Non-Fungible Token (modern day sleight of hand)

Non-Fungible Tokens

If you’re reading this you have most likely landed here looking for information & answers about creating and selling your photography work as a non-fungible token.

I’m going to cut right to the quick of this and say “I smell something really rotten here.”

I’m not going to try an explain how block chains work and I’m not going to talk about crypto currency because none of that has anything to do with the sleight of hand that is happening here.

So, let’s start off with understanding “sleight of hand” and how it works. Once you understand this and how it is being used, you’ll start to be able to peel back the layers of the rotten onion known as an NFT.

Sleight of hand is an age-old technique that dates back 1840. It is a technique of manipulation used to entertain and is often confused as magic because it is most often performed by magicians. However, what we are seeing today in the realm of NFTs is not your average magician’s sleight of hand and it is not being used to entertain you at all. Rather, it is being used to fool you into thinking you can make quick money.

Let me first warn you that even when someone is to show you how sleight of hand is used to perform a magic trick it is often mind boggling to understand. Why? Because some of the best sleight of hand will have several steps… and then of course there are others that will dazzle you in one fell swoop.

With NFTs we are seeing a multi-step approach to creating an appearance that you can make a lot of money really fast.

Here is what happened to me and in my opinion, what is really going on.

So, there is a very well-known female New York City based photographer, I am not going to call her out by name however we have all seen her work on the cover of Vogue and many other places. Her work is stellar, I admire her work and her style. In fact, I have sat through many of her online tutorials and I feel that she has a lot to offer the photography community. Now, with that said; this photographer is also a business woman and taking photos is not her only form of income. She uses her reputation to create several collateral business opportunities. Much the same way a sports or entertainment personality uses their reputation/identity to generate additional forms of income. There is certainly nothing wrong with doing this and I think most of us would do the same.

So where is the sleight of hand?

I open my email and I see this famous photographer claiming that she sold her very first NFT for x amount of dollars. Yes, I was all ears and of course I clicked on the link that took me to a video where she tells her story. Actually, it was a series of videos where she starts off explaining block chain, crypto currency and crypto wallets. All of this is nothing new to me because I have been involved with “roller coaster” crypto currency trading since 2017. However, I knew nothing about non-fungible tokens so I was still all ears and taking it all in. I spent the rest of that evening thinking about creating my own very first NFT and placing it for sale. I had two particular images that I am very proud of and that have created a lot of interest over the years. I kept thinking; “Could it be true? Could I really make money? Could I really make big money?”   And the answer is yes & no.

Here is how the deception is set up. There are several steps to making an NFT and then of course there is the question of what market place will I place my NFT in? All of these so-called market places want your business, the crypto dealers want your business, the companies creating crypto wallets want your business. What better way to get your business than to have you hear a great success story from a well-known artist or photographer. Imagine I am (or you are) anyone of these companies involved. Let’s say you are the owner of a market place platform and you want to drive business to your site. What would you do? Also keep in mind this whole NFT & crypto world is in its infancy so you need to put people out there that can “get the word” out there. You get well known artist to create and sell on your platform. So, a well-known artist lists an NFT and it sells right away. Who bought it? Was the transaction legit?

Remember I said at the beginning of this post that sometimes sleight of hand can have many steps leading up to the grand finally.

Let’s take a little side trip back many years ago to good ole eBay. When we shop on eBay or even Amazon one of the things, we look at is “is the seller a reputable dealer.” We look at their feedback rating. Years ago, I spent countless hours, days & weeks studying dealer activity on eBay. This was as about as exciting as watching paint dry but here’s what I found.

A dealer creates an eBay ID and he then starts selling hundreds of little worthless “what-nots,” things like hex nuts (yes hex nuts) and he sells them for just a few cents. Who is buying them? He is buying them (himself) through other IDs he created. Every transaction gets a positive feedback rating and soon he has thousands of transactions listed to his profile and he has a 100% rating. Sure, this cost him money but he’ll get this money back in the long run. Essentially, he is investing in his business. After creating a huge 100% positive feedback rating the seller’s ID goes dormant for a while because after a certain amount of time eBay doesn’t let us see those previous sales but they do let us see that the seller has a high 100% feedback rating. Now that you can’t see the dealer’s previous sales the seller starts selling items like crazy. They could be good quality items or they could be total crap either way he is selling thousands of cheap “what-evers” (not hex nuts) and people have confidence in the seller because of the high rating. And it was all done by way of a modern-day sleight of hand.

In my opinion the NFT craze is experiencing a very similar thing. Well-known artists are creating a selling NFTs and making it all look legit to drive traffic or business to certain platforms and this will also make a path for them to create and sell online NFT tutorials for us to buy. Call it sleight of hand or smoke & mirrors… it all washes out to be deceptive. Is it illegal? I don’t know the answer to that but’ I do know when something smells rotten it usually is rotten.

As photographers, artists and creators we all have work that we are very proud of and we would all like to make money from our hard work that we have put into creating. Please know I am not saying that a creator can’t make money selling NFTs. What I am saying is “be very careful and do a lot of research before you start laying out money creating and listing your work as an NFT.”

Selfie in a jail cell.

The Devils Tea Table Kingwood Township NJ. (So yeah as a small boy the Tea Table really etched its self into my little brain.)

The Devil's Tea Table

Devils Tea Table Kingwood Township, Hunterdon County, NJ.

The Devils Tea Table  

By Richard G Smith Jr  

© RICHARD G SMITH JR 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED NO RIGHTS GRANTED UNLESS IN WRITING BY RICHARD G SMITH JR 
RECKLESS PIXEL & LENZWIZARD ARE REGISTERED TRADE NAMES OF RICHARD G SMITH JR. © COPYRIGHT 

So, let’s talk about this curious place called “Devils Tea Table.” Also let’s clarify that we are talking about the tea table located on a ridge above the Delaware River in Kingwood Township Hunterdon County New Jersey. Yes, there is more than one Devils Tea Table and we’ll get to that a little later on. I am writing this article for a few different reasons and there will be a few shorter versions of the article that will focus on specific things such as; How the tea table area transitioned from a hiking destination to a partying hangout and to its current state of an “off limits” area controlled by the state of NJ. There will also be an article about the moronic legend of the Indian chief who was supposedly killed there and I will also write about the settlers who first came to that area and the Lenape who were there before the settlers. At the current time of this writing the State of New Jersey is proposing plans to rework the Devils Tea Table area into a safer place for visitors. While this sounds good on the surface, I personally feel this would certainly ruin the pristine beauty and natural setting that has been there for hundreds if not thousands of years.     

I have actually spent a lot of time over the past several months researching the tea table. Being a local and having grown up in the area I have always known about the tea table and as a child in the late 60s and early 70s I would hear adults talk about the place, so I thought I knew a lot about the tea table and really, I did. However, when I dived in to my research, I learned so much more than I expected. I must also say that what really lit my fire about doing all this research was when I read about the so-called legend of the Indian chief killed there by other Indians (his enemies).1 As a kid I never heard of this queer legend and then I see that even Kingwood Township had it attached to their municipal website, so I set out to debunk the legend and I just kept digging further and further into everything about the tea table.   

The research started with reading countless newspaper articles dating all the way back to the early 1800s. I also read books written about the settlers of the Raven Rock area (located a few miles south of the Tea Table area), I followed family genealogy lines along with stories of wealthy settlers, stories of love and stories of bastard children born out of wedlock. There were also many emails and a few phones calls to various people or organizations. I contacted the Delaware Nation in Oklahoma2 (former Lenape Indians) and they were very helpful with the Indian legend debunking. I contacted the New Jersey State Police and we talked about what happens when trespassers are caught and how the location is patrolled today. I contacted geology professors for proper terminology and clarification about tea tables and I of course captured video and photos of the location. Yes, I must say it has been quite a trip to say the least.  

