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Raving about Red Square

Red Square. I wanted to go to Red Square. I wanted to go there the first night I was in Russia. A young man picked me up at the airport from the Home-Stay Program my travel agent set me up with. That was the good news, the bad news was that he spoke little English (he said nothing on the half hour drive into the city), his car amazed me in its ability to keep going, and the Home-Stay concept really gave you an insight into the plight of the Russian people. I got settled into my new room and asked for directions to Red Square. With the help of my host’s son’s school English lessons, I headed out the door, down the street, onto the subway, and into the heart of the Russian Bear.

I wanted to go to Red Square before it got dark. I found the subway station easy enough, somehow got my ticket, got onto the train, and counted off the four stops – I could not make any sense out of the subway system except to count … one, two, three, get off.


Moscow. I had made it. I had wanted to visit, and more importantly, photograph Red Square for many years. I believe it was seeing all those military parades on TV over the years. The might of the Soviet Union. That was the former Marine in me. Truth is, as a photographer, it was the onion-shaped domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral that were the center of my focus and the driving force behind making the ten day photographic journey to Moscow and St. Petersburg in the first place. That, and the fact that it was the former Soviet Union. Old habits are hard to break.

It didn’t really matter at this point, I was on the train, stop number four was coming up, and I just wanted to get to Red Square. All the planning, all the paperwork, all the phone calls to the travel agent were over. I had my camera equipment, plenty of film, my passport and visa, and I was done counting to four. All I had to do now was find my way to Red Square. Lucky for me, most Russians could understand “Kremlin”, one of my few Russian words. I found my way and the light was beginning to add to the magic.

Reflections of Russia

In my rush to get there, I forgot that the summer days were quite long and that I had plenty of “golden light” to use anyway I could think of. I just had to calm down and think about what I wanted instead of where I was and what was in my viewfinder. Travel photography is my passion and I can never get over the fact that I am where I am, doing what I am doing. Seems simple enough, but that is at the core of what photography means to me. My passion to explore, to capture that excitement on film, to be a witness of what the world has to offer, that is what places me, with camera, in the places of my dreams.

That is photography. Not the equipment, the film, or even the end results. No, photography, to me, is getting out there in the first place, the “doing”. It is the idea of taking an active role in one’s life. The passion. The drive. The wonder.

St Basil

I teach photography at the community college level and understand that I can help most every person take better pictures. That is the easy part. What I can not teach, yet is the key to the success of every photographer, is the drive that pushes a person to get out there and work at being a photographer, not just a picture taker. My mother takes pictures – true, not too many, but she takes pictures. I am a photographer. Most of my students are picture takers, before and after my class. If I did my job, they are better picture takers, but that is all I can do. The rest is up to them. That is photography. That is being a photographer.

I went to Russia as a photographer. I woke up early; I took the subway, sometimes even counted higher or lower than four, walked around Moscow and St. Petersburg with the idea of making photographs, worked at being a photographer. Everything I did was with the intention of being at the right place, at the right time, to capture on film what made Russia, to me, Russia. The people, the buildings, the land, the landmarks. Everything. I spent my time as a photographer, a travel photographer.

Due to the fact that I am not a travel photographer, those were an awesome ten days. Truth is, I am a Special Education teacher at Granite Fall Middle School in North Carolina. Yes, and like I said, I also teach photography part-time at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. That is the beauty of being a photographer, there are no rules that say you can’t be anything else. In fact, photography is based on the fact that you are something else. I am a teacher, a husband, a son, a brother, an artist, a motorcyclist, a writer, a friend, a traveler, a fly-fisherman, a track coach, a runner, a mountain bike rider, a goof-ball. I am all these, and more. My life shapes my photography. My photography is the result of my background, my interests, and everything I have done up to the point of taking the next exposure.

St Petersberg

I am also a free-lance photographer for OUR STATE magazine (NC) and I write a photo column for a BMW motorcycle club’s monthly magazine, the OWNERS NEWS. I am a teacher and a photographer. For the past five summers, I have started writing/photographing articles of my motorcycle adventures in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Norway, and the Alps for motorcycle magazines. It all goes back to the fact that I received my first camera as a high school graduation present on my first cross-country motorcycle trip from upstate New York to Arizona. It is who I am.

Then, thirty years later, after two weeks in the Alps on a Beach’s Motorcycle Adventure, I spent ten days in Russia. From St. Basil to the Hermitage Museum, I followed my three rules of photography: I looked at the light, got closer, and shot lots of film. I can even remember thinking about which side of the street I wanted to be on so I could take advantage of the light. Ten days. Ten days of thinking like a photographer, acting like a photographer, working like a photographer. I had worked to get there, now it was time to work on getting the image – always working at getting the image, being involved.

While on the streets, I like to keep it simple. For the most part, I worked with my new Nikon N80 with its battery pack, a Nikon 28-105mm lens, and a Cokin warming filter. I also carried my small travel tripod, a Slik Snapman, and Fuji Sensia 100 film. Also in my fanny pack, were the Nikon 18-35mm and 70-300mm lenses with lens hoods, cleaning brushes, and a lens cloth. I would say 80% or more of the work was done with the 28-105mm lens, a true workhorse. I love the idea that I can cover wide angle, semi-telephoto, and macro (1:2) with one lens. I love it.

Self-portrait? Perhaps not

That was it. I walked, I walked some more, and I counted the subway stops. I never did get the hang of public transportation in Russia. I did return to Red Square in Moscow and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg over and over again. I wanted to get a feel for the place, I wanted to experience the place, not just walk through it. True, I didn’t see everything in each city, but I did experience the different moods and light of each area I worked in. That was my goal. After all, it was only ten days. After Red Square, the rest was just a bonus.

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