4th Annual Plast Kurin Cup held at Soyuzivka Ukrainian Heritage Resort in Kerhonkson, NYRead More
Taking 1-87N, you get off at exit 21A heading toward Interstate 90E. After exit B2, you bear right toward the signs that read "East Chatham, NY." The excitement builds. As you wind your way through the town, you make a right onto the bridge of Sayre Hill Rd. Your excitement is now palpable. You scroll through your iPod to find "the right" pump-up song that mimics the anticipation you've been containing since last summer. Euphoria kicks in. To the unseen eye, this entrance just looks like a narrow dirt road opening with a small sign that reads "Plast Vovcha Tropa." Dust kicks up as you drive up the hill. The forest opens up the further you go up, just as if you were getting closer to the center of an onion, surpassing all of it’s layers. To many Ukrainian American scouts and their families, it is the place where you leave your "real world" behind. This magical place acts as a microcosm for your Ukrainian scouting life. You leave worldly, familial, and monetary problems at the bottom of the hill and forget about everything that's happening beyond the border of this property. It's as if you have come back home.
Plast, is a Ukrainian Scouting Organization which was founded 105 years ago in L'viv, Ukraine. One of the founders of the organization, Dr. Oleksander Tesovskij started the scouting organization as an after school programs based on Lord Bayden Powell's revolutionary book "Scouting for Boys." The organization has always been an inclusive one, as long as you follow the scouting values and adhere to the scouting oath: Love God and Ukraine, Help Others, Obey the Scouting Law, and Listen to your Elder Scouts. Each patch and each neckerchief has significant meaning within the organization. There is a history behind each and every scout's uniform. You wear your personal Plast history on your back as a badge of pride.
The organization has had a turbulent history, in which it has lived as a secret organization in the undisclosed locations throughout its first 30 years. After WWII and with the help of German Displaced Person's, or DP, camps, Plast was able to travel beyond the borders of Ukraine. It spread like rapid fire in the diaspora, touching all corners as far as of Australia, Canada, Argentina, the United States, and other Western European countries. The diaspora were like the embers of a fire, in which we kept the organization burning for eighty years beyond the borders of Ukraine. After gaining its independence in 1991, Ukraine received excitedly welcomed back is scouting organization, which is now thriving as the most populated country with Plast scouts.
An unwritten goal within Plast is self-education. Campers are supposed to learn about themselves, their personal strengths and weaknesses, through individual and group activities. Campers transcend their experiences into personal accomplishments from each summer. A big part of this transformational push involves the help of counselors. The counselors have grown up within the organization themselves. They use their own experiences as educational opportunities for their respective campers. Counselors not only lead by example, but also learn from each other and from their own campers. Some campers even have 'favorite counselors', whom they try to emulate when they themselves become counselors. It's this camper to counselor cycle that allows Plast to have had a 100+ year history.
Vovcha Tropa is currently one of three campsites in the United States utilized by Plast Ukrainian scouting organization. Established in the 1950s, post-WW2 immigrant Ukrainians purchased this property for their next generation. 50 years later, the 300+ acre forest located in East Chatham NY has hosted thousands of campers, hundreds of camps, and even two international Ukrainian scouting jamborees. Today during the month of July, five camps ran concurrently with campers ages 7 to 16 and counselors ages 17 to 25.
This transcendent location in Upstate New York acts as a backdrop for many coming-of-age stories, myself included. Vovcha Tropa leaves an energy within us that can only be unlocked when are surrounded by its borders. Camp stories live within the land and among the buildings. Some may see an old red brick building surrounded by simple white barracks but I see an infinite amount of triumphant and turbulent stories. The picturesque landscape is where I have had my greatest personal challenges, along with many of my personal triumphs. It's where I have met some of the closest friends, that I now consider family. Vovcha Tropa is where learned about the passing of my grandmother. I have been a camper her for ten years. I've been a counselor here twice. I've run two of my own camps here as a camp director. Every corner oozes with a story or scenic memory.
