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Off The Cuff - The Blog
COMPOSITIONS OF IMPROMPTU ORIGIN
an ongoing "In The Moment" project
photography by Mark D. McKinley - Lexington, KY
Off The Cuff Photography
"To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place ... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them."
     - Elliott Erwitt

"Anything that excites me for any reason, I will photograph; Not in searching for unusual subject matter, but making the commonplace unusual."
     - Edward Weston

"Taking risks has been the motivation behind Mark's Online Graphics Site (MOGS) since 1999 - Off The Cuff Photography "Taking It To The Streets" originated from the desire to gain a better understanding of photography and abandon the comfort zone.

The phrase "Taking It To The Streets" is broad by definition - in some instances the streets will be little more than slightly worn paths.  Whether you're capturing images with a point & shoot camera or an advanced model DSLR, step out of your comfort zone ... experiment with settings and seize the moment."
     - Mark D. McKinley

 
"Winding Road to Bagdad, KY" - Blog

(September 25, 2016) -- A photographer acquaintance from Wales arrived in the states for a nine day visit.  I suggested we meet when I discovered he'd be staying in Lexington, Kentucky.  Via e-mail we selected a day and place to meet.  My wife and I met Pete downtown at a nice casual restaurant called Pies & Pints.

After introductions, conversation ranged from common interests and events of the day to exchanging laughs -- dialog never lagged.  we left the restaurant feeling like old friends and expressed a desire to stay in touch.  We conversed through e-mail the next day and coordinated a malleable photography excursion for the following day.  Not keen on shooting in the high noon sun, we left Lexington around 2:30 in the afternoon.  With our camera gear loaded in the Jeep, we hit the road with only two destinations in mind.  We left Lexington with the understanding that if anything caught our attention while traveling to and from Bagdad ... we'd consider it a bonus.

We took US60 out of Lexington and turned onto Elm Street in Versailles.  We followed that road on through to McCracken Pike.  A group of people driving Polaris Slingshots passed us before we reached Woodford Reserve Distillery.  There must have been six or seven of the three-wheeled vehicles in the group -- wind blowing through their hair as they cruised the country back roads.  The exotic open air vehicles have been good sellers in this region of the country, starting out at $25,000.  Most of the Slingshots that passed us that day were high end models.  It's the unexpected moments that make driving back roads so much fun.  When you happen upon the unexpected in a positive way it provides motivation -- having a flexible itinerary can be important.  Never underestimate the power of spontaneity ... it served us well throughout the day.

As we continued down the winding road, a few miles past Woodford Reserve, we came upon a deteriorated two story structure next to the side of the road -- our first stop of the day.  I parked the Jeep at the side of the road, we grabbed our cameras and began exploring the intriguing structure.  A large area of the roof had collapsed -- gone.  The middle portion of the aging structure open to the elements without a separating floor.  As we walked toward the building a few second story windows framed sky and clouds.  Unattended plant growth had sought paths of no resistance and had crept through openings in the brick structure -- vines and other vegetation now cling to interior walls.  Dark abandoned stairwells stretched upward through narrow corridors to the surrounding second floor.

Directly across the road were other structures to be noticed -- quietly waiting for someone with a camera to take their portrait ... we obliged as we walked around the area and later strolled a short stretch of the narrow two lane road.

We stayed in the Millville area for an hour or so before driving further down McCracken Pike.  We traveled a few more miles of winding road before we turned onto to 1005.  We drove on that stretch of road, past the small town of Hatton, and soon arrived at the last stop on our itinerary -- the town of Bagdad, Kentucky.

We spent about thirty minutes photographing the Bagdad Mill Works and its surrounding silo structures, then stopped at a nearby store to buy road worthy snacks and refresh ourselves with bottled hydration.  When we stepping inside The Corner Keystop we were treated to another high point during our road trip. The medium sized independent market / hardware / restaurant / gas station / book store is located on a curve in the road.  Their generous parking lot provided easy access and the store has genuine curb appeal -- large brand specific metal signs are posted nearly the entire length of the building.

