Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Trip Back to Ithaca and Watkins Glen - Travelogue 5

Revisiting Ithaca and Watkins Glen has been a fun and invigorating trip. But driving around these local roads while playing my Autumn playlist really made this even more special.  Few things can rival driving down a sunny road, through a rolling topography of trees turning their bodies into "pillars of light". It's even sweeter when Vince Guaraldi's "Autumn Leaves" is tingling your earbuds.

Most of my images are still on my Canon 5D. I'm really proud of the new batch of photos I took, but it's going to take an age processing the good ones (plus, I still have the photos from Italy to deal with).  Still, I managed some quick iPhone snapshots for a visual of this weekend's road trip. I drove and snapped pics all day today, so I'm about to hit the sheets very soon.  Good night.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Aubade by Philip Larkin - The 4am shock

When I was younger I had a fairly uneventful sleep pattern. It was simple: I would go to bed at night and right as a line, I would wake to morning light. It was as if what happened in between was none of my business.

I rarely knew what it was like to wake up prematurely in the quiet dark of 4am. But on those rare occasions that I did (and it was always in the 4am hour), an unspeakable dread would overcome me and I would feel an inconsolable sadness that I could never speak about. I didn't know how to explain it to other people and it was too disturbing to elaborate. Until I discovered the poem below. He even got the hour right.

Thank god for poets, Philip Larkin, in particular, otherwise I'd still be rambling.

One more thing: I don't sleep through the night anymore so I haven't had that feeling in years. I'm not sure if I conditioned myself to sleep in fits to avoid it, but sometimes I think that in throwing out the bad I have thrown out some of the good. But that's a discussion for another day.

I'm going out for a walk now, and breathe the Friday night air.


I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.   
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.   
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.   
Till then I see what’s really always there:   
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,   
Making all thought impossible but how   
And where and when I shall myself die.   
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse   
—The good not done, the love not given, time   
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because   
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;   
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,   
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,   
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,   
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,   
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill   
That slows each impulse down to indecision.   
Most things may never happen: this one will,   
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without   
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave   
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.   
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,   
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,   
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring   
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Travelogue 3: I Dreamed of Rome

In the early afternoon of June 19th, I landed in Rome. No matter how much I prepare, traveling to a new destination always upends my sense of routine. With just a short plain ride, my everyday life dissolves and I find myself happily disoriented in an open town square staring at a 2,000-year-old Egyptian obelisk. At every turn I find the small differences from my other existence. Tremendous doors everywhere, churches constructed centuries ago, narrow pathways that open up to glorious piazzas. It's a dizzy teleportation trick.

Piazza del Popolo
Egyptian Obelisk at the Piazza del Popolo, Rome
There's nothing like getting lost in one of Rome's constricted walkways and streets. You snake your way around narrow streets lined with shops, going God knows where, only to be rewarded by the open sight of a tremendous piazza.  It's a sweet startle to suddenly find Piazza Navona greeting you with Bernini's fountain. My favorite experience has always been the Pantheon: life teeming all about in random patterns, people meandering in their own unworried direction, licking gelato, pointing, taking pictures, holding hands.

Pantheon, Rome
Pantheon, Rome
Rome is veined with small streets and alleyways. Follow the map loosely, but better to stumble into her secrets. Down one cobblestone street I found a bunch of quaint little storefront cafes and gelatterie; another turn I found a faceless church that just so happened to shelter three gobsmacking murals by Caravaggio. I passed Hadrian's Temple twice before I realized what it was. It remained hidden in open view, and it humbled me.

Temple of Saturn
Temple of Saturn
The Via Del Corso is a straight shot from Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia. I walked that distance and even further to the Baths of Caracalla (madness - walking that distance and the immensity of those baths). Along the way: ancient ruins, abandoned antiquities naked to the elements, the restored villa of Augustus, the remains of a weather worn column or a temple.