Many people ask, "why do you still go up," "why do you do it," or even "why do you make the four-hour trek every weekend to just stay for a few hours?" And to be honest, it’s ineffable. I do not have the words to describe the feeling Vovcha Tropa emulates and the energy it gives me. This small-but-powerful community comes together to make campers’ summers memorable, in which one day, these campers will do the same for the next generation. I grew up here...it is because of Vovcha Tropa and Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization that have made me who I am today.
Everyone can connect with a place that has personally changed them. A physical location where they have had the ability to reach heights far greater or bigger than themselves. Everyone can remember a place where they "came-of-age" A place that has made such an impact on their lives that the only way to thank this place to to give back to it and its current personnel. It just so happens that for me, this place is located East Chatham, NY off of Exit 21A on I-87N.
I've always wanted to photograph the Pope. Well... mostly it was because of my dad. He's always told me the story how in 1976, when then Pope John Paul II came to Philadelphia, my dad made his way down to the Ukrainian Cathedral in Franklin St. His plan was to go outside, photograph the procession, and then make it way back into the cathedral. Whelp, that didn't happen. He got the entrance part right, then smack. The doors into the cathedral were shut. Closed. Anyone who was inside stayed inside and anyone hanging around the outside, just stayed put. I know my dad was bummed. But he managed to get stuck between the news reports. A little luck was on his side. Sure enough, Pope John Paul II made his way over to the reports, and *snap*. My dad starting photographing away. He had is own "Pope photo."
What I wanted to do was get a Pope photo of my own and place it next to my dad's. And sure enough, it was announced the Pope Francis would be coming to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. I knew this was my moment to get "that shot" but how do I do it? I was able to obtain a press pass for the entire World Meeting of Families after a six-month application process. I was able to cover any World Meeting of Families activities but had to apply for separate Papal events. I wasn't granted access to shooting the Papal mass, and was pretty bummed about it too.
But sure enough, luck too was on my side. With a little kick from my parents and on the day of this Papel mass, I asked the organizers whether any extra "photograph only passes" for the mass. And somehow... some way... they gave me a pass for the press area. Just like that.
Getting into the press area felt like it was out of the movies. Any press had to be bussed into and out of any venue. So, little ole' me with my "The Ukrainian Weekly" photo pass was standing between CBS3 anchor Uke Washington on my left and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper to my right. As we were being bused in, millions of people lined the streets. It was surreal. And were still about six hours away from the Papal's first blessing.
As minutes were being counted down, the sense of Papal anticipation was palpable. You could hear the rumblings of the Philadelphia Police motorcycles escorting the Papal vehicle. The lights were blaring from side to side. Everyone was waiting with anticipation. I was on the right side of the press area, and about two rows deep. News reports were trying to get the best "live" POV shot for their respected news stations. Just as the Pope-mobile was making its way past our area, a Miami news reporter was trying to make is presence known by sticking out both elbows to better stabilize his iPhone video. I took that opportunity to stick my lens right through this gapping hole and shot away. You can see the new anchor's arm on the left edge of the frame and his cellphone on the right. His arms made for an unexpected framing opportunity that I managed to take advantage of.
Sure enough, I got my very own "Pope Photo"
My trip to Buenos Aires in August 2016 was sort of a bucket list item to check out. Following WWII, the Pelech side of the family made a five-year layover between Europe and the USA, where my aunt became fluent in Spanish, and my grandfather started his electrical business. From always hearing about their times in Buenos Aires, I knew that I had to see the land of those pivotal post-WWII years. I convince a friend to come with me to visit the country and check another continent off of our lists.
