Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Year in Review, According to Instagram

A new online tool allows you to see your most-liked Instagram posts in 2015.

If I can identify a pattern in my posts, it's a feeling of isolation and looking into the distance. Interestingly, the photo of Nancy taking a photo from a scenic overlook was more popular than the photo of a Daily News photographer taking a photo of Pope Francis right before my 15 seconds of fame.

Most of the most-liked posts were taken toward the end of the year -- one that has been blessedly eventful. When I look back on some images from early in the year, I can't believe they are really from 2015. It already seems like years ago.

Here's to an eventful, and happy, 2016. I hope to record many more things here in the years to come.

You haven't seen anything yet.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Surrounded by Angels

Every year, on Christmas Eve, I hear my uncle tell the story of an angel appearing to a man named Joseph in a dream.

It's the Gospel reading for the Christmas Vigil Mass. Ever since my dad died a decade ago, my own small family always travels with my mom to visit his older brother, a retired Catholic priest... and we celebrate Mass together, with the same readings, every Christmas Eve.

And every year, I identify with Joseph. When my uncle reads the Gospel, I see angels all around the small dining room table of his childhood home.

I see where dad used to sit when I was a boy. I see the chalice where my grandmother always placed the salt shaker, just out of reach from my grandfather. From where I sit, I still see his outstretched arm, and I still see my grandmother in the kitchen, still secretly stifling a laugh.

Mass ends, and we joke about the lack of a homily and the lack of a collection -- and my uncle turns a bit wistful about the lack of music.

We may be too bashful to sing, but I sometimes want to tell my uncle that, every year, I still hear his own uncle -- my grandmother's talented brother -- playing piano in the living room.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Found in NJ: Greetings From Asbury Park

Asbury Park's abandoned carousel pavilion.
Few places in my home state are as haunted by the passage of time as Asbury Park.

Years ago, when my wife was editor of her high school yearbook, she arranged a trip there so the staff could have their photo taken on the town's famous carousel.

Today, the pavilion is gutted. All the entrances are chained, but you can still poke your cell phone through the iron bars to take a photo of where 72 fiberglass animals used to spin. Against the black back wall, a New York street artist, Harif Guzman, has painted a bold mural of a crowd of stylized faces outlined in white.

Images from Asbury Park, Dec. 13, 2015.
With Asbury Park's rich and sentimental history, its scars of hurricane damage, and its odd mix of abandonment and rebirth in close proximity, I felt something of New Orleans in the air when I visited there last weekend.

Since then, I've been caught in the undertow of this small city by the Jersey shore. I haven't been able to stop thinking about its sights and sounds (thank you, Stone Pony) and boyhood memories (thank you, Mom and Dad).

It's no surprise to me that Asbury Park is home to a diverse collection of photographers, artists and writers. This past Sunday, I met some of these talented people at The Collective Art Tank on Bangs Avenue, a co-op where "creative minds can learn art, teach art, talk art and live art…collectively."

I participated in a writing workshop sponsored by @jerseycollective, an Instagram account that's a collaboration among NJ photographers (hello@suzanne_ap@joepartusch@toxictinsgallery and friends). As Jersey Collective described on Tumblr, "We thought it would be fun to try something new and have an event centered on a different form of creativity besides photography... We started off with a warm-up: we all wrote for three minutes using one of the photographs from our gallery show as the inspiration. Then we talked a little bit about how we approached the exercise."

I found the writing easy to do. That's me at the bottom of the photo below, jotting a quick few lines about the warmup exercise photo by @crunchygirl: "Feet first... toes out of water... I tried to walk, but fell on my back."

I was more introspective during the main exercise, choosing to write about a black-and-white photo by @robsociety.

I wrote:

I've never once, in my entire life, put a quarter into a public pair of binoculars to see a better view. I think, after all, this is one my character flaws. I'm not adventurous enough. 
I take things at face value and accept them blindly. I'm afraid to put my eye against the lens and turn the dial for a clearer view. 
I think, perhaps, if I did put my eye to the lens... that the world would be looking into me. That I would be the one under the microscope. How many others, I wonder, have fallen victim to this trick? How many inner secrets do these binoculars know? 
So I prefer this uneasy truce: I won't put a quarter into you... if you turn a blind metallic eye and keep my secrets too.

Again, I found this easy to do -- which was a bit disappointing. As I've grown older, I fear I may have become a bit of a hack. One of my life's goals is to write something that might always be remembered. And I simply can't do with an off-handed wave of my pen.

Like Asbury Park, I find myself haunted by the passage of time. Someday it may be too late to create something of lasting value. But I intend to keep trying.

Here's one last reflection on a photo, the one where I'm taking a selfie in the mirror at The Collective Art Tank:

Time is closing in all around me, but I refuse to be trapped. 
I was born and raised in New Jersey. 
I know my way to water.

This is the first post in a series that spotlights interesting locations in New Jersey.