As we entered the store we were greeted with a smile and courteous conversation.  Upon hearing that Pete was visiting Kentucky from Wales, the man expressed interest in learning more about his trip.  With the three of us engaged in inquisitive conversation, the gentleman offered to show us some stone and flint artifacts he kept in a back room of the store.  As we awaited his return, a couple of customers greeted us as the passed by.  The storekeeper reappeared holding three carved rock pieces in his hands.  The three of us formed a half circle and examined the treasured artifacts shaped from rock not native to Kentucky.  Conversation drifted to past cultures and their migration across the land -- how people traveled from one place to another and artifacts they left behind could often be traced back to origins.  When we explained why we came to Bagdad, the gentleman and one customer shared some personal stories

The folks we encountered in the small community of Bagdad, Kentucky were some of the friendliest people we'd ever met.  Our pause for refreshment provided us with snacks and hydration and a sense of encouragement for humanity.   When we stepped outside and walked toward the Jeep a local farmer walked over and asked Pete, "In the store, did I hear you say you're visiting from Wales?"

"Yes sir," Pete responded.

The seasoned farmer smiled and extended his open hand, "It is a pleasure to meet you."

He then shared with us the connection he had to the United Kingdom through his work with the state of Kentucky and Department of Agriculture.  He also mentioned a subscription to a farming publication that he and others subscribe to from around the world -- they'd often take a picture of someone holding the magazine before mailing it to the next subscriber.  The farmer gave us permission to take a couple of pictures of him with his small grandson, attentively standing next to him in overalls.  The young boy had never interrupted us during conversation -- when we raised our cameras to snap a picture of him next to his grandpa, a smile that could stretch across the globe covered the little boy's face.

Impromptu moments continued -- my wife called during our return trip to Lexington and said Pete and I were invited to her dad and step-mother's house for a chili dinner.  We took them up on their offer -- more stories were shared and more friends were made that evening.  It had been a rewarding day on many levels.

I haven't yet had an opportunity to review, sort and process images I had taken that day.  In the near future a full gallery will linked to this blog.  In the meantime ... photography is about so much more than just taking pictures.  To quote one of my favorite photographers, I have gradually confused photography with life. Jerry Uelsman

(c) 2016 Mark D. McKinley

      

      



 
"A PIANO IN THE PINES" - Blog

(February 17, 2016) PREFACE - I drove to Jacobson Park one morning to photograph a piano I had heard about.  It seemed like an ideal subject to feature in my "Off The Cuff" photography series.  On that morning I didn't know a friend of mine was involved in what has become a topic of mystery and intrigue amongst local photographers.  A week later the piano was featured in a local news story.  Days later lines began to form at the site where the piano sat in the mature pine grove.  People photographed the piano with their cell phones, SLRs and point & shoots cameras.  Selfies and portraits were taken next to [and on] the piano.  Carefully composed scenic shots were taken.  People began bringing props to add an original flair to their images.  The inanimate object had become a local celebrity.

A few days after I had photographed the piano photographer David H. McRae explained how the piano got there.  McRae, musician Greg Finger and his wife, and a male friend had met at Jacobson Park one afternoon in January.  The piano was delivered to the city park in pickup truck.  McRae and the other two males unloaded the 850 pound piano from the truck at the exact spot it has set for over a month now.  They joked amongst themselves at the time about just leaving the piano there.  It didn't take long for inclement weather to arrive and delay removal of the piano.
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BLOG - After seeing a couple shots of the piano on Facebook a couple of weeks earlier, I decided to drive out to Jacobson Park and photograph the mystery piano that was sitting in a large pine tree grove.  I considered the lone piano as art - an unusual element sitting beneath the large canopy of pine trees.  During the past few weeks the piano has become a conversation piece due to more people spotting it in the park.