This particular shot was taken at Buenos Aires's main train station, Retiro Railway Station, which is a transportation hub for the region. It's another large vaulted railway station that brings in a tremendous amount of natural, in which this means lots of fun for playing with shadows. When you first enter the station, you are bombarded with people just trying to make a quick buck off of low priced tickets. Once you get through the chaos, small individual cafes lay beneath the old style departure board click-clacking away. To get to where the actual trains are located, you pack subway fare's amount and proceed through the turn style. It is well worth the money for getting up close quality street photography.
I just tried blending in with my surroundings as people were going about they every day routine (remember, this was in the middle of winter for South America). My eye was drawn to the straight blue lines, and as they matched up against the strong yellow railroad warning streaks. When I saw that opening on the train, I just waited for someone to pass through. Starting off very unlucky, I would was only able to capture half a passenger or two, but no one like this shot above. I am always a man for a silhouette. A story can be told with silhouette. You, as the viewer, can put in your own spin this person's back story. It can go on forever and its great. Photography wise, the way to my heart is through silhouettes.
New Years Day is filled with traditions within the city of Philadelphia. It is the only day of the year where it is normal to see intimidating South Philadelphia residents covered with make-up and feathers, wearing brightly colored outfits, while they drunkenly strut down the street howling "Happy New Years" to any passing body. The Mummers Parade is held every New Years day where local clubs (the majority of them located one Two Street) compete in one of four different categories. For the past several years (and if I am home for New Years Day), and I have strutted down to Center City and followed the String Bands as they make their way around the city. A group of my closest friends have joined the club Froggy Car and have been "competing" for the past two years.
The above photo was taken within the shadows of City Hall, about one hundred feet from the judge's stand. One of the local clubs is setting up for their performance and I managed to catch the eye of a man and (what I can only assume) is his daughter. The photo is very symbolic of Philadelphia during this day. The Mummer tradition has deep family roots, passed down from generation to generation. On the right side of the frame, you see casual observers mingling among the performers. If you are not in the Mummers, you are in the thick of it, whether you like it or not.
There are two things I really want to point out with this composition:
- This composition really tells a story. This frame really does feel like a frozen moment in time. The pose of both the father figure and daughter displays their personality with a casual contrapposto lean. The movement behind the two provides a dynamic background as they stand there as two static statues. It is a nice contrast between the foreground and the background. The non-Mummer participants just add to the day's story.
- The leading lines from the crosswalk and the buildings help emphasize our two characters. The buildings leading lines intersect and takes your eye to the center of the image and then down to the characters. The lines guide you in the direction toward our characters. But, its the crosswalk lines that really helps emphasize this composition. The crosswalk connects the background with the foreground. They help introduce and push our characters forward toward the viewer. It also connects the background non-Mummer with our Mummers. The leading lines help.
A simple piece of advice from this image: Photographers are storytellers. A photographer tries to displays what he or she sees and feels from every surrounding environment. Try telling a story with every frame and this is how you make your photography interesting. But, to make an authentic organic photo, stand back and watch the world go back. Be that fly on the wall and try blending in with your surroundings. Zoom out. Step back. Look up. Remember to put the viewer in your shoes. By simply blending in, your photography will stick out.
In August 2016, I was in Ukraine for a scouting conference. I had just gotten off the train from spending the weekend in L'viv and was excited to be able to explore the country's capital again. After quickly dropping off my bags at Hotel Bratislava, getting on the Kyiv Metro, going up the gravity-defying escalators at the Independence Square Metro Stop, I was ready to take in all of the energy the city had to offer. It was two days before Ukraine's 25th Independence Day and the city's energy was ready for this momentous celebration. As I was walking along Hreshchatyk , trying my best with capturing Kyiv's zeitgeist, I started noticing a larger police presence that was starting to block the streets. To add to my curiosity, Soviet tanks began to line the streets and different forms of military personal began assembling in formation. To much to my surprise, it was another dress rehearsal for the Independence Day parade (in fact it was the third one up to that moment). Each military person was being pestered by the local crowds, whether they were family, friends, or love ones. I was able to witness the human element of these soldiers, marines, seamen, etc.