Every aspect of this research was very interesting, however reading countless newspaper articles from almost 200 years ago to the present day is what I think was the most interesting because it really showed a vast change in our society. I’m essentially researching a rock formation and who knew that the research would show how the location went from a wonderful natural landmark (and it still is) that people would hike eleven plus miles to see and cherish the memory of, the day and of the scenery, to a place where people would hide guns, possibly a dead body, paint graffiti, have beer & drug using parties and of course in the end it becomes a place where people either become severely injured or die from falling. And oddly enough not all the fall victims were drunk or high.   

Other odd things are; nowhere nearly as many people died there as people think, most all the deaths and sever injuries occurred in the 70s, the name Devils Tea Table is used to raise the value or add prominence to real estate listings, the place caused distress to township road department workers who were constantly replacing “No Parking” signs3 and the list goes on and on of odd little facts associated with a beautifully odd & quirky rock formation located on a ridge next to a river. I even went back as far as to find the life story of the original land owner, from where he grew up and how he met his wife and came to the area to start up his homestead. I also learned a great deal about the area just South of the Tea Table where Byram lies on the Jersey side and Point Pleasant on the PA side and the area further south known today as Raven Rock4.  

At this time, I am still researching, however I am coming to the end. I think the most interesting detail in the end is how the tea table became known as “Devils Tea Table” and lost the name “Warford’s Rock.” Even with all my searching there still are a few missing pieces to the puzzle. Some of these missing pieces I am waiting on. They are either people who have info and haven’t found it yet or just haven’t gotten back to me yet. Other pieces are thing I may never find. Interestingly, all along the way I have mentioned this project to many people and I am very surprised by the response I get. Some people have great information and others have personal stories about day trips and the fun they had hiking up there. Then of course I would get the people who wanted to tell me pure BS, most of which is debunked by newspaper articles.    

  

“Tea Table” is a term used in geology to describe “A tea table is a type of rock column comprising discrete layers, usually of sedimentary rock, with the top layers being wider than the base due to greater resistance to erosion and weathering.” Tea tables are a “freak of nature” I guess you could say and we have one of them right here in Hunterdon County New Jersey. To be specific it is located on the south end of a ridge overlooking the Delaware River in Kingwood Township. The intersection of state highway route 29 and Warsaw road sit at the base of this ridge. On top of the ridge is moderately dense forest that give way to more open land as you move east away from the river.   

I grew up in neighboring Delaware Township (late 60s through the 70s) and can remember my parents occasionally talking about the Devils Tea Table.5 I always loved when we would ride along route 29 because there was always a chance, I would see a train chugging away on the tracks that were located so close to the road. And in some areas the road was above the tracks and you could look down on the top of the train as it cruised along. What could be more enjoyable for a small boy but to see a train so close up and moving at the same time. Sadly, though there was not always a train and we didn’t really travel route 29 that often. However, there was another very interesting thing about the ride along route 29 and that would be to get a glimpse of Devils Tea Table. If we were traveling north and I was on the passenger’s side of the car I would be able to look up and see it. I would see it for about three or four seconds, I had to twist my neck and look almost straight up and there it would be. Unlike the train, the tea table was always there. My father said it was there when the Indians were here and again, to a small boy in 1969 that was the coolest thing. It really is funny how times have changed so much. As a child the word Indians opened up visions in my mind of western movies where cowboys and Indians would fight and there were good Indians like Tonto6 the Lone Ranger’s faithful side kick and Chief Halftown7 the host of a tv show. Just imagine; I am now 54 years old and when I was small kid there were still a few “real live Indians” around, they were far and few between but there were a few.   

So yeah, as a small boy the Tea Table really etched its self into my little brain. Then there was the fact it was called “Devils Tea Table” and the word “devil,” well that just made a little boy’s ears perk up and cower down all at the same time. I had visons of the Indians sitting up on that rock smoking a pipe and worshiping the devil. After all Indians were savages right? That’s what they called them in the movies when the army or cowboys fought with them. But Chief Halftown seemed cool, I mean he was the host of a children’s tv show. Man, I was really confused as kid, but Indians were cool and the Devils Tea Table was cool.   

As time passed and we moved into the 70s I would start to hear different things about Devils Tea Table, things about “people going up there to get high.” I heard a friend of my father’s saying about how “the hippies8 go up there to get high” and I was confused because after all the tea table is over 300 feet above the road, so if somebody went up there, they certainly would be “high.” Right? Seriously, I had no idea what he was talking about, all I knew was “if I’m down here and you’re up there, you are higher than me and you would be high. I’m confused again, I was just a young boy.   

I knew what hippies were or at least I knew what my father told me hippies were. My father not being of the hippie era would talk about hippies as if they were a blight on society. Any time he talked about hippies it would always start with “ah them damn hippies…” And then there was the local hippie biker (kind of) gang that roamed the roads on their loud motorcycles, but they seemed pretty harmless, actually stupid would be more like it.   

All I knew was times were changing and hippies were causing problems at the tea table. Then a hippie fell off the tea table and the cops came and it was the talk of the night as my father and his friends gathered to work on a car and drink beer in our driveway. And then for the next few years (1972-75) I would hear stories about wild parties that took place at the tea table. I was getting a little older and wiser and I now knew what “getting high” was and knew that it wasn’t just hippies that were the problem. Turns out “hippies” was a broad stroke of the brush that was painted to label anyone who smoke pot or marijuana as it was officially known. Beer played an even bigger role I think and I’ll tell you why soon.   

So now I find myself in 9th grade at Hunterdon Central High School and until now I have only ever heard stories about the Devils Tea Table and of course those 4 second glimpse of it as I would pass by in a car. However, 9th grade turned out to be a pivotal point because Mr. Ransavage’s science class would take a class trip there every year. It seemed rather odd that we would be going there on a class trip, but hey Mr. Ransavage was a cool teacher or at least I thought so. 9th grade science class was actually very boring to me; I mean all this talk about rocks and dinosaurs did not fit in with my ideas of fun. I was interested in dirt bike motorcycles and BMX racing, rock music and dirt track racecars. But when Mr. R mentioned a class trip to the Devils Tea Table, he had my attention.   

So, as I remember that day our class trip had several other stops but, one stop was at the Devils Tea Table. I remember the bus stopped right along route 29 and most students disembarked out the back door of the bus. The hike was very steep although the path was well worn and for 14-year-old kids it was pretty much like a hop, skip and a jump to get to the top. And that “hop, skip and a jump” thing changes with age lol. Once at the top we were told not to go on the table it’s self however a few kids did.   

At that time, I remember standing there and thinking of all the times I had seen it from the car window and now  

here I am looking at it close up and it didn’t look like there was any kinship to an “Indian place” at all. There was graffiti painted on almost every part of the rock and the surrounding rocks too. I remember thinking “I guess that is what hippies do.” “They get high and paint on rocks.”  Also, there were pieces if broken glass on practically every inch of ground. I remember standing there taking in the whole scene and thinking “I can see how this could be a cool place to come and chill out for a while.” I am standing there with a whole bunch of kids and there is talking and laughing but, imagine this place without all that noise, it would be a really peaceful place and, in my opinion, it would look a whole lot nicer without all the graffiti.   

Our trip back to the bus took us down a different direction, instead of going down the steep climbing trail we headed away from the Tea Table following a trail that took us past a cave like formation in the rocks where there was even more evidence of a fire ring, broken beer bottles and beer cans. Perplexing my mind were other things I seen, like broken lawn chairs, a tire, broken badminton racket and other odd things. “Somebody carried a tire up here?” We walked not too far and headed down toward the creek that runs parallel to Warsaw Road, we crossed the creek and walked to the bus and onto the next stop.   