The first morning I visited the piano a fairly dense fog hovered through the park.  I parked close the grove near the edge of the paved roadway - walked several feet back looking for a place I could cross a shallow ditch without wading through standing  water.  Remnants from a recent snowfall covered the ground and portions of the upright piano.  The setting was surreal - a photographers' dream.  Dressed in blue jeans, an insulated shirt and a warm jacket, I endured the cold temperature fairly well - my extremities were the only parts that posed a problem.  After several minutes in the cold air with a camera my hands became extremely cold.  I had left my warm gloves in the car since operating camera controls is nearly impossible wearing winter gloves.  Crisp manual focusing became a challenge as my hands got colder.  I walked back to the car two times that morning to warm my hands.  Since that morning I've researched specialty gloves made for cold weather photography.  Several brands are available that feature fold-back finger tip and thumb covers.

On the second morning I arrived at the park to document the piano, I met three people walking in the pine grove with their dogs. There were five dogs walking in the pack, each one a different breed, size and color.  Observing from a distance it became obvious the dogs were well kept, good temperament, social canines.  The dogs were unleashed, yet they never wandered far from their owners.  Most impressive, the owners also picked up after their well disciplined pack.  I enjoyed witnessing their morning trek through the pines as I photographed the piano.

The fog wasn't as dense that morning so expectations of what I might capture changed a bit.  My number one objective was to simply document the piano ... sitting amongst the pines.  Art.  Quietly posed.  Without fanfare.  For anyone to experience.  It grabbed me as a spectator.

After photographing the piano I returned to my car and drove toward the other end of the pine grove.  I parked near two vehicles that might have belonged to the three dog walkers.  They were nearby at that moment so I asked if I could meet them.  A friendly reply came in the form of, "Come on up and join us!"

The trio of one woman and two men were pleasant folks.  As I walked the incline toward them, their dogs started running toward me.  I didn't have a chance!  I was out numbered - five dogs against one of me.  The dogs circled around me sniffing, the border collie jumped up on me.  I started talking to the dogs and loved on them.  After a couple of minutes the dogs began to spread out and wander around closer to their owners.  All of them except for the small black curly haired one.  It continued to stand near my feet and never moved.  The dog never raised his head.  He just stood there staring at my lower legs.  The other dogs had walked away.  Not the short black curly haired dog.  He stood there without movement.

Stretching my arms outward and upward, I looked toward the dog owners ... laughing, I asked, "What does he want?"

The woman immediately replied, "He wants you to throw his ball!"

When I lean closer to the little dog, sure enough, he was holding a tennis ball in his mouth.  I gingerly took the ball from his mouth and tossed through the woods.  The small black curly haired dog retrieve it and carried it back to me, dropping the tennis ball at my feet.  The two of us repeated the maneuver three more times.

Watching the two of us from a distance, the trio of walkers said, "You're welcome to walk with us!"

I walked with them for a few minutes.  My hands, frigid at that point, still carrying a camera.  Conversing with my new found friends was fun.  One of the gentleman mentioned that a mysterious man occasionally plays the piano during the night.

I replied, "Is that right?"

I was about to suggest that the mystery man's image would not appear on film when the man laughed and said, "Not really!"

We shared more than a few laughs during our brief encounter.  It was an enjoyable morning that would never have happened had Greg Finger and his promotion crew not left that piano sitting in the pine grove at Jacobson Park.

Another photographer friend mentioned the piano at Jacobson Park on Facebook yesterday.  He had stumbled onto it two days ago and shared the fact it was sitting there with other photography friends.  It was later that evening when pieces of the puzzle fell into place and I discovered a friend of mine and the Greg Finger Band were the reason behind the mystery.

(C) 2016 Mark D. McKinley



 
"Off The Cuff" - Blog

Chapter 1 - A friend of mine moved back to Kentucky from Colorado in the fall of 2011.  Both of us, photography enthusiasts, met for lunch at Cheddars one afternoon to catch up on current events and converse about his recent quest to the west.  Conversation included the vastness of the great outdoors, landscapes of the west and southwest, cameras, lenses, even personal ambitions.  Perhaps it was an offshoot of those conversations that started us on a series of photography treks in March 2012.  


We would load our camera gear into the back of the Jeep and decide on an approximate destination for a photography road trip. We never sought exotic locations or necessarily looked for neat and tidy spots. The expressed goal was simple - find the shot in places that were often unfamiliar to both us and our cameras. We went to urban and secluded spots in and around Lexington, Kentucky. Occasionally we ventured to other towns. It's both a challenge and fun to capture scenes slightly off the beaten path. Perhaps the neatest upside to doing a project like this is the learning experiences.  