Below are some more of my images that show a human side of our Ukrainian military
This particular image was taken when one of the military branches were forming. No military general has given them any instructions to this point, so you can see a beautiful juxtaposition within this image between the all of the service men ready to go and the one service man still casual in his pose. The military formation provides a sharp perspective. This is super important as to why this is one of my favorite images of 2016. This perspectives that allows to greater emphasize this juxtaposition. Your eye is drawn down the line of these service men. This causes the "casual" service men to stick out like a sore thumb. Also, the white lines adds movement into the image as well. It cuts through the formation and drags you further into the image.
I'll be breaking down more of my images as time goes on! From my Philadelphia Union images to Copa America to portraits and to adventures, there's tons to cover!!
If there are other topics you want to see on this blog, I'd love to hear from you! For more information about GreyBack Studios, check out my about page!
I admit it, I'm not the best at writing. Since high school, writing has always felt as if someone was literally trying to pull something out of me. I was never the best with the written word, but was never really instructed on how to improve. So from that point on, I have avoided anything that has to do with writing.
Recently, I have been trying to develop a better skill set and improve on many of my weaknesses. Writing is definitely one of my top properties.
On my site, I am going to be putting together a new series called "Behind the Image" The goal of this series is to take some of my favorite images and break them down as to why they are my favorites. As a photographer, the stories behind images has always been the most fascinating for me. And honestly, it's the stories that make an image what it is.
A frame is a frame for a reason. But let's go beyond the edges, shall we? I'll give you the story, my thought process, the technical side of it, and some form of compositional insight. A simple idea right?
The goal of the series is to get my writing to an average acceptable level. And the best way to do this is by telling my side of the story and telling you about my images (as I most often like to do). Hope you enjoy this series, and let's see how far we can take this.
The 90 minute actual match is only a small portion of what everyone sees. COPA America Centenario has taken center stage in the USA, and how energetic and exciting it has been. Photographing from the first fans to the last interview, I have tried to capture it all during this historic tournament. Looking at all the intimate-behind-the-scenes moments is what is what really brings joy to the game.
Shooting some of the biggest international games the United States have seen since hosting the 1994 World Cup. Here are some of my shots from covering the Uruguay vs Venezuela match in Philadelphia. Many more moments to come.
Like a sponge, I try to soak in every design I come across and use it down the like. Living in Philadelphia, every corner seems to either have a new mural and piece of street art on display. My city is truly under rated with the amount of beautiful art we have both inside and out of museums. This self promotion poster was inspired by one of our newest additions to the city, where overlapping shapes and letters intersect and change colors. Monochromatic and complementary colors change throughout the piece and yet, it all blends nicely together. The piece may take your eyes astray but, hey, its that first "decisive moment," that matters the most. I'm thinking I should print this out. What do you think?
Thanks to a great friend, I was introduced to The Infamous Stringdusters, a bluegrass jam band that have some amazing chops. I highly recommend seeing them in concert as they really bring some tremendous energy to the stage that really transcends into the audience. Here are some of my photos from their Chicago concert (at Park West), on March 11th.
Starting in April, Bethlehem Steel FC will begin their inaugural season. Being one of the most prized soccer clubs in the United States with a prosperous history, professional soccer will once again take place in the Lehigh Valley. The team is the Philadelphia Union's USL affiliate team. On March 6th, the BSFC took to the field with a tremendous 5-0 win in their first preseason game against Syracuse University. Here are some of my shots from that first game.
Philadelphia's professional soccer team, Philadelphia Union, opens up its 7th season away on March 6th, vs. FC Dallas. The team held their annual open practice for fans before they depart for Florida for the rest of their preseason training. Taking these shots for KickTV, here some of my favorites from that late January day. P.s. Is it March yet? Doop!
Some of my favorite shots of the year were taken from my iPhone. Here are my favorites from the month of December.