After the school trip it would be many years before I would revisit the location. The class trip was in 1979 and I left Hunterdon Central High School after 9th grade and finished out my high school years in Virginia. Upon returning to New Jersey in 1983 and meeting up with old friends everybody pretty much was saying the Devils Tea Table is off limits because too many people had died from falling off the Tea Table and that the police were watching it like a hawk. My friend Dean said “don’t go, you’ll get arrested.” Now aside from the people falling and some being killed, the large 150 person drinking parties where upon kegs of beer9 were carried up to the nearly 350-foot-high Tea Table area, there enters in the search for a dead body. May 5, 1994 New Jersey State police head to the Devils Tea Table and surrounding area to search for Gina Marie Gallo’s body.10 She had went missing in 1981 from a Bordentown motel room, she was 22 years old. In 1993 new leads and information had been uncovered that pointed to her body being somewhere at the Tea Table area. So now this just adds to more mystery about Devils Tea Table as the news of the search makes for a great new headline. However, nothing about Miss Gallo is ever found there and her skull is found by hunters on a trash heap in Hamilton Township Mercer County in December 1997.11   

Ten years later in 1993 I was living in a small apartment located in the tiny village of Brookville just south of Stockton about 8 miles south of the Tea Table. One day my girlfriend Sue and I decided to ride our bicycles to the Tea Table. For a few weeks we had been talking about going there. The huge parties seemed to be a thing of the past, although there were still “No Trespassing” signs and people were still being injured. But, one day while I was riding my bike along the river trail, I noticed a few hikers walking along route 29 and they quickly just ducked over the guardrail and headed up the trail to the Tea Table so, I thought “hey, why not.” The next weekend Sue and I rode up, parked the bikes in the drainage tunnel that runs under route 29 right at that location and headed up to the Tea Table.   

It was a lot of fun and I had flashbacks to the 1979 class trip. Once at the top things were pretty much the same as I had seen them in 79 with the exception some of the graffiti had been washed away and the broken glass wasn’t as prevalent. The trail was still very well worn and you could tell people were still visiting the place all the time. There were small signs of fresh visitors, signs like fresh cigarette butts, a small camp fire that looked only days old, a few beer cans and food wrappers. But it was nothing like the well-worn days of the 1979 class trip. While we were there a few other hikers came up and stayed a while, then a few more came.   

Sue and I stayed for a few hours and headed back the same way I did in 79, walking away from the Tea Table and heading down the easier trail to the creek, back to the bikes and headed home.   

As years passed, I visited the Tea Table as a solo hiker a few times. Usually on a weekday and again riding from Stockton on my bike. It wasn’t until a few years back I got the idea of the Tea Table back in my head however, this time it was about photography, I wanted to capture a nice photo of the Devils Tea Table and then I got to thinking and realized how many people have captured photos of it. But I have a drone now so, why not get a nice drone shot. Then I got interested in the history of the Tea Table, “how many people did die up there?” And “did Indians really go there?” Geez, today we have internet so, I can find the answers to all my wonderments I have had over the years. Also why not write about it? And really the reason for writing about it is to kind of show that not as many people died up there as I was told or lead to believe. I guess it was one of those things where a few true things did happen and soon stories get exaggerated and facts get mixed up or misconstrued and soon the real stories and facts are lost in the mix. Even today I will hear people say “yeah they found a woman’s body up there one time,” certainly a testament to people haphazardly reading paper headlines and not the whole story.   

Irony is woven through the fabric of history and Devils Tea Table is no exception. As I was digging into the newspaper articles from the 1970s the running theme is that it was a place where people went to party, drinking beer, smoking pot and using illegal drugs. But this reputation was something new to the Tea Table, for not so long ago it was a very prominent hiking destination.12 13  

Remember how I said earlier that I was bothered by the legend that a famous Indian chief was killed at the Tea Table and that this really in my opinion was absurd. So, to debunk this idiodic story I had to dig back further, back to when there were actually Indians roaming this location. As I dig back year by year, I find that during the early to mid-1900s there were many times advertisements in Philadelphia area newspapers inviting day hikers to journey up to the Devils Tea Table.14 Boy scouts, girl scouts and other outdoors and nature groups15,16 frequented the Tea Table on a regular basis and this seems to have continued right up to 1968 or at least that is what newspaper articles show.   

The first incident of illicit activity shows up in a Courier-News article dated February 1, 1947, when it was discovered a 16-year-old parolee from the Jamesburg Reformatory broke into a Kingwood Township home and stole guns a flashlight and a piece of salami (really?).  New Jersey State Police recovered one of the stolen guns at Devils Tea Table.17 However other that this lone incident no other bad things appear in the newspapers until we get up into the 1970’s.   

So, the irony lies in the fact that this once popular hiking destination that seemed to be loved by nature & hiking groups, now becomes a place that is loved by partiers who go there and get arrested. Then in the 90’s it is tagged as a place you could hide a dead body. For what it is worth only two people appeared to have lost their life from falling at the Tea Table however, there were numerous injured and several tactical rescues. For the most part if you fall from the Tea Table or a surrounding rock you will not fall to the highway. Instead, you drop about 70+ feet where you land (or bounce off of) trees or more rocks. Needless to say, the result of falling from the tea table is going to; as Tommy Boy would say “leave a mark” if not kill you first. Oddly (or maybe not) in all the stories I read about the (1900s) day hikers I could find nothing about anybody falling or being hurt in anyway while visiting the Tea Table. I even uncovered a photo of boy scouts of long ago standing on the edges of the rocks below the Tea Table where it would be more likely to slip and fall. Did society really get more stupid in the 1970’s?   

The only two deaths listed at the Devils Tea Table are December 24/25 1978 when Thomas Dienes fell18 and October 1979 when 17-year-old David Giordano fell.19 Trooper Irving MacConnnell (Flemington State Police Barracks) recalling to the Courier News about Dienes’ fall saying; it took over two hours for rescue to locate him and while still alive at that time but, frozen from the cold he was found lying there staring at the sky and scattered about was debris of beer cans & bottles. The rescue involved a helicopter and grappling irons.  He was later pronounced dead upon arriving at Hunterdon Medical Center.20   

As for Giordano’s fall his friend John Gale claimed that while they were camping around 3:00am it started to rain and they were looking for a dry place to sit when Giordano slipped in mud and fell.   

Aside from those two deaths by falling I could find no other news articles that listed anyone dying for any reason related to the Tea Table. There are numerous listings of arrests and injuries. As I stated earlier; growing up in neighboring Delaware Township the local stories were that “many people died by falling” and there was even a story about a woman’s skeleton found in the early 70’s, although my searches revealed no stories of that. If true I think I would have uncovered that event for sure but, maybe not.   

So, let’s talk about Devils Tea Table in real estate listings.21,22 Same as today people will try to embellish a listing as much as they can. Neighbor’s houses if real close are always cropped out of a photo and location are often times overstated. Such would be the case in real estate listings that would describe property as being “in the Devils Tea Table area” as if this would be a good thing. Of all the listings I read some even claimed to have the Tea Table on the property however the property sizes would range from 50 acers to over 100 acers and it is a far stretch of the imagination that one could by the Tea Table property one year and sell it the next year at a different size. Not to mention for the number of listings it would mean the Tea Table property was being bought and sold like kid’s trade baseball cards or comic books. One listing even goes as far as to advertise “Dining at The Devil’s Tea Table”23 visitors will be taken by a van to the location.   

Indian Legend  

Chief Big Mountain is believed to have been killed by his enemies at the Tea Table. His killers supposedly rolled a big rock on his head crushing him to death.24 And to some people; when viewing the profile of the Devils Tea Table from the south side looking north the rock formation is said to have the appearance of an Indian with a crushed head. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good legend, I really do. However, a good legend has to be believable. Let’s take a second here and find out what exactly a legend is.   

As per todays listing on Wikipedia;  Legendis a genre of folklore that consists of a narrative featuring human actions perceived or believed both by teller and listeners to have taken place within human history. Narratives in this genre may demonstrate human values, and possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude. Legend, for its active and passive participants, includes no happenings that are outside the realm of “possibility,” but may include miracles. Legends may be transformed over time, in order to keep them fresh, vital, and realistic. Many legends operate within the realm of uncertainty, never being entirely believed by the participants, but also never being resolutely doubted.  

 Essentially a legend is a story that is somewhat believable and could have possibly have happened, it could be a mix of truth and fiction but, if all fiction it should be able to have realistically have happened.   