Augustus' Villa, Interior
Augustus' Villa, Interior
The map instructed me to turn right. "It can't be here", I thought, "of all placesright next to The Gap?"  It was eroded and overgrown with green and high weeds, its perimeter girded with high aluminum gates. But there it was: the Tomb of Augustus. It was one of the few places I really wanted to enter and explore despite its shambled state, but instead I had to appreciate the stinging irony of the final resting place of one of the most famous Roman emperors, baking under an ageless sun, with a clothing retailer as its neighbor.

All the ruins strewn among the modernity, Rome better than any place on earth can tell you permanence has a price, but better that than gone forever.

Either way, I still think I dreamed it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How much for that picture in the window?

Flatiron Building - Jack Aiello
copyright © Jack Aiello 2012
Being an avid -- you might even call me a semi-pro -- photographer, you would think I nailed the business end of my image making. Truth is, I love to learn about the craft, to improve my technique at every stage of the process, but my business sense is not so sharp.

Case in point: I was recently asked by a charity to volunteer my services at an awards dinner.  I volunteered for them once before, however, this time, I politely declined informing them that my photography, though not my sole source of income, helps greatly supplement what I earn to support myself.

Another time, I was asked by my employer to aid in a beautification project. I photographed various New York City skyscrapers whose prints were to adorn a bland section of corridor leading to a frequently visited unit (I work for a medical center). In this case, I didn't charge for my work simply because I thought it was poor taste to charge my employer, for one. But that's not all. I believed in the project, it got my juices going and with proper credit due on a plaque, I would be able to share my work with all my colleagues.

There are potential clients who say that they will offer you exposure in lieu of not paying you, and I really dislike that tack, but in this case, I felt it was justified.

Still, many people don't understand the time and resources it takes a photographer to scout and research a location (especially if you're a landscape/nature photographer), compose a shot, get the right exposure, white balance, etc.  This is not to mention the cost of the equipment involved. Then there's the time spent in post processing, particularly with dynamic range prints.

I never really knew how to broach the business aspect until I read Chip Phillips' piece. More than I could better articulate, Chip's article provides a lot of practical advice on how you need to determine the worth of your own work.

What do you think?  Should I have charged my employer? Do you consider whether a company will or won't profit at all from your images as a factor before you charge or give it away? What are your negotiating tips? How do you feel about rights managed images vs. royalty free images?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A Year in Review

The year is almost over. In a few hours, 2013 will be a distant memory. In taking stock of this past year, I want to avoid the easy platitudes a new year inspires people to spout. It wasn't all rosy, but neither was it hellish. It was an odd year of growth. I'll do what I do best and just bullet outline what I feel to be the truth of my 2013. It's not just what I did and where I went, but also the defining moments and events that were taking place within me.
  • The first half of 2013 was a blur of job interviews, sleeping in and watching Jerry Springer religiously at 11am every morning. I'm thankful that all of these activities, particularly the last habit, vanished once I got my new job. Some people may hate the 9-5 routine, but there's nothing like a little structure to restore your sanity. It helps that I come in every morning and work with a group of people I genuinely like.
  • My weight as of December 31, 2013: 211 pounds
  • I still struggle with caring what other people think of me. I know it's a waste of energy and it's none of my business what people think of me, but not until this year did I finally accept that this will be a lifelong demon that I will succumb to at times; and other times I will kick straight back to hell.
  • In late May, I traveled to Trumansburg, New York by Cayuga Lake and was enchanted by Taughannock Falls:
    Taughannock Falls, Trumansburg, NY
    Copyright © Jack Aiello  •
  • In late July, I traveled to Seneca Lake and discovered beautiful Watkins Glen:
Watkins Glen State Park
Copyright © Jack Aiello  •
  • At times, my mother will infuriate me, and when she does, I will remember that she shows her love through food. Christmas Eve Dinner, December 24, 2013
Linguine with Clams
Photo Courtesy of Marylisa Terzulli
  • I learned that if I want to grow, I have to let myself off the hook.
  • The phrase, "Not all those who wander are lost" is very true. And I figured out the difference between the one who wanders and the one who's lost. It's fear.
  • I have to admit my trip to Utica in October was a bit of a bust, but I still managed to find beauty in that old train station and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

