To travel on a stretch of highway I rarely do, through small towns and past corn fields, and to do it within the few hours an evening offers.
This shift in thinking—moving away from traditional landscapes to non-traditional ones—is what the new topographic movement is about. There are numerous photographers out there today photographing in this wonderful style. An excellent article, over at Feature Shoot, referring to this can be found here. Armed with heaps of inspiration, I grabbed my camera bag and a couple rolls of film before heading along U.S. Highway 131.
U.S. Highway 131 is a north-south highway traveling through many types of small towns that exude Americana. There are train tracks that run parallel to U.S. 131 which have a story to themselves. When Ernest Hemingway was young, he and his family would travel by train to their summer cottage on Walloon Lake in northern Michigan. To arrive there, the tracks along U.S. 131 are the ones they would’ve taken.
As I motored out and about, the light was gorgeous. Natural light is often a game of dice rolling as it changes all the time, and fast too. On this particular evening though, it was shaping up to be diffused and warm, with patches of pastel pinks and oranges the lower the sun descended. My photo excursion wasn’t completely unplanned, there was an old yellow farmhouse I’d passed a while back and I knew it’d look great with some nice setting-sun light. If that house was the only photograph I captured, it would’ve made the trip worth it. “Everything else outside of that house would be bonus,” I told myself. My timing was perfect for capturing the once-a-home that stood, seemingly abandoned, near U.S. 131 in what I believe was Star Township. The camera for this trip was my Leica M6 35mm rangefinder. It could’ve been any camera but I wanted to make these images using the magic of film. There’s no need for digital vs. film or this camera vs. that camera here, they’re all good and most importantly, it’s a personal decision. For me personally, every now and then I need the process of photography to slow down and film photography does that for me.
Technical talk aside, after photographing the house, I found the low sun illuminating some fantastic billboards north of Mancelona, MI. Northern Michigan is my home and despite all my traveling, I’ve never noticed these billboards. Last week, Meg and I were traveling past where the billboards were and one of them is gone! This is another important tip, photograph interesting things because they may not be there forever. Photography is so many things and it’s a powerful medium; artistic creation and documentation are the two that immediately come to mind.
Overall, I considered this a productive and worthwhile trip. I suggest you take a different, unfamiliar route. Find beauty in places and things that you normally wouldn’t. It’s a fun exercise and can lead to some surprising and pleasing results with your photography.
“No place is boring, if you’ve had a good night’s sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film.”Robert Adams
Island Street Photography in Winter Mackinac Island is well-known for many things: horses everywhere; numerous fudge shops and the Grand Hotel, just to name a few. In the summer, tourists by the many travel there by ferry to take in the sights and sites. Cars …