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Month: July 2017

Photography, As It Sits With Me Now

Photography, As It Sits With Me Now

When I launched this blogging project, I imagined that I would be able to create a digital space to stash anything and everything that I was passionate about. Writing has always been my favorite and best talent, so that was obvious, but I left everything else up to the passing moments of inspiration I experienced. I have kept the blog in the back of my mind at all times, and because of this, I know it has affected the way I see the world.

What I could not have predicted as a result of this project was the amount of time I have spent thinking critically about photography. I have flip-flopped with my views towards photography over the past few years, ranging from my seventeen-year-old self who strove to capture as many images as possible in my travels to my twenty-year-old self who rejected many forms of social media and rarely pulled out my phone to take a quick snap. When I was first stepping out into the world on my own, my camera was a way to notice, remember, and quantify my experiences spatially and visually. Later, I became fixated upon a speech by Jonathan Safran Foer, in which he explained to the Middlebury Class of 2013 the dangers of being satisfied with “static memory” – a quick snap when receiving a diploma, for instance – as opposed to “living memory” – which requires an emotional engagement with real life and a knowledge of the possibility of forgetting that memory or having it change over the years. Foer distinguishes between these two types of people, or styles, Both phases were learning experiences for me, and now I think, like anything else, that there needs to be balance and mindfulness in my commitment to photography.

One quote from Foer stands out to me about quality photography: “Clearly some photographs can have tremendous value: those that have the ability to draw us into the experience. These I believe are usually taken by photographers who manage to use the camera to heighten their own presence in the situation. On the other hand, a cell phone photo of someone crossing the stage is a meaningful symbol of the graduate’s achievement and the photographer’s pride and support, but it cannot capture the experience of the day, and more, it detracts from the experience of the day… The more our cameras can do, the less possible being present becomes.”

I believe it is essential for me, and all of us, to continue to ask ourselves why we do what we do. It is easier than ever to snap an iPhone picture, to remove ourselves from the present moment by checking Instagram, or to recuse ourselves from the emotional commitment necessary to achieve “living memories.” But I also see value in mindful photography – not necessarily good photography, but a step above a mindless cell phone snap. My photography has certainly improved due to this blog, and I have enjoyed attempting to heighten my own presence in the various situations and adventures about which I have written through the images I choose to share.

Abbensen, July 2017

Here is the link to my Captures page,
where I have archived my favorite photos dating over the past year.

Endnote: I also learned a lot about photography at Abbensen from my co-leader Luke, who is an aspiring photojournalist and has a wonderful knack to be in the right place at the right time, camera ready. I watched him make photography so much fun, not only for himself but the people involved. He inspires me to keep exploring the art, adventure, and human connections wrapped up in the practice. He also gets photo credits for the cover image of this post. To Luke, thank you.

With Luke at Camp Abbensen
Stick Bread and “Hiking”

Stick Bread and “Hiking”

Mountain Day at Camp Abbensen has come and gone, marking the halfway point of Intercamp. I can describe the past week or so as nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, simply because of how much is asked of each leader at the camp. Camp Dudley has a model that is relatively sustainable for an entire summer; Abbensen does not. But because of the intensity of being a leader here, the teamwork and camaraderie among our leadership group is unique and special. Sure, there are moments when all I wish for is to simply coach a soccer match instead of having to learn a plethora of new extravaganza style games and take on different roles two or three times a day, but it is also refreshing to not always know what to expect each day.

My highlight so far was the “hike.” Three days off campus – two walking through farmlands and tiny villages, and the middle day paddling the Leine River. Everything was flat, except for the swamp on the first day, which was probably at a negative elevation. It was a far cry from the Adirondack hikes I am used to doing through Dudley. Still, it is a unique way to see Germany, and for me, I was actually revisiting places I had already traversed, because I did the same trip eight years ago. I remembered the swamp, the lake where we stopped for ice cream, the campsite locations, and all the rest.

Being out and about, especially with a few Dudley guys to chat with on the canoe segment, we did a lot of reflecting on differences between Germany and back home. For me, the single most frustrating difference has been the food. Bread, bread, and more bread. As someone who limits my gluten intake most of the time, I have struggled a bit with energy level and feeling healthy, and I attribute most of that to the bread at every meal. Nothing epitomizes Germany’s love of bread more than their campfire tradition: not S’mores or hot dogs, but “stick bread.” One wraps dough around a stick and bakes it over the open fire. Despite how sick I was of eating bread, the end result was actually pretty cool, and tasty too.