 Utica Train Station, Utica, NYAdirondack Scenic Railroad

  • And as 2013 winds up, I will celebrate it alone - by choice. It's not sad, it's not pathetic, it's not anything. As I quietly take stock of my life these past 12 months, I will reflect on all the good things going on in my life: my family, my friends, my photography, my constant desire to improve myself, and my acceptance that sometimes I will fall short. But the important thing is I will keep trying.
A Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pasta e Fagioli Made Easy

Pasta e Fagioli
Why does my photography blog look like a Food Network page, all of a sudden?  Well, I told you that my site might take some twists and turns, and besides, I don't entirely ignore food in my photography. Because the weather has been so foul and cold lately, I feel like talking about my favorite Italian comfort food, pasta e fagioli, or Pasta Fazool as it's more commonly referred to in the U.S.

Pasta e fagioli is an Italian peasant dish that doesn't require a lot of fancy ingredients. It's meant to be hearty, simple to make, absolutely delicious and will keep your tummy warm and full during those bitter cold winter months. This is my father's recipe. My dad, for many of you who don't know, was a well respected chef for Elaine's Restaurant in New York City during its heyday in the late 70's and 80's.  Here we go:

  • Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves of smashed garlic
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • About 2-3 Tbsp. pancetta cut in small cubes
  • 15 oz can of White Cannellini Beans (if you don't have this in your pantry, the beauty of pasta e fagioli is that it can be made with any kind of beans. Try red kidney beans, even chick peas if that's what you find)
  • A squirt of tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes (I prefer TuttoRosso crushed tomatoes with basil)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Chicken bouillon cube
  •  About a cup Elbow or Ditalini Macaroni
  • Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese and ground black pepper for garnish
In a large pot, drizzle just a little olive oil at the bottom. Doesn't need to be a lot, just eyeball it.  Add the crushed garlic cloves, small pinch of red pepper flakes and the pancetta. Under low heat, saute everything for a few minutes until the garlic becomes golden and the pancetta starts to crisp.

Add 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes and let everything cook for an extra few minutes under the low flame. Squirt some tomato paste in there - eyeball it, no more than a tablespoon - and stir. Next, add the entire contents of the cannellini beans - do not drain the can. Continuing under the low heat, cook the beans in the tomato sauce for another ten minutes.

Now here's a twist to the recipe that is crucial: with a stick blender, or a masher, start pureeing or smashing the base mixture of beans and tomato sauce so that it transforms from a bright red, to an almost orange/pink color. Note, don't smash all the beans. Continue to cook under a low heat for a few more minutes.

Add the water and the chicken bouillon, and under a medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Next, add about a cup of elbow or ditalini pasta and stir frequently until the pasta cooks to al dente.  

Initially, your pasta e fagioli will look soupy like this:
Pasta e Fagioli - Jack Aiello Photography
Jack Aiello  •
but once you let it rest for 15 minutes, it'll start to thicken and appear more hearty like this:
Pasta e Fagioli - Jack Aiello Photography
Jack Aiello  •
Sprinkle with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and some fresh ground pepper.

A few notes
  • I prefer using the Tuttorosso brand because their crushed tomatoes contain basil bits and comes already salted. Some other crushed tomato brands are unsalted.  That's fine to use, but then the chicken bouillon cube might not be enough flavoring and you may have to salt to taste. Just play with it.
  • Let's talk Pancetta. Pancetta helps round out the dish, but the goal here is simple, simple, simple. If you can't find pancetta at your local supermarket, just leave it out.
  • DO try to find Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese - and NOT processed "parmesan". Even try Pecorino Romano, whatever, but don't skimp on these fresh ingredients; it makes a difference, even the fresh ground black pepper. 
If you do it right (and you can't mess this up), this dish will warm your belly in the coldest winter nights. Enjoy and Buon Appetito!