So, the legend claims an Indian named Chief Big Mountain was killed by his enemies when they rolled a big rock, boulder, stone or whatever on his head (I’m assuming while at or near the Tea Table) and then some renditions claim his spirit lives at Devils Tea Table and blah, blah, blah… So, this whole thing seems so hokey it isn’t even worth discussing but you know I will lol. First question; who the hell is Chief Big Mountain? Second; How do you roll a boulder on someone’s head when they’re at the top of the mountain or in this case a 360-foot ridge? I think the second question answers itself. While researching the first question I was led down a quite interesting rabbit hole. Actually, my research leads me down two rabbit holes. See, I wanted to also know how this rock formation got its name but more about that later.   

I was born and raised in this area and while I am no expert on Lenape people, I do know a fair amount of history and Chief Big Mountain does not appear in any of what I know. But, hey maybe there was a Chief Big Mountain who roamed the Delaware River region. Well, who better to ask that the Lenape Indians themselves (or what’s left of them)? The Lenape are now called the Delaware Indians and the Delaware nation is located in Anadarko Oklahoma.25 Upon contacting the Delaware Indians and explaining the legend my query was handed off to the language director who (like me) knew Chief Big Mountain is not a Lenape name. The language director contacted a friend in New Jersey who knew the name right away. Turns out there actually was a Chief Big Mountain and believe it or not he lived right here in New Jersey.26 Matter of fact he is buried in Sparta New Jersey.27 But don’t get your hopes up to quick… He was Comanche and not Lenape although some newspapers call him Navajo and all newspapers say he is from New Mexico. Chief Sabastian Big Mountain was a real person who traveled with (info a little sketchy here) Either Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show or Ringling Brothers Circus or maybe both at different times in his life.   

After finding out Chief Big Mountain (born about 1877) was real, I became interested in who he actually was and how he ended up in New Jersey. After the Wild West shows started to lose their appeal, he shows up in a news article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper February 19, 1933 whereupon he walks into a New York City police headquarters in “tribal costume” with his wife and two children and announces he is “destitute” and can no longer pay his rent. Then just before being sent to the municipal shelter he was taken in by a friend, who would try to find help for him and the family.28 He then shows up in many different newspaper advertisements over the next several years. Seems that while the live Wild West shows had lost popularity, people still wanted to see a “real live Indian” and he would appear at grand openings and other like events. He was essentially paid to attract people to events and sometimes his wife and children appeared with him and they would be billed as “come see real life Indian family.”29 Then we find him as a gate keeper at Lake Mohawk where he resided in a “thatched” house with his family.30 He passed away in Newton Memorial hospital in 1954 at the age of 77.  

So, yeah, a bit of a rabbit hole I ran down following info about his life however in the end I think (but not positive) that this is where the “Chief Big Mountain” name comes from that got attached to The Devils Tea Table legend. I am thinking because this man lived in New Jersey and he was most likely known for his days with the Wild West or Circus shows and he appeared at grand openings and other events his name would come to mind if you wanted to make up a legend about a rock on a ridge. As time goes by younger generations have no idea what a Wild West show is and I have personally met teens just last year that think “while Indians were once here, it was like two thousand years ago.” (True story right there.) Yes, as time goes by people forget or history gets warped and distorted. Given the fact that the Wild West show era ran from 1870 to about the 1920s and Sabastian Big Mountain being born around 1877 puts a decent time frame for his named to be known enough in the back of people’s minds to be used for this legend.   

So, I think it is safe to say “no Indian got his head crushed at Devils Tea Table.  

Now that we have put that whole not-so-believable legend out of the way it was time to conquer the Tea Table name. “Devils Tea Table” or “Devil’s Tea Table” or “The Devil’s Tea Table,” which one is the proper and I’m not really sure because depending on how you look at it or how you say it changes things up a little bit. The name appears in most places as being “Devils Tea Table” however, many people refer to it as “The Devil’s Tea Table.” But I wanted to know why? Why Devils Tea Table? Afterall it was known as Warford’s Rock. So, to get a further understanding of where the word “devil fits in and to explore some history of how the location went from a beautiful and wondrous natural rock formation to a party place where people fall to their death, it is worth a side trip back into history.    

John Wharford or Warford31 was the man who purchased 204 acres of land June 6, 1734 that was located on a plateau above the Delaware River. At the Southernmost corner of the property is where there was a unique rock formation that stood as a pedestal like stone with a flat wider shaped stone on top giving the appearance of a one-legged table. Given the fact that many settlers where tea drinkers and old English tea tables were often times (but not always) round with a pedestal like base, one can easily see how this rock formation could arrive with “tea table” as a description. However, “Tea Tables” can be referenced in geology, a tea table is a rock formation that is a remnant of newer strata that have eroded away. A tea table is a type of rock column comprising discrete layers, usually of sedimentary rock, with the top layers being wider than the base due to greater resistance to erosion and weathering. Sometimes these occur just beyond bluffs or cliffs at the end of a ridge; sometimes they are the only rock formation remnant on top of a ridge or even in fairly level ground. Tea tables are a variety of hoodoos. This Wikipedia description 100% describes the formation. So, tea table formations can be found elsewhere and amazingly enough there are others that have the word “devil” placed in front of the word’s tea table but, why?  

But how did it get the word “devil” added? So, before we get to the devil part let’s first look the time of John Warford’s arrival.   

There are very easy tracings of John Warford (Jr) though internet genealogy sites and it is a very interesting little rabbit hole to run down.   

We know he was born in Eastchester, NY between 1683 & 1689, at age 19 he is found in Middletown New Jersey and marries Elizabeth Stout in 1708.32 Elizabeth is from a prominent family although she is considered a “tainted” woman for a having a bastard child at age 14 in 1705. Giving birth to a child out of wedlock has serious complications during this period of history. She was sentenced by The Grand Jury of Monmouth County to receive 10 lashes upon her bare back or pay 10 pounds fine. Her father paid the fine and spared her the 10 lashes of the whip.33 Although many internet sites have their marriage listed as Kingwood Township this is 100% incorrect because John & Elizabeth do not arrive in Hunterdon County until 1729 and Kingwood Township did not exist at the time they were married.34 In 1734 John Warford purchases the 204 acers of property overlooking the Delaware River.35 Elizabeth being a Baptist becomes part of the Baptist community of Kingwood/Baptistown and there is much well documented history that can be found about that.   

Now back to the matters of the Tea Table rock formation.   

  

It appears that John Warford purchased the land from William Biddle Jr whose father had acquired 43,000 acers in West New Jersey in a deal made with William Penn (and others) in 1676.36 The older Biddle sealed the land tract deal with William Penn prior to setting sail to New Jersey. Once here Biddle Sr made his home in Burlington, NJ. With this being said; it would appear that John Warford was the first long term resident of the property because in due time his name was given to the rock formation and to the creek that runs down from the highlands to the river. The creek is located a little north of the Tea Table location and follows a southwest path to the river. There are no other formal names that I could find for this rock formation prior to it formally being named “Warford’s Rock.” I did however find a few references that the rock was used as a navigational land mark for those traversing up and down the river, both before and after being named Warford’s Rock.   

What would life be like in the area of the Tea Table in 1734? Well as for the Lenape; at this time, they would have been very scarce in this area. Most Lenape had started to leave several years earlier and as a note; one has to know there were not as many Indians in this area as one might think, depending on how much you know about Indian history in NJ. Speculation puts Lenape population at around 2000 when the Dutch arrive in the early 1600s. By 1700 is about 500 mostly due to wars, disease from white contact and other problems like alcohol consumption.37   

But nonetheless 1734 would have been a very primitive life by today’s standards in this part of New Jersey. At the time the land fell under Bethlehem Township (later to become Kingwood Township). There would have been a settlement and ferry crossing north of Warford’s property where what is now known as Frenchtown,38 although Frenchtown is still 130+ years away. There is no mention of a road leading up river past what would now be Warford Creek however, 3 miles south of his property would lie Bull’s Island and at the time would be known as Saxtonville and or Raven Rock. The area is mentioned by all three names in various writings of that time period. The area had what appears to have been a Lenape name “Mauanissing” and in the book “Stories of Raven Rock” the author speculates this could have meant “Raven Rock” however it appears Mauanissing has no English translation.39 Either way this area 3 miles south of Warford homestead was an up-and-coming settlement that would soon see a lot of activity in the years ahead.   