Our first photography excursion led us to a remote section of railroad tracks.  The rails lay between an old warehouse and an old closed tobacco factory just off Main Street, with a stretch of double tracks that includes a switching turnstile.  That first shoot resulted in a number of interesting images.  One of my favorites is of a patch of overgrown grass next to a weathered downspout which happens to be the cover photo for this gallery.  


On another trek we spent our time wandering around downtown Lexington, Kentucky. While snapping shots around the perimeter of a historic downtown church we saw a woman walking down the sidewalk carrying a brown folder that held a number of rather large prints.  Wind gusts were strong that day and after the woman had passed where we were standing, a gust of wind carried one of the prints out of the folder.  Unaware that the wind had lifted the print, the woman continued walking.  The large print landed face up on a section of sidewalk about thirty feet behind her.  Nathan and I were about a block away when we saw the print sailing through the air.  The woman was nowhere to be found when we reached where the wind blown print laid. She must have gotten into a parked car on a side street.  A copy company business card was attached to the print.  I recognized the name of the company and knew that they had a location downtown so we walked back to the Jeep and delivered the print to their downtown location.  


The large print was a professional looking portrait of an older gentleman.  When I carried the full color print into the store, one of their employees recognized the image.  The employee had made the print only thirty minutes earlier for the woman we saw walking.  The company had the woman's phone number on file and contacted her about the lost print.


Our excursions have taken us over stretches of country roads that were previously unknown to us.  We visited two covered bridges, one of the bridges is still open to vehicle traffic today.  There's something about a bridge that was both engineered and built with all wood components that captures the human eye.  The span of a covered bridge across a water source adds a certain element of warmth to the surrounding landscape.  


After a couple of photography trips, I unofficially dubbed these spontaneous excursions as "Off The Cuff" photography.  The  quality of images in the gallery will vary - most images are taken with a DSLR camera.  Occasionally images are captured with a small point and shoot or with a cell phone camera.  Thus far, images featured in the OTC gallery feature scenes from Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri.  


Chapter 2 - Over the course of a year we had explored several areas around Lexington, Kentucky and places in nearby towns.  Most of our excursions turned into day trips that included lunch and supper.  We went to Frankfort, Kentucky a couple of times.  One time we spent more time walking around talking and observing our surroundings than we did taking pictures.  One trip we stopped for lunch at a little independent pizzeria near the railroad tracks - the local venue provided friendly service and excellent pizza.  There's something about downtown Frankfort next to or within blocks of the railroad tracks.  The area resonates with a vibe that tends to induce a sense of calm.  


One afternoon we found a neat place at the top of a hill that overlooks downtown Frankfort called Leslie Morris Park at Fort Hill.  This remarkable acreage is packed with Civil War history and fascinating terrain.  Once again we spent more time walking, talking, reading and observing than we did framing a shot through our lenses.  Wooded areas at Fort Hill are embellished with large thorn trees that were used as organic barbed wire during the war.  Fort Hill was never compromised or overtaken by an enemy in the heyday of conflict due to the cunning use of their surroundings.  Soldiers hunkered down amongst rolling terrain and tactical fortification that secured the entire perimeter of the hill.  


Cemeteries are neat places to visit with a camera.  Especially older ones where time and modern development have secluded their location.  Newer and bigger roads have gently nudged their frequent visitors away.  Other times such seclusion is a more natural process when generations of families have migrated to other parts of the country.  


I have taken photographs at Lexington Cemetery [and Botanical Gardens] and at a couple of lesser known cemeteries.  One time we stopped at a cemetery located behind a country church on a back road between Lexington and Versailles.  The stone and brick church has been well maintained through the years which indicates the structure is frequented by a faithful congregation.  There are many grave markers in the cemetery that date back to the eighteen hundreds.  I noticed a few markers engraved with 1812 as the year of death.  I stood there pondering how many had died of natural causes and also wondered whether some of them had been fatalities of the 32 month long War of 1812.  


