People First

It never ceases to amaze me the wonderful people I meet in this career of mine. Every type of person, business, charity, everything needs images of something and I am the lucky person that gets to meet the people seeking those images. Another example of great people doing great things is Anatomical Designs (AD) in Uniontown PA just southeast of Pittsburgh. I went there to create images for their brochures and marketing pieces but what I found was a fantastic group of people that really care about their patients and their families.

I arrived in Uniontown late Sunday and checked into a hotel that was pre-booked for my assistant and me, a room for each. The town itself is much like most small towns throughout Pennsylvania but this one is special. Not far from where we were staying was the AD offices, a subdued little house like office but within is a place where wonderful work is happening.

We met the office manager and the owner then received the nickel tour to give us an idea of what and where we would be shooting. We saw the kitchen area, waiting area, the medical offices and therapy rooms; as we moved downstairs we came upon the workshop where the real magic happens. This is where they make the prosthetics join to the person in need of them. In this small lab skilled craftsmen labor over hot plastics and plaster molds to form a union between the person and the man-made. The work they do is not at all production line; everything is custom made and built to meet the needs of the individual. The work they do has to be seen to be appreciated.

Setting up lights and talking to the staff I learned about the advances in the technology and how each person can have completely separate needs even with the same type of amputation. I took great interest in what they told me because this was personal in a way. I still have all my limbs, at least for now, I don’t need a prosthetic. However my grandfather lost his leg in the early part of the 1900’s due to infection after a train accident. I never saw my grandfather use his prosthetic leg because he said it was heavy and uncomfortable. In fact I never saw the actual leg until years after he passed away and we were cleaning out his house after my grandmother had also passed.

I remember going up into the room on the top floor for the first time (I wasn’t allowed up there as a child) and in the corner was the wooden leg just standing there. I went over and picked it up and it was very heavy, probably 30 pounds or more. It was bent slightly at the knee but had no hinge or anything; it was one solid piece of wood carved to the height my grandfather needed. No wonder he never wore it. That thing had to exhaust him and I it had to be uncomfortable.

At Anatomical Designs the prosthetics were completely different. Some looked like a piece left behind by the robot in the movie Terminator, thin, and the skeletal structure exposed, but depending on the need of the patient they can be modified to do so many things. Each person is different and so is each prosthetic.

Of course photographing the lab would tell an incomplete story so the people at AD had arranged for a few patients to come in and act as models. Finding one legged models that also happened to be local to Uniontown would be darn near impossible. These were everyday people who for some reason had lost a limb at some point. One of them had a special electronic sensor in his leg to assist him with walking and another had a complicated spring and pressure design type of limb and the third, well the third was a young woman who at first I didn’t even notice that she had a false limb!

As Jessica and her mother walked into the office I looked down to see which person was the patient and the first thing I saw was 4 feet in sandals, all with perfectly painted matching toenails. Jessica also had some type of material over her thigh so it looked like, well, it looked like her. After a moment of thinking they were there for some other reason I notice the leg. There was no hint of it in her walk or her pace, in fact if she had jeans or a long skirt on I never would have been able to tell.

The youngest of the three patients, her accident (I believe) was the most recent; but there was no way to tell that though. The staff at AD had taken her into their care and they taught her how to not only walk in the new leg but she told me later she can dance in it too!

The work these people do is nothing short of amazing. As I needed to photograph all aspects of a patients care in only one day, I got to see the many stages of learning and more importantly, coaching that is needed.  From the fitting of the device, to the training, to the emotional and physical support, what these people offer is truly special. They aren’t there to just push patients through some system; these are craftsmen and healthcare workers that truly care about the wellbeing of the individual. They went so far as to help a young woman have a foot where she could paint her toenails!

Later in the day when I was packing up after the shoot one of the patients was still there and I mentioned to him how far the technology has come since my grandfather lost his leg. I also mentioned to him that if I ever lost a limb that I would make the 5 and a half hour drive to Uniontown just to have the people at Anatomical Designs take care of me. His comment was, “Do it! Having all your limbs isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.”

My hats off to all the folks at Anatomical Designs; bravo for putting the people first and delivering so much wonderful care.

A Fan Club?



If you have been following me long enough you have heard of the Free Business Portraits for the Unemployed that I did a few times in recent years. In fact I was even written up in the LA Times about it and you can read about that here: Joblessness in the LA Times.


At that particular event I was also on the local Fox news station and they recorded me shooting the 174 portraits I did in just 4.5 hours that day at the Wachovia Center (now the Wells Fargo Center) in Philadelphia. A copy of the video is on YouTube and you can link to that on the Publications page of this website.


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Where I’ve Been

I want to take a moment to apologize to my readers for not posting in almost 3 weeks! Bad Michael!  But Good Michael has been busy shooting weddings and portraits and bears (bulldogs actually), Oh my!  I will be back writing very soon but in the mean time here are a few of the sessions i have shot since I wrote last. And yes a couple of these people are return clients like Grace and Gayle. Leave a comment below and give them a shout out.

Click on an image to view larger images.

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It’s About Giving Your All


Back in early October I wrote an article about seizing opportunity where ever it arises, in this case the beginning of Occupy Philadelphia, titled Opportunity in the Streets. I really didn’t know what business I might get out of that but I am happy to say that those images and thousands I took at the occupy encampment has led to other shoots and events that I was only able to get because I was there.


Through meeting people at Occupy I have gotten events, portrait shoots and a number of other gigs that have kept me very busy over the 56 days that the movement occupied Dilworth Plaza in from of City Hall in Philadelphia. So in a sense I guess I am indebted to the people there and the movement too. But how did a political demonstration/movement/evolution really give me chances to get work?

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Photographers Getting Arrested


I just got an email about another photographer that was arrested in Milwaukee. This is the second photographer in Milwaukee to be arrested for doing their job. You can see video and read the full story here: OK two incidents that happen in one city, a poorly trained pocket of police, no big deal right? Wrong. It looks like it may be becoming a pattern.


Other journalists and photographers have been arrested, beaten, and even shot (with “less lethal” rounds such as beanbags and/or rubber bullets) in Oakland. This has happened in Oakland, NY, Chicago, pick a city and it has probably happened. Police are increasingly aggressive towards those with cameras. You may be thinking that well journalists try to cross police lines, they get int he way, they violate this or that when trying to get “the shot.” Well perhaps but then why is a mother of 3 arrested for photographing a tourist attraction?


When did I move to a war zone?

Even I have been stopped and asked “who are you shooting for?”, “What are you doing with that camera?” I had a police officer ask to see all my images one when I was photographing a city skyline. At the time I was shooting from the South Street Bridge which, at the time was well traveled and known for the view of the city .

But that isn’t the only time either. Back in 2005 the city of Philadelphia paid a rather large sum of money to have City Hall lit up for the holidays. They hired some European company to measure the building, create a special lighting projector and cast pastel colored lights across City Hall (left image). Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to attract tourists and set this all up and when I go to photograph it, I am questioned by not one, not two, not even three, but five separate officers as to what and I doing and why am I photographing City Hall. Really? You do all this, you project it up there and you expect no one to photograph it? Whatever you are on I want some.


The fact is that now that there is the Occupy movement in many cities across our country our police are overreacting and in doing so they just make everyone feel a bit on edge. Whether you agree with the occupy movement or not the tactics of arresting, beating and shooting photographers is something I thought I would only see on the news or if I became a war photographer. These are things I saw early this year at the protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Then we heard newscasters, politicians and other officials screaming about how wrong it was and they need freedom of speech! Now they are just a bunch of “jobless hippies.” That is far from the truth. These are working photojournalists and they are being stopped from being able to do their jobs.


What is this world coming to when we can’t take an image without being threatened, arrested or worse! It is almost impossible for me to do a photo shoot outside anymore. Will it be a crime when I want to photograph the autumn leaves and all those colors? Or will I just need a special “leaf” permit?



Are Your Customers The 99%?

For the last week or so I have been following the Occupy Philadelphia protest. It is a fellow movement to Occupy Wall Street that I am sure, or at least hope, you have heard of. The basic premise is that the people occupying Wall Street (self-proclaimed “The 99%”) have had enough of how banks have gotten bailouts and special treatment but still manage to take advantage of the average, middle class person in this country.  This is not all they are protesting but this is a part of their core message. To learn more I would suggest that you look at their website as I don’t want to say something that is not accurate.

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Opportunity In The Streets

This past spring the world was flooded with images, even more images than usual. The protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere filled our inboxes, Facebook pages and news sources. Images and stories filled our eyes and our minds. The shear proliferation of cameras assured that few if any didn’t see some image involving at least one of those events.

But of those images, although almost all were moving, few told the story alone. There was just too much to say and it takes many, many images to tell the whole story. This story isn’t over either, there is much more to tell.


This article is not about politics. But it is about the protesters and the stories that can be told and the images that may tell those stories. As I write this thousands are at a rally called Occupy Wall Street and many more occupations are beginning to take place throughout America, Canada, the UK, Australia and many other places. There is now Occupy Wall Street, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Seattle, Fort Lauderdale, and today marchers hit the streets in Greece again as well. These people “are the 99%.”


How is this opportunity?  This is opportunity for every person with a camera to tell a story. This is a chance for professional photographers to get in touch with what brought many of us into the industry in the first place, and the chance to tell not only a story but to tell the story in the way that we see it. This is an opportunity to capture history in the making.  It is opportunity in the streets.
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What you capture, the story you tell may be from the right or the left, if you are a journalist you will try to tell it from the point of view of an observer. To truly document these occupations you will need to be in the streets, out where the story is, among the people.


Tell your side of the story; get out and capture the chance of a lifetime when the story actually comes to you in your home city or town.  Whether you are telling the story of the 1%, the 99% or both this is a chance to make images that will be remembered for a lifetime other than your own.


Maybe I will see you out there.


As some of you know I spent last week in New England, mostly Vermont but also New Hampshire and Maine. Many more of you know that the Green Mountains of southern Vermont suffered drastically from Hurricane Irene. The devastation was epic.


One thing that I noticed when my wife and I were there was the speed in which these people rebuilt roads, homes and businesses. The outreach to their neighbors was as swift as the waters that swept away bridges, roads and buildings. In our travels we passed one business of some kind that was no longer recognizable; most of the barn like warehouse was gone. On one side the entire first floor was washed down river and the walls of the second floor were torn away to show supplies still stacked neatly on the shelves once attached to those same walls.


In Woodstock Vermont the farmers market didn’t even resemble the store that still stands but is covered in river mud and silt. As you drive along the creeks and streams bridges that were once there look as if they are just in the planning stages and roads lead to these empty spaces. In other creeks you may see what remains of a bridge smashed and mangled yet there isn’t a road leading to the creek within sight. Guide rails sit across the streams on the opposite side from the road. In almost every stream huge rocks and boulders replace what was once green with trees and fields. On one mountain road you could see snowboards that were brand new and yet stuck in trees 30-50 feet above where the stream now runs calm again as if nothing had ever happened.


Among all this devastation the attitude of the residents is amazing. Smiles on almost every face and calm but reserved words tell the stories of each who experienced the storms and raging waters. Most of the people of Vermont haven’t seen this type of storm in their lifetimes and yet it doesn’t seem to faze them much past a story to tell and some chores to do.


The speed with which they recovered is astounding. In three short weeks they have reopened many of the businesses and repaired a majority of the roads. They didn’t sit and wait for the government to rescue them or rebuild their towns. Anyone with equipment started right away on repairing whatever needed repair. In Londonderry a woman who lost her home just weeks before Irene to fire was hard at work cooking for anyone who came in to Stoddord’s café diner. Be prepared to wait though because she has only a small grill to cook on and only enough forks and knives for 3 or 4 of the 5 booths in this small eatery. They still don’t have a fryer or even a prep table to work on and each meal is made one or two at a time. But I have to say it is the best food I have eaten in a long time.


My wife and I go to Londonderry every year for vacation and until this year I thought it was the beautiful mountains, the quaint little churches and villages that draw us in each year. The church on the home page of this is not too far north of the Green Mountains and the character in that building doesn’t compare to the character in the people who live in that part of the world.  I have learned again what the human spirit is capable of and how teaming up with your friends and neighbors can help you, and them, overcome almost anything this world can throw at you.


These people understand what to means to work together to solve a problem and how to keep their chin high while under pressure. Even the local bar was teaming with stories not about Irene but about how enemies come together and shake hands to put differences aside “because [they] have to live in this town together and want to apologize for any troubles they have caused.” They understand that a community relies on Teamwork and that they need to work together to create great things and to overcome anything that comes their way.


I want to take these lessons with me and to work towards building better a better team between my clients and myself. I want to work with my clients like Vermonters work with each other. I know that with teamwork any goal is possible.

Philadelphia Flooded

Today people reported 3 hour commutes that should take no more than 30 minutes. 3-7 inches of rain overnight lead to roads flooded, trees down, mud slides, you name it. This is just 10 images of what I could actually get to, and Philly isn’t the hardest hit.


Click the image to view.

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Joblessness in the LA Times


In my last post I told you how we had an amazing turnout for the job fair where I was doing Free Business Portraits for the unemployed. 6400 unemployed people in any on place is an amazing amount of people. So amazing in made the LA Times! Tina Sussman wrote an article titled “A snapshot of joblessness”. In the article you will get a strong sense of the feelings of people that attended the event. I strongly suggest you read the article.

Additionally Scott Lewis of Scott Lewis Images to some photos of the event that are outstanding. In the article you can click on my image on the left column to see them (I’m the bald guy in the purple shirt with a camera in front of my face).

I put together a little video of stills and some video clips so you can see the crowds and perhaps get a feel for what I was trying to do at the event. You can take a look at it below.

It was a humbling day. So many needing just a job. They don’t want handouts, they want a job; a chance to prove they can do the job and do it well.

I also wanted to thank Annie Nason, Sol Levy, Linda Slodki, Theresa Rivers and Susan Schroeder for all their help and a special thank you to Michelle Buckman of Fox 29 in Philadelphia who allowed me to be a part of the event.

Until next time, Happy Shooting!