I know that the second week of camp, which is week three of being in Germany, will fly by. Soon we will be leaving Hannover for the round trip. But for now, I am loving that I was “thrown into the deep end” here at Abbensen. With a little flexibility on my part, it has been an exhilarating challenge trying to float.

Conjuring Up Old Feelings

Conjuring Up Old Feelings

Coming to Germany for my third time has felt decidedly different than the previous two trips. Of course, this seems obvious – I am doing a variety of things, meeting new people, and holding a different role than before. But even though I have embarked on a unique month, the simple fact that I am back in Germany has prompted and triggered old feelings and memories. Though I am in Hannover and at Camp Abbensen, in the first week of living with a host-family, I found myself thinking much more about my gap year travels than my first German Exchange trip.

So, though I was thrilled to join the other Abbensen leaders on a week of fun activities and late nights, I also found myself craving self-directed moments each day. I see two reasons for this desire: first, that I associate Germany primarily with the solo traveling that I did during my gap year, and second, that I feel so close to full adulthood, with my first real job beginning in August, and therefore want to be making my own choices.

A magnificent German house from the countryside outside Hannover

As we proceeded through the first week, I found equal joy joining in on group activities as I did ducking out for an hour or two to wander the city, navigate on my own, and sit alone for a few moments with a cup of coffee. It is not that one way of filling my days is right and the other is wrong, it is simply that I require some form of balance right now. This self-understanding comes from four-plus years of maturing since my last time here, and I believe that it is something I have earned, not simply grown into. I get to enjoy it in the form of early morning runs through fields of windmills and long conversations with German leaders who seem genuinely interested and impressed with my life’s path over the past few years.

Now, camp is beginning, and I am thrilled to let myself be as much of a kid as possible. Knowing myself, I will still find moments to write, reflect, and find balance throughout the two weeks at Abbensen.

The End of Graduation Celebration and the Beginning of the German Exchange

The End of Graduation Celebration and the Beginning of the German Exchange

(This blog post was composed somewhere over the Atlantic en route to Paris during the first leg of my travels, and published upon arriving in Hanover, Germany)

A couple months ago, I wrote “Germany, Round III” detailing my initial plans to lead Camp Dudley’s German Exchange Trip during the month of July. Well, July 1st has come and passed, and with it my group launched our trip “across the pond.”

I spent much of the past week reacclimatizing myself to the Adirondacks after my whirlwind of a road trip out west. The implications of my preparations during this time included not only the need to be ready to lead eight boys to Germany but also the need to enable myself to make a smooth and rapid transition to New York City and my job at Landmark upon my return.

Moreover, it was the last week that Maddie and I got to spend together in “graduation celebration” mode and it was our lengthiest stay in Westport of the summer. We loved being around my extended family, seeing Dudley kick off its 133rd summer, and squeezing in as many adventures as we could. Highlights included visiting the Keene Valley Farmers’ Market and then mountain biking at The Flume Trails in Wilmington, completing furniture and art projects for our apartment, “teaming up” as Maddie finished 5th in the Tupper Lake Olympic Distance Triathlon, eating straight out of the garden every day, and capping things off with an awesome trail run and mini-golf evening in Lake Placid.

Tupper Lake Triathalon

It felt strange saying goodbye to each other, knowing that the following four weeks will be the longest we have ever spent apart, but also recognizing that with each passing day, the post-college life that we have imagined together draws nearer. We will certainly make many sacrifices in moving to New York, but we will gain incredible opportunities and our first true chance to be adults, together.

All of that is ahead of me, and it is something I look forward to with eager anticipation. But for the next month, my number-one priority is to my campers, all of whom will be seeing Germany and attending Camp Abbensen for the first time. I remember vividly the mixture of elation and nerves that I felt flying to Germany with Camp Dudley eight years ago. It was my first time abroad, and the experience would and still continues to have ripple effects in my life. I found role models and close friends on that trip, both within my Dudley group and among the Germans I met. For me, the trip was a perfect mixture of intensity, leisure, and exposure to new people and places, and I was also challenged to be open to outcomes in a way that Dudley’s structure does not always allow.

I want to instill that magical feeling in my campers. It might happen when the meet a new friend during their homestays, when they participate in the longstanding tradition of a midnight extravaganza at Camp Abbensen, or when they are inspired by the history or grandeur of one of the cities we will visit. And I want to be able to rekindle those same feelings of astonishment that I felt during my first exchange trip and again when I lived in Germany during my gap year. I would certainly bet on making plenty more of those memories – the type that will stick with me forever.

Westport, June 2017
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