There are always a few surprises.  While exploring a cemetery in Frankfort, we wandered upon the grave site of frontiersman Daniel Boone.  It's common knowledge that Boone was responsible for a respectable portion of frontier history throughout regions in and around Kentucky.  Until that day I had never thought about where the man was buried.  It was neat to unexpectedly be standing next to his tall and yet unpretentious monument.  I suppose it is only appropriate to mention there is a grave site in Marthasville, Missouri that also claims to be that of Daniel Boone.  I find it rather difficult to believe that Boone's body is buried in both states.  I suppose it's possible that his body could have been moved at some point in history ... life's little mysteries.  


Cemetery are usually the final resting place of our human vessels.  They provide a place to pay respect to cherished family members and friends.  I have never understood the concept of building a monument at the spot where someone has died or was killed.  The assembly of a visual salutation to the dead zone remains a mystery to me.  I can sort of understand pounding a simple white cross into the ground along side the roadway as a reminder that someone lost their life in an auto accident at that very spot.  Be alert and drive Safely.  Aside from a simple visual reminder, the embellishment of roadside monuments exhibited at the kill zone seems a bit morbid to me.  No disrespectful toward persons that relish roadside monuments - everyone grieves in their own way.  I prefer to remember a person's life rather than the spot of their demise.  Having said that, I respectfully yield to the varied opinions of others.


I've returned a couple of times after a photography trip with only a few images digitally engraved onto my camera's memory card.  Perhaps the planets weren't properly aligned on those days.  Perhaps there just wasn't anything that caught my eye.  Whatever the reason there will be days when nothing clicks.  Literally.  Pun intended.  We've always made the best of circumstances on those less than artistic occasions when nothing clicked and enjoy the ongoing pursuit of the next unusual photo-op.  My track record for successful image captures have been fairly balanced between planned and unplanned destinations.  It's important to make time for the things you're passionate about.  Multiple interests help bring balance to your life - remember the old adage, "All work and no play ..."  


Chapter 3 - A day at Raven Run.  Batteries not included.  Three weeks of planning, coordinating three people, juggling work schedules and determining departure times is no guarantee of a completely successful trip.  That statement isn't entirely accurate with the inclusion of one noteworthy error.  Proper planning usually includes the removal of a recently charged lithium battery from the charging cradle ... before leaving on a photography trip.  


Batteries?  I don't need no stinkin' batteries!  


The morning excursion began on schedule.  Our agreed upon time of departure was observed by everyone and the sun was rising without a glitch.  Everything was moving along as planned.  Nathan lived only a mile and a half away and arrived at my house right on schedule.  We exchanged greetings and started loading our hiking gear and cameras into the back of the PT Cruiser.  We then loaded ourselves into the vehicle and drove across town to pick up Tim.  Nathan and Tim had never met before.  Tim and I are originally from the same small town in Indiana.  We've known one another for over forty years - it had been three years since our last visit.


We took the scenic route from Tim's house toward Raven Run - a two lane winding road.  Names and introductions were exchanged on the way to our destination.  Conversation was plentiful - three friends anticipating a fun day of hiking and photography and sharing past experiences.  Tim is an avid cyclist and considers century rides (100 miles) on a bicycle standard fare.  He shared a few riding incidents that were seasoned with humor and offered some calculated formulas that help with endurance.


It was near the end of May and the temperature was soaring toward the mid nineties.  On such a clear day the sun was beaming down on us in all its glory as it warmed the soil below our feet.  By mid morning it was hot and it was humid.  Neither of those factors dampen our spirits.  We were ready for whatever the day had in store for us.  Everyone had packed their gear in backpacks.  Two of us were loaded with cameras, batteries, lenses, bottled water and even hydration packs.  Energy bars and the all important peanut butter and cheese cracker snacks were also tucked away with our gear.  Our enthusiasm was at a high point.

To make a rather long story shorter ... yes, we had backup cameras with batteries!

Check out my other photography blurp

(c) 2016 Mark D. McKinley
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