About a mile north of Raven Rock there would have been a ferry crossing, if not before, then shortly after 1734. Ferry crossings always brought about other businesses like taverns, trading posts and stores. In those days there were two kinds of lifestyle, there were those who stayed close in small communities, villages and growing towns and then there were those who ventured off for the rural farm life. One could only imagine that this Tea Table rock formation back at that time was a place of pure pristine wilderness that saw very few people.   

In my research I find no other writings (worth noting) about the Tea Table other than at some point after Warford’s homestead is established and the population is constantly increasing the formation becomes known as Warford’s Rock. Also, his name is given to the creek running from his property to the river. In addition, I find nothing of the era that has a legend of any Indian (Chief or not) being killed at the rock formation.  

How did the Devil lay his name to this rock?  

As we leave behind the hard-colonial life of John & Elizabeth Warford we move to over 150 years later and things have really changed. Warford’s homestead now lies in the relatively newly founded (1798) Kingwood Township. Frenchtown has been founded and there is a railroad that connects Frenchtown to Phillipsburg & Trenton.  Long gone are the days of ferry crossings that have given way to bridges connecting New Jersey to Pennsylvania. At this time lifestyles have advanced from the harsh working life to weekend get-a-ways. Essentially people are more active in the daily and weekly travels. This is also a time when we see the rock formation being called “Devils Tea Table.” The newly formed Boy Scouts camping becomes very active in the area up and down the Delaware River as does other outdoors and nature groups. I could not seem to pin-point an exact year the rock is given the name Devils Tea table but, it seems to have arrived at this calling in the late 1800s.    

Seems the Devil had not only stolen Warford’s Rock, actually it appears he had tea tables in many other locations. Various forms of tea table formations can be found in several location throughout Pennsylvania and other states. West Virginia seems to have a lot of these eroding wonders. In my searching I find what seems to be the most likely reason these formations would be somehow associated with the Devil and that reason is… superstition. Sure, why not! Superstitions are an amazing thing to me personally and I am not a very superstitious person. They amaze me because for the most part they are not real and like the fake Chief Big Mountain legend; something that is not real just seems so corny. I’ll admit when I was younger, I would somewhat buy into a superstition however as my years have passed I have not much time for fake corny stories. Now don’t get me wrong, I love things like Santa Clause and what it adds to the enjoyment of children and I too love a good Halloween horror story. But when I look back at some of the most idiodic superstitions it really makes me wonder about why people think what they think. The Salem which trails where fueled by superstitious people who burned their own at the stake and this is just one of literally hundreds of times throughout history people were out of their minds because of superstitions. At one time people though tomatoes to be poisonous and wouldn’t eat them. Not due to Superstition but rather to ignorance and look at tomato consumption today. Superstitions are usually spawned from fear of the unknown, lack of understanding (or interpreting) evidence or just pure ignorance.   

So, while the lonely rock formation standing high upon the ridge remains unchanged through the centuries the names associated with it, just like society they are ever changing. And now we find that for some rather odd reason we need to attach the devil to it. Why? Because it looks different and odd therefore there has to be something spiritual or supernatural about the rock. Right?   

While I was digging through search after search I one day come upon this rather odd blog site40 that had photos of Tea Table formations from West Virginia. Amongst the photos was an image of the Tea Table in Kingwood Township New Jersey. In the paragraphs of that page, I found the following that more or less hits the nail right smack on the head in regards to the Devil laying claim to Tea Table rock formation.   

“People refer to these formations as “The Devil’s Tea Tables” not only because they look like giant stone tables but also because some believe that the devil himself visits them. It is said that when the devil is around a heavy mist will shroud the tea tables and hide him. The stories associated with these rock formations are yet another example of West Virginia’s wild and wonderful folklore.”  

This is content I found about other tea tables;  

The Legend / Folklore  

“One day two men were traveling down the Elk River in a boat. It was a beautiful day and they had finished work, so they took their time. A magnificent tea table formation that they had often passed came into view. One of the men wanted to stop and hike up to it. Since they had time, the hiker’s friend was happy to stop. He agreed to sit and wait with the boat.  

  

When they reached the tea table, they saw that it was hidden by an odd mist that clung on it and nothing else. The man’s partner didn’t give the mist a second thought and jumped from the boat as soon as they got to shore. The one started scrambling up the slope, while the other sat back and kicked his feet up. He figured it would take his partner a half an hour or so to get there and back. The man waited and waited and waited.  

  

Hours later his partner stumbled back down the hill, climbing into the boat without a word. His eyes were empty, devoid of life. He never recovered. He spent the rest of his life an empty shell of a man for he had stumbled upon the devil himself.  

  

He’d had the horrible misfortune of interrupting the devil having tea. The devil had loomed before him and looked at the man with cruel and merciless eyes. Then the devil had reached down and, with a mere pinch of his finger, he pulled away the man’s soul. He crumbled it up and sprinkled it into his cup of tea like a bit of sugar. Then the devil waved the man away and returned to his tea. This was not the first time someone unwittingly stumbled upon the devil, and it sure won’t be the last. So, take heed. If you see a devil’s tea table, admire it from afar. If a mist surrounds it, look away and run!”  

  

  

Huh… who knew the Devil is tea drinker.  

Unlike the Chief Big Mountain legend, I rather like this little story about Satan and the Tea Table. There was no author listed. Following that story was also a poem that I will share here.  

  

The Devil’s Tea Tables Poem by James Ball Naylor41  

O monster rock! Firm-poised it stands  

  

Upon a base of crumbling shale.  

  

‘Twas shaped by Satan’s cunning hands  

  

In ages past- so runs the tale-  

  

And served Hell’s demons, great and small,  

  

As table to their banquet ball.  

  

Though countless years have rolled away  

  

The Devil’s table stands today  

  

As firm as when, with hellish glee,  

  

The black imps held their revelry.  

  

It seems the feeble flut’ring breath  

  

That issues from the lips of death-  

  

The faint and fickle summer breeze  

  

That stirs the blossoms on the trees  

  

Could shake the great rock’s slender base  

  

And hurl it from its resting place.  

  

And yet the strongest gales that sweep  

  

Across the torrid Indian deep,  

  

The Polar winds- the fierce cyclone-  

  

Are all too weak, combined alone,  

  

To cast the monarch from its throne.  

  

Beyond the blue Muskingum’s bed  

  

It rears its gray and wrinkled head.  

  

Though aged, still erect, sublime  

  

It gazes on the march of time,  

  

And towers above the verdant sod,  

  

A monument to nature’s God.  

  

When years on years have hurried past  

  

Until God’s dial marks the last,  

  

Oh! May the grim old rock still keep  

  

Its vigil on the stony steep.  

As always… Thank you so much for reading and have a great day.  

  

Rich  

 

Business Blogs vs a Grain of Salt. )…very wary of what you derive from reading blog posts on business websites.)

Blog Content Providers

Business blogs vs a Grain of salt.

Who can be a blogger? The answer; anyone can be a blogger. However, the crazy part is you can be an expert about anything… or I should say you can appear to be an expert on anything, especially when it comes to business blogs. So, let me say up front this blog post is going to be about the “deceiving world” of business blogging and how a reader should be a little wary (or a lot) about what you’re reading and if the information is legit.

Many people think blogging has “jumped the shark” so-to-speak and “vlogging” is where you should be setting your sights in 2021 and while vlogging is certainly here to stay blogging isn’t going away anytime soon. At least for businesses and I’ll explain why and I’ll give you some facts about what I call “fake business blogging.”

First you must know I am self-proclaimed as the world’s worst blogger but, I still keep at it. My blog (and this post included) is about my photography and the peripheral world around my photography.

For me the virus crisis hit home on Friday March 13, 2020. Aside from my photography, I drive a school bus and I own a small seasonal catering business. On March 13th I was told by the school not to report for work until further notice and that was it. Everything monetary in my life shut down. I still got paid for the next few months from the school but, in Hunterdon County NJ a bus driver’s salary will by you smokes & beer and that’s about it. I rely on my catering first and my photography/videography brings decent side money and sometimes great side money, enough to rival the catering business.

After March 13th there was nothing, zip, zero, zilch, I mean nothing. I was not alone; many people were hurting. However, I’m not one for taking things “lying down” so-to-speak so, I started looking on line trying to scrape up work. I found this place called ‘UpWork.com” that was essentially an online agency for all genres of creative work. Being a photographer and being new to UpWork I found it extremely hard to secure any photography work. I might also add the people posting the jobs on UpWork are looking for creators to work for almost nothing. If you are already a freelance creator you already know what that is like however, UpWork posters drop that bar even lower lol. So, ultimately it is up to you as to how little you’re willing to whore yourself out for. Sometimes in the end you end up more like a cheap slut and just giving yourself away, sounds funny but it is not and I really do not know how else to put it. At one point I was punching models out of backgrounds and replacing with white backgrounds for 25 cents an image. It was for a client in India who was selling garments on Amazon & eBay. You have to be really fast in Photoshop to make any money at all for 25 cents a photo. However, there were times when I would get a $50 editing job here & there and a few video editing jobs that sometimes were over $100 but, not many. UpWork in my opinion is not a great place for finding a quick buck.

Blog Writing… The Great Farse:

After becoming extremely frustrated in not being able to secure photography related work listed on UpWork I started asking around among my friends and acquaintances that were in the same sinking boat that I was in. I have many photographer and creative related friends around the world whom I connect with on the various forms of social media. Most all of us were hurting monetarily and while some had turned to making masks and selling them on Etsy & eBay, it was in one of those conversations that somebody mentioned “blog writing” and I happily chimed in that “I’m the world’s worst blogger” and they all laughed and Chen said she had been getting small jobs writing blog posts for businesses. She said she found them on UpWork and she went on to say that she had just written a few blog posts for a website that makes mostly products for mothers of newborn babies. They made or sold lifestyle products everything from reusables diapers to harness pouches and other things.

Chen, being 19 years old and still in college said she really had no personal knowledge of any of the products she was writing about. Chen is a very smart young lady and is an artist by trade and creates and sells her work in Vancouver where she lives. She went on to tell me that she built a fake writing portfolio that was made up of a little bit of her own work from high school and the rest from writings she had… shall we say acquired (in times of need we all have to do what we have to do). Using that portfolio, she started acquiring jobs listed on UpWork. Now in all fairness the one thing she couldn’t fake was the understanding of writing something so it has SEO (search engine optimization). She had taken an online course last year and it was enough to get her to understand how to structure a blog post.

Is business blog content reliable?

Business Blogs:

Most of us have noticed the “blog” button in the list of pages when we visit business websites. Sometimes we click on the page and we get that notice that says something to the effect of “no content” or the page is blank. However, most times we will find a page that has content about the product or services that the business provides and we just assume that the info that is written there for us to read was put there by someone who in fact has knowledge of the product or service. When in reality in today’s world that couldn’t be further from the truth. The information could have been written by anyone. It could have been written by a person who has no real-world knowledge of the topic and has spent a few minutes Googling the topic and power reading through Wikipedia and then writing a post that is SEO friendly and calling it a day.

SEO. Search Engine optimization. Digital online marketing and Internet technology concept.

The goal of a blog for most businesses is to have a blog page that will have great SEO just for the purpose of driving people there from a Google search. They don’t really care too much about how great the content is, just as long as there is content there and possibly a photo or two. For example, a company that makes mountain climbing gear may have some whimsical content about there products that was put there by someone who hardly ever leaves their computer and has never climbed anything more that the stairs in their house and they’ll include some photos from a stock photo service. How novel it would be if the company actually had blog posts written by someone who actually used the climbing gear and photos and video of them using it in the real-world.

My point:

So, the point I’m making here is the age-old thing that you want to be very wary of what you derive from reading blog posts on business websites. It is certainly no different than content found on medical websites. Having several friends who are doctors in various medical fields (I’m not a doctor at all lol) we have gotten many a good laugh at articles we have seen on legit medical information sites. Now of course this does not mean all blog posts are lacking in quality and not all health & wellness sites have bad information. What it does mean is you really have very little way of legitimizing who wrote the information and posted it there. So, for the past several months when I visit a website, I’ll take a minute and click the blog button just to see what is there and how it is written. If you are an expert on a particular product, topic or service you can often see through the veil. Just the other day I was talking with a mechanic friend of mine. I was at his shop and he running through some motorsport websites that deal with custom racing parts. Just for fun I would have him click on the blog button and sure enough the first site had an empty blog page. The next two sites had what appeared to be legit blogs linked to YouTube videos of their products in action on real race cars. Then there was the fourth site he clicked on that had everything written in general terminology a blog content service provider nd for all intent purposes appeared as if it was written by a “blog content service provider.” Yes, they are out there, for a nominal fee you can have content fabricated for your website or blog that is SEO in hopes of raising your site up that holy grail of Google search results.

As always thank you for reading and have a great day.

 


							

MeWe & Me (Imagine if you picked up Time Magazine or an issue of Rolling Stone and all it had was photos with no descriptions or articles.)

1/30 sec at f/8 ISO-200 90mm

We have all captured an amazing or very interesting photo of something. Of course, photography like beauty is very subjective and your interesting photo might not appeal to everyone. For the most part what makes an interesting image capture is one that tells a story in some way form or fashion. Often that story has a very interesting backstory and that will be the topic of this post.

The backstory is always there and in today’s social media it is often overlooked and in fact kind of “not cool” to post. I myself am guilty as charged when it comes to what I post on my Instagram. Nearly everyone of my posts will have what I believe to be an interesting photo followed by a quote of some sort. The quote of course is in someway related to the context of the image. Why do I do this? I’m not really sure but, it just kind of became part of the norm for my IG. I do of course credit anyone associated with the photo such as models or makeup artist and then of course hashtags. Sadly, I rarely tell the backstory when posting to IG. It seemed when I first started to get followers most people would acknowledge the photo with a push of the heart and move on. The only actual comments would come from someone who was involved in the photo, that usually being the model.

It just seemed to me (and maybe I’m wrong) that at least for IG viewers it was more about zipping through their feed and mostly paying attention to the photos… if it is cool it gets a heart and if it doesn’t catch their eye, they just keep swiping up. I kind of get it, I mean today we are inundated with images, I myself being 56 years old look at more photos in one day than I could have ever imaged 20 years ago. When I think about it, it is actually mind numbing and after a while I just get bored swiping up on my IG feed. But I still love photography and I like looking at something interesting.

Often, I will force myself to “slow down” and look more closely at images. If it is a pointless selfie I just move on. However, pretty much anything other than a selfie I will take a moment to really look at the image and many times I think “what is the backstory” to this photo? I look in the description and most times find nothing. Sometimes the post will have a location tag and that offers a little information but I’m still left wondering.

Post to my blog: If I am writing a general blog post I always include at least one photo. after all my blog is about photography. However, the post may be about a general topic of let’s say for example traveling so I will post a very generic travel photo. But, when I do this, I will at least put the camera settings (shutter speed, F/ stop, ISO & focal length) in the photo description. It gives a tiny backstory to the photo. With that said; most of my blog posts are written about the photos and the post itself tell the story of what, when, where and the why about the photos attached to the post. Again, it is a photography blog and what would be the sense of just posting photos without talking about them? But that seems to be the norm with most social media… posting with no real context. Imagine if you picked up Time Magazine or an issue of Rolling Stone and all it had was photos with no descriptions or articles. So, for me seeing photos on social media often leaves me with more questions than answers lol.

New social media: I recently created a profile on MeWe.com and started checking out the various groups. I joined a photography group that was open to photographers of all levels from amateur to professional. So here again I find myself scrolling through photos (mostly amateur) and while some of the photos are interesting on their own because the photo tells a story, I find that other photos might be more interesting if there was some sort of a description or context.

1/80 sec at f/8 ISO 200 55mm

They say “a picture is worth 1000 words” so let’s look at this photo of this man holding a small boy. With no description we are left with… a man holding a boy. One could assume the boy is his child and we see palm leaves, a boat and two chairs in the background. It would be like a slow boat to China trying to find 1000 words from this photo.

1/250 sec at f/3.5 ISO 640 18mm

So, let me also include a photo of the same man walking along this building. This photo is a little more interesting because it has more objects in the photo and we see the whole body of the man. Certainly, with this photo we could come up with a little bit more of a story about this man. However, we are still miles away from knowing the true context of what the photo is really about. And now let me put a little backstory to the images and see if it makes them just a little more interesting.

The man is from Myanmar, he is the only permanent resident and a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand. The boy is his son who was born on the island. His wife gave birth to the boy on the island with only the help of her husband. The boy has never played with other children and does not speak, although he can speak. In the first image I asked the man if he could pose with his son so I could take a nice photo of him. His wife didn’t want to be photographed. I returned to the island two years later and gave him a print of this photo. It was at this time I captured the second photo. The building in the second image is the house where the three of them live. The opposite side of the island has a few small seasonal resorts however, he resides as a caretaker for a private piece of land on the backside of the island. Maybe I’m jaded because I was there, I captured the photos and I met the man, his wife & son. But still, I think the photos are more interesting with a little bit of context and a backstory.

Back to MeWe: The photography group I joined has a 3 photos per day posting limit and I think that is very fair. As I scroll though the photos I will sometimes stop and ask questions about a photo and every time I will get a reply with info that puts the photo into a better perspective. Most people hare happy to tell you something about their photos but for some reason are reluctant to write at least a short description for the photo.

Conclusion: I get it… without dispute there are some photos that need no description. There are iconic photos (mostly journalistic) that that tell a story just by looking at the content of the image. This is often the talent of the great photographer and… speaking of great (iconic) photographers, look at Joe McNally’s Instagram. Every photo posted has a great description of what you are looking at. Whether it is a description of the lighting technique or a story about the person in the image the viewer comes away with a knowing of what they just looked at. So I will leave at that and say thanks for reading and have a great day.

Photo of The Day (Put Emotions Aside And Stand Your Ground)

One of my early Photoshop composites.

Reckless Pixel Images

Stand Your Ground Stand Your Ground! Model Danny Sturdivant

This photo shoot was a lot of fun, the studio was so cold that morning and poor little Danny was frozen. Then we put her in the emoji outfit and I asked her to start going through different emotions. For a little girl she sure gives a mean-ass look when I asked for “angry.”

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The Autumn Witch (a different Halloween photo shoot)

The Autumn Witch 

Just the mere mention of the word Halloween will conjure up images of witches along with the rising of a full moon on a cold autumn night. Today we often think of the green faced witch with the pointed hat from the story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. However, most of us know that a true witch was something different. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth the image of a witch was depicted as an old wart ridden crone and yet again this could be somewhat misleading. Truth be told witches could have been young or old, rich or poor and ugly or as beautiful as can be. 

In most cases the label “witch” was something that was bestowed upon a female by the society that surrounded her, by the people whom she knew as members of her community, her church, friends and often her own family. It did not take much to acquire the label of being a witch. All you had to be was different, look different, talk different or be able to do something out of the norm such as cure a sickened person with some herbs & wild roots. Being different was truly the key thing that all witches had in common. Sometimes her difference was that she stood strong and she spoke up to be heard above the men. Going against the grain of society could often be a death sentence for a woman of these early times in history.  

While we have all heard the stories of witches being burned to death, many were hanged or died during the torture of an inquisitor. And then there were the few… There are a few incidents in history where accused witches merely perished from the sight never to be seen again. This only added to her guilt and the mystery of her magical powers, when in reality she had just slipped out of town under the cover of the nights darkness and cast herself to a life of solitaire among the forests and the fields.  

So, it is here we find our beautiful Autumn Witch wandering her new found queendom. A queendom she presides over not as a ruler but, as a care taker, for we know the true ruler of the forests & fields is the queen of all queens Mother Nature herself. However, the Autumn Witch will spend her time becoming one with the wildlife and the land of which she dwells. She will bathe in the pure water of the mountain streams and adorn her beauty with that which Mother Nature provides her. Once a witch and now a queen she wears her new found crown with peace, dignity and pride.  Peace and solitude preserve her beauty and allow her inner spirit to grow and glow beyond that of any woman bound by the chains of society’s oppression. Yes, she “is” truly different… with and unbreakable spirit, inner & outer beauty and a mind of her own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The name says it all… “A different Halloween photo shoot.” 2020 has certainly taken a toll on my photo shoot creativity. Due to restrictions from the virus crisis the budget for a creative photo shoot just did not exist. You can have all the creativity you want however, if there is no budget the creativity will just sit inside your mind and… well, that is about it, it will just sit there. It is kind of like being hungry and having no money for food.  

In January I had set many goals for my photography for 2020. One goal was to achieve an awesome Halloween photo shoot such as I did back in 2016 when I wanted to create a portrait of a clown. The idea was an evil clown walks into a studio to have a photographer create a portrait of him. The shoot had a budget that allowed for a paid model and SFX makeup artist. Without a budget there would have been no makeup and therefore no clown and no shoot. 

The virus crisis killed many people and that is truly the saddest thing about 2020. But there was a lot of collateral damage from the crisis with shutdowns and job loss. My photography business has been almost nothing, other than a few portrait jobs here and there. Certainly, no big jobs like weddings or events. 

As the year was passing by, I watched as many of my goals fall by the wayside and I did not think much about it. As Halloween was approaching, I suffered with the death of a 30-year-old family member who suffered from addiction and then my elderly mother was injured in a fall. Could 2020 be any worse of a year? Yes, actually it, could.  

I had actually told the model whom I been planning on shooting with that I was cancelling all future shoots until further notice. I felt I needed to take a step back and… Then it just hit me, the thought that I was letting it win. “It” being the year 2020 and all the horrible misfortune we have all had to deal with. I’m not a quitter, I have never quit anything. I have been beaten down, beaten up and left a bloody mess by many things in my life and all those beatings have been the result of not quitting.  

So only a few days after telling the model I was cancelling all future shoots, I contact her and contradict myself saying I want to do a shoot. (My whole life has been a contradiction lol.) It would be a Halloween shoot and like 2020 it will be not a normal Halloween shoot. Actually, I had no real idea because in January I had set a goal but had never came up with an idea because Covid hit and everything came to a grinding halt.  

So, I turn to my various places for inspiration. Places like magazines, (remember them) yes, I still subscribe to various magazines like Vanity Fair, Vogue, Cowgirl and more. I also spent hours looking at 500px.com and Pinterest as well Instagram. I think it was Instagram that I was looking at when I came to the realization that most all Halloween shoots involve makeup, lots of makeup. I found a little money for a budget but, not enough for makeup & wardrobe. So, let’s just go with wardrobe. As for a theme… I just sat there thinking “Halloween” and how many times I see girls dress up as cats & witches. Then It struck me that the typical “Halloween Witch” with the black dress and pointy hat is as far from what a true witch even looked like. And then I remembered years ago reading a book (can’t remember the name) about a girl in medieval times who was accused of being a witch. She never really did any real hocus pocus and her crime was that she was good looking and out spoken. The other women had deemed her an “odd character” because she drew the attention of men, sang to herself and when a child in the village she had been looking after became unexplainably ill… well you know how the story goes after that. She’s different so she must be a witch. Before they could round her up and put her on trial, she disappeared. Her disappearance only confirmed that she must be guilty and confirmed she was in fact a witch. In reality, she had slipped out of town in the middle of the night and lived as an outcast in the forest… and then the story continued on. 

So, there it is, that is my photo shoot idea. It will be a different kind of witch photo shoot because 2020 has been a different kind of year lol.  

As I was putting together all the ideas for the shoot wardrobe, location, shooing date ect… I thought about how today’s society is not much different than that of long ago. Being different always comes with a price tag. Being different comes with scrutiny, labels and judgments. But, being different is what make life exciting.  

Happy Halloween 2020 

 

Did the Giant Fall?

Did the Giant Fall?

B&H Photo has been my “go to” place for my camera gear for… well, for as long as I can remember. Officially known as B&H Photo & Electronics and located in New York City, B&H in my opinion was the gold standard in online camera gear purchasing. I have to admit I have never actually visited the mecca of “all things camera” however when I needed to purchase anything to do with photography or video B&H is where I would start. Be it something as small as a battery for 1964 Pentax camera or a major purchase of the newly released Blackmagic 6K cinema camera B&H was there for me.

Their website is the gold standard in finding information on almost any product. Like me, many people will use B&H’s website for looking up the specs on a product. Even outdated products will many times still be listed on the website. The product will be marked “discontinued” but the specs and Info are there for anyone to reference from.

Then came the Covid-19 virus crisis and like all things around the world life was severely dampened as we all headed in to a lockdown. With NYC being the epicenter of the virus crisis in the USA it was understandable that B&H would have to close its doors and it did. However, customers could still order online and pick up orders at the side door.

For me it did not take long to see the ripple in service to come racing across the surface.

First let’s go back to how it used to be to order from B&H. Now I will be writing about my own personal experience in shopping and ordering online but I know the experience was very much the same for many people. I live in Hunterdon County New Jersey, I’m located on the westside of NJ about 4 miles from the Delaware River, I can drive to B&H in 1 hour and 10 minutes (with moderate traffic). But, why would I want to ever drive there when I can place an order online and it would sometimes arrive the very next day with standard shipping. Yes, back in the day if I placed an online order in the morning before noontime often (not always) it would ship the same day by UPS and I would see the box at my door the next day by 3:00pm. And yes, I did say that was standard shipping. Obviously, logistics played a lot into this and I always reveled in the fact that while many things in life suck the one thing, I could always count on was getting my purchase from B&H lightning fast. I would always joke that “it was as if the B&H guy had ESP and was waiting outside my house with what it was, I was going to order.”

Well those days ended when B&H started to use FedEx Ground and it was a sad day for me. Where I live, I am about a 15-minute drive from the UPS terminal in Hamilton, NJ however, the FedEx Ground terminal for my area is located in Bethlehem, PA about 1 hour away. Needless to say, now shipping can take at least three days.

So now, here we are after several months of the virus crisis and the B&H shopping experience is far from a pleasure it once was and seems to be getting worse not better. Recently I placed and order for an office chair. It was listed as “In stock ready to ship.” Everything seems good, I get the confirmation email and then nothing. It just say’s “order processing” and a week goes by. Yup, 7 days. Then I email customer service and low and behold the order ships about 2 hours later. Then the next day I get an email saying “your order shipped yesterday.” This is pretty much how it is now when I place an order with B&H and yes, I have to admit I have started placing orders for gear with Amazon that I could buy at B&H. However, Amazon is not the best place to source certain kinds of camera gear from. Amazon has a sketchy reputation when it comes to things like memory cards and other photo & video related items. With B&H I have never ever felt that the product I was buying was not authentic and that it was the actual product it was labeled or packaged to be. I can say for 100% sure I received Sandisk SD cards from Amazon that were not the same as the ones I received from B&H. I could go on & on about this subject to the days end but, let’s just say B&H sells authentic products.

B&H has a great reputation with photographers of all levels. Yes, I was an armature when I found B&H many years ago and one of the things that really steered me to them was that fact that well-known famous photographers shopped there and spoke highly of the service and ability to get good gear quick. I have heard a story of a studio assistant running across town on her bike to get a much need piece of gear that broke in the middle of a shoot. Thanks to B&H she grabbed the flash head and returned to save the day. Actually, heard that story from a photographer giving a talk at the B&H event space. So, this was another great aspect of B&H and that is that they have produced so much online content that I have always taken advantage of.

How about meeting some of the people that work at B&H? While I stated earlier that I have never actually visited the store, I have always made it a point to at least say “hi” to the people working the tables at events outside of seminars at the Javits Center or the Philly Convention center. Again, always nice and pleasant conversation.

Today however, there are no seminars everything has given way to the online virtual seminars and B&H’s website has many mainstream products that say “back ordered.” Currently I have been waiting to purchase a camera slider from B&H. It is a well-known brand and other online dealers have it but the B&H website says “more expected soon” and it has been over a month. The New York Post released an article on May 1, 2020 describing the well-known camera shop as taking a very hard hit due to the virus crisis.

I want to see my favorite camera shop come back to the life it once had. I want to see our country come back to the life we lost before the China virus swept the world. I hope it is soon.

The Covid Blur (so many sleepless nights…)

The Covid-19 lockdown was certainly a challenge for most. So many people out of work and told to just stay home. Almost sounds like a good thing… “don’t come to work.” Fact is; we couldn’t really go anywhere other than the essential like the store for food and even that involved standing in long lines and dealing with other frustrations.

During my time in this forced social lock-down I struggled to keep my creative projects afloat. Often, times I had to let a project just sink because other participants were not available of not willing to defy the lock-down. Like many people I spent countless night awake. Some of those nights I spent worrying about everything from how I was going to pay certain bill, what will happen to my business and also worried about sick family and friends.

As I look back to just a few months ago and even still now, some nights are just a blur. Some nights I spent playing guitar, going back to long hours of practicing the modal system and scales. I hadn’t don’t that kind of practice in many years. I wrote a song, just the music and I’m working on the lyrics. I read books, I finished books that I had started to read and for whatever reason I stopped halfway through. So, I dug those books out and finished them. I did the same with some images and video projects. Things that had fell along the wayside in the hustle & bustle of always moving on to the next project. Now, of course the sounds like I was busy all the time during the lock-down… sadly the answer is no. As I stated already, some days & nights were like a blur and they still are. I have found that if I don’t use enough energy during the day, I find myself wide awake at night and the I fall asleep about 3:00 am only to wake at 6:00am to drive my wife to work. She moved here from Thailand and still doesn’t have a valid driver’s license. In a way this is actually a good thing because it would get me up and out of the house. We both enjoy the 20-minute ride and taking with each other. When I return home, I will sometimes take a short nap but its daylight out and my body just doesn’t want to sleep in daylight. After returning her back home I am dead tired about 5:00 pm and I fall asleep for a few hours and back up at 7:00pm and ready to spend another night wide awake till 3:00am. What a horrible cycle. Even though I hit the exercise bike almost every day and a light dumbbell work for my arms I still would find it hard to sleep.

During some of these late “night blurs” as I call them, I would go on Vimeo and look for inspiration, something to give me a sense of “at least I’m not just vegging in front of Netflix. So, here is a creator or creative team I guess is the proper term that I came across and I fell in love with their work. Before the lock-down I had started to dive into the world of cinema cameras and looking at more and more music and short film creators. These guys are great and here are two of my favorite videos of theirs. I just love their shooting style and editing.

Prepare For The Luck Shot (part 1) …The easiest way to blow your chance is to not be prepared

Nature photography is not my specialty however, I do love to get out and shoot wildlife when the opportunity arises. Like all genres of photography nature & wildlife pose obstacles and it can certainly be a challenge. For those who do not do this kind of shooting they often think nature & wildlife is pretty easy. That is, until they try it. Sure, we have all seen those extreme close ups of squirrels eating a nut or the white-tailed deer with her fawn close by and while these kinds of photos appear on many photographer’s social media there is always the backstory of what is really going on.

Let’s take a quick look at some wildlife backstories. The squirrel eating the nut and as we look closer it is actually a peanut and because it was shot at a very shallow depth of field, we are not