Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cemetery Photography and Holga Workshop!

I’ve made many images in cemeteries (and other places) over the years with a plastic toy camera called a “Holga.” The Holga is a film camera that uses 120mm (medium format) film. Yes you can still buy this film and yes you can still get it processed, scanned, and printed.

Why film? It’s analog, baby. And not only that, but the Holga is so unpredictable you never know what you’re going to end up with! Personally, I like the surprise. However, it is a finicky beast. If you’ve never loaded a film camera, that can be a challenge. If you’ve never had to guess at proper exposure and focus, that can be an even bigger challenge!

But fear not - on October 3, 2015, I will be letting you in on all my secrets (well, not ALL my secrets, just the Holga ones). As part of POST, the annual “Philadelphia Open Studios Tour,” I will have some of my work on display at the Da Vinci Art Alliance in South Philadelphia (click here for website). As part of this group exhibition, which we call “Art by Design:”

I am offering a (free!) HOLGA workshop Saturday, October 3, from noon to 2 pm. (I will be there until 5 pm)

I plan to have a couple cameras there for you to play with, and I will gladly show you how to load and unload film, how to focus and make correct exposures. We can chat about films and the inherent foibles of the Holga – from light leaks to vignetting. We can even discuss REAL adventurous things like cross-processing your film and scanning your own negatives.

If you’d like to just stop by and see my work (and the work of the six other talented artist members of Da Vinci in the show), I will be there Sunday, October 4, from noon to 5pm. Many of us will be there both days, but the Holga workshop is just Saturday.

The work I will have on display will include some Holga images, and it won’t be all cemetery work (but we can certainly share cemetery stories!). I will have many additional examples of Holga images to look at in portfolios and greeting cards. Please stop by – there will be snacks and refreshments as well!

Click here to go to the Facebook Invite

The Da Vinci Art Alliance exhibition, “Art by Design,” is being staged in conjunction with InLiquid, a Philadelphia based nonprofit organization, which presents the work of local, national, and international artists to the public. The exhibit will run from October 3 – 30, 2015. All the artwork will be for sale. Gallery hours are Wednesday 6-8 pm, Saturday and Sunday 1-5 pm. The seven artists participating in this show are:

Sarah R. Bloom
Kitty Caparella
Sheila Fox
Linda Dubin Garfield
Sandi Neiman Lovitz
Ed Snyder
Annie Stone

"Trees," photograph by Ed Snyder

By the way, if you're wondering which piece of art reproduced on the postcard above is mine, you may be surprised. It's actually the blue abstract in the upper left corner. Directly above you see this digital, non-Holga image in its entirety (framed, it is 19x25 inches).

Further Reading:
Click here to learn more about the Holga camera!  
Da Vinci Art Alliance website
See examples of Ed Snyder’s Holga photographs on his website,

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pope Day at Mount Moriah Cemetery

Volunteers Austin Mee (L) and David Munyun (photo by Robert Reinhardt)
As the Pope tools around Philadelphia this weekend - part of the World Meeting of Families Celebration - a young man is expressing his respect for families in another way. We had the honor of talking with him and his grandfather at Philadelphia’s Mount Moriah Cemetery.

As part of a community service project that he is expected to accomplish for his school, this teen chose to help perform grounds restoration work here in this Philadelphia cemetery. The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. and thousands of volunteers have been able to keep about twenty-five percent of this formerly abandoned, several-hundred acre cemetery clear of trees and other invasive vegetation since 2011. It is an immense challenge to just maintain cleared sections and mow grass on this huge property, let alone take back additional acreage. The majority of the cemetery looks like the scene below.

But Section G on the Philadelphia side of the cemetery is in the process of being restored thanks to young Austin Mee and his grandfather, David Munyun. While most of the population living around Philadelphia was either on the Ben Franklin Parkway waiting for Pope Francis to arrive, or avoiding it all at the Jersey Shore, these guys were cutting weeds, clearing graves, and chopping down trees.
So on Saturday, September 26, 2015, we met up with them to witness their accomplishment.

Robert Reinhardt (L) and David Munyun discuss recently cleared area
While the area of the grounds in which these fellows are working appears to be relatively clear and maintained from these photographs, it did not look like this until very recently. Trees had been taken down and weeds and thorn bushes were removed before the grass could even be cut. When my friend Rob and I arrived, most of the hard work had already been done. David and Austin had cut back weeds and trees at dozens of grave sites, and piled the debris for later pickup. They had cut back many trees of various sizes and were in the process of filling the trunks with weed killer (to kill the stump so it cannot grow back and cause additional damage to the monuments and headstones). They took a short break to talk with us.
Austin is a student at Saint Augustine Preparatory School in Richland, New Jersey (southern part of the state, about fifty miles south of Mount Moriah Cemetery), and David is a retired PECO employee. As you can see in the video above, Austin is totally engaged in this work and understands the impact he is making by generously donating his time and energy to this community cause. Also, it's great that he's spending time with his Grand Dad!
From the Saint Augustine Website:
"Service is an integral component of the Augustinian Education. Through service to others, students get to know themselves better, develop an attitude of gratitude, and make a difference in the world. Students are exposed to community service through their participation in extra-curricular activities, as every one of our athletic programs is required to perform a service project."

Further Reading:
If you would like to help the The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc., please visit this site to see how you can donate your time or money to this cause! All are welcome to the scheduled restoration events listed!  
Click here to see the landscaping map of Mount Moriah, which shows condition of all areas and their current state of maintenance.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

My Mother and the Sea

This week’s Cemetery Traveler post was guest written by my friend, Cynthia Solem. - Ed Snyder 

My Mother and the Sea

My mother, Violet, was born in Philadelphia. On her mother’s side of the family, she was a seventh generation Philadelphian, as she was descended from the Krefelders, the founders of Germantown. Her father was the son and grandson of German immigrants to Pennsylvania.

Photo below:  Alice Marker Robinson and children:  Alyce, Violet, and Ray, Wildwood, New Jersey(?), Circa 1933. (Family archives)

Alice Robinson and children, c. 1933
Violet’s father, like his father, worked at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. My mother, along with her two siblings, spent her early childhood in South Philly, in a neighborhood for shipyard workers. During the Depression, this was an excellent job to have, as Grandpa had a steady income. One of my grandmother’s relatives had a beach house at Wildwood, New Jersey, and, when he was about to lose it for unpaid taxes, my grandparents bought it. For the next several years, my mother’s favorite place was Wildwood in the summer. My grandmother, as befitting her Pennsylvania Dutch origins, was a neatnik, but she relaxed the rules at the beach. My mother and her sister and brother were given a lot of freedom to go to the beach and the Boardwalk. As a teenager, my mother became friends with several lifeguards, and, after they got off duty, they would all go out to swim with the dolphins.  For my mother, the ocean always symbolized freedom.

World War II intervened and spoiled this lovely family time. My mother (who had by this time changed her name to the more-modern Vicki) joined the Cadet Nurse Corps, and studied at Presbyterian Hospital to get her nursing degree. My uncle joined the Navy. Aunt Alyce took a job as personal secretary to the head of a department store. (Strawbridge and Clothier’s) but still found time to attend USO dances. At one dance, she met two nice Army sergeants from Wisconsin who were about to be shipped off to North Africa. She invited them home for Thanksgiving dinner. My mother was studying for exams, but Alyce was very persuasive and said it was her patriotic duty to take these young men, who might die, after all, on a tour of the City of Brotherly Love. One of the young men, Bob, was apparently quite smitten by Vicki, who had just turned eighteen. He asked if he could write her, and she agreed.

Bob was sent to North Africa, contracted malaria, was part of the invasion of Sicily, was sent to a hospital in England to recover, then was sent to Omaha Beach during D-Day. He had a relapse, and then was sent back to hospitals in New Jersey, Florida, and Colorado. Bob was a good letter writer, and apparently a persuasive man because, even though he didn’t really know her, he eventually got my mother to promise to marry him and move to, as she put it, “the wilds of Wisconsin."  My mother, a big city girl, was quite out of place in the small Wisconsin town where they lived first with my father’s parents and then in a trailer park for returning GIs on the University of Wisconsin‘s Camp Randall Field.

My brother was born and my mother took the baby to meet his Pennsylvania relatives. My Philadelphia grandfather was ecstatic about having a grandson, but he didn’t have long to enjoy him because Grandpa died shortly after, at 54, of a massive heart attack.

My grandmother sold the beach cottage and the family home and moved to Wisconsin to live with us.

Every summer, Grandmom went to Ocean City, to visit my uncle and his family, and to Wildwood. She faithfully sent her Midwestern grandchildren salt water taffy.  Our family joined her a number of times and my brother and I learned to body surf and love the sea, just as our mother did.

My father died young, so my mother was widowed at forty-two. I asked her if she wanted to move back to the East Coast, but she had a family, a job, and friends in Wisconsin. As she got older, she was adamant that she did not want to be buried with my dad and the rest of his family at the family grave in Spring Green, Wisconsin. “I want you to scatter my ashes off the shore at Cape May,” she said.

Though my mother lived another forty-six years, it was still a shock when she died last year. Though she hadn’t left any written instructions, my brother and I both knew what her wishes were.

Rainbow over Cape May, September 10, 2015 (Photo courtesy of Martha Kendall)

Last summer, our families and two of my cousins and their spouses all gathered at Miss Chris Fishing Center in Cape May. My mother’s ashes were in a cardboard tube decorated with sunflowers. My son’s fiancĂ©e had brought a bouquet of flowers. To our surprise, the boat slowed right outside the Boardwalk at Wildwood and the captain told us it was time to begin the ceremony. It was a lovely day and laughing gulls were flying above the boat. My brother tossed the ashes, in their container, off the stern. Then each of us took a flower, made a blessing, and placed the flower in the water. We laughed, cried, and hugged.

Laughing Gull, Wildwood New Jersey, August, 2014 (Cynthia Solem)
My mother, like her mother, was a bird lover. She was particularly fond of cardinals. As our boat turned and headed back to Cape May, we were escorted by one of the laughing gulls.

I’ve been noticing the birds a lot lately,” one of my sons confided to me. “I thought that maybe Grandma would want a cardinal to be with her, but it’s fitting that a gull has decided to come back with us.

We live on the other coast, near another Boardwalk, but, when I smell the salt air, and see the gulls and pelicans soaring over Monterey Bay, I cannot help but think that we all came from the ocean. That’s where my mother has returned. ______________________________________________

Author: Cynthia Solem, Santa Cruz, California
Cynthia has lived on the Pacific Coast for over forty years. She has recently retired after teaching English and English as a Second Language at community colleges and universities in the Bay Area and the Monterey Bay area.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

No More Racing in the Street

Roadside memorials are everywhere - tearful reminders of automobile accidents, usually, which resulted in unfortunate, untimely deaths. I happened upon one last week that surprised me. It was on a stretch of lonely road behind the Philadelphia International Airport. That's my blue Saab parked near it in the photo above.

Roadside Memorial
There is an access road, paved, that winds around the north side of the airport, called Fort Mifflin Road (you can reach it by following Enterprise Avenue once you exit Interstate 95). Back in 2007, I accidentally discovered that an S-shaped quarter mile of this road was used for street racing. Cars, quads, and motorcycles would congregate here with watchers around each bend to signal if the odd vehicle or police cruiser was heading toward the racing strip. Spectators would line the small grass-covered hill on the airport side of the road and watch the fun.

Racing cyclists on Fort Mifflin Road

If you continue down Fort Mifflin Road from where it intersects with Enterprise Avenue, you end up at Fort Mifflin Historic Park. The Fort, a National Historic Site on the Delaware River, helped America win the Revolutionary War by keeping a British armada from attacking Philadelphia in 1777. (An amazing story, if you’d like to read it at this link.)

If you ever attended one of these (illegal) street racing events, you remember the noise and dust. Back in 2007, during my initial visit, I made this photo (above) of a rider falling off his quad as he reared it up into a wheelie position! (By the way, this is what the dirt track side of the road looked like back then, with I95 in the background.) I remember that day quite vividly. As the rider fell off, the quad continued on down the road, falling back on all four wheels, and … continued down the road headed straight for my car (which was parked on the side of the road)! As I started running toward my car, the rider got up and ran after his quad (which was maybe going about ten mph). He passed me and jumped up onto the moving vehicle, dropped into the driver’s seat, and retook control. I was shocked. Talk about goon riders. These guys were in it for the show, pulling all kinds of tricks for the crowd. 

And there was quite a crowd that day, maybe a hundred people and about thirty cars pulled up on the grass alongside the road. I’d gone back to this racing area every couple years to photograph the mayhem and every Saturday in the summer there were dozens of bikers tearing up the dirt track and racing in the street.

Crowd gathered to race and observe in 2011

“When the strip shuts down we run 'em in the street

From the fire roads to the interstate

Some guys they just give up living

And start dying little by little, piece by piece,

Some guys come home from work and wash up,

And go racin' in the street.”
– "Racing In The Street,” Bruce Springsteen

In addition to the paved road racing, the Motocross, quad, and dirt bike crowd had their own trails, jumps, and gullies to tear up. In the photo below, you can see the bare dirt behind the cars – this was the riding area. Now, in 2015, that area is overgrown with weeds and separated from the paved road by a steel guardrail. Near one of the bends in the road is a sign post decorated as a memorial, a symbol of urban mourning. 

His name was Ron, from what I could make out from the heartfelt goodbyes spray-painted on the guardrail. He was a cyclist who died at this point on the road, possibly while he was racing.

"For all the shut down strangers and hot rod angels,
Rumbling through this promised land …

 – "Racing In The Street," Bruce Springsteen

There is a color photograph, among other things, attached to the memorial pole. Stuffed animals, a broken guitar, and beer bottles are heaped at it's base in the weeds; a small guitar amplifier is attached to the top of the pole. He must have been a musician as well as a daredevil cyclist. The photo shows a young man on his motorcycle, with dates written below the image. The casual onlooker might simply assume that someone died in an automobile accident here.

"I want to blow 'em all out of their seats
Calling out around the world, we're going racin' in the street.”
    – "Racing In The Street," Bruce Springsteen

The date on the photo indicates that Tom (no last name written) was born in 1989 and died in 2013, at 23 years of age. The last time I had witnessed the street racing here was in 2011. In the four years since I’d been here, a few things have changed. Tom died, and maybe as a result of that, the authorities decided to put an end to the fun. Concrete road barriers were placed alongside the airport side of the roadway to keep cars from parking there, and spectators from climbing the hill. The guardrail was installed to barricade the dirt trail area on the opposite side of the road. In the photo below, you can see the overgrown area that was the dirt track. The signs beyond the road racing stretch of Fort Mifflin Road indicate that the land on the dirt track side of the road is owned by the Philadelphia Water Department. This area is home to their "water pollution control plant," a waste treatment facility - an area totally uninhabitable because of the smell.

Truly, "Darkness on the Edge of Town"

The road and trail racers have probably found new locations for their wild rides. I’ve stumbled upon them in the past and will likely stumble upon them in the future. One thing is certain, however - Tom, R.I.P., will not be one of the participants. 

In his dirge-like 1978 song, "Racing in the Street," Bruce Springsteen sings:

"Tonight, tonight the highway's bright
Out of our way, mister, you best keep
'Cause summer's here and the time is right
For racin' in the street."


(Click here to listen to this song from the album "Darkness on the Edge of Town" by Bruce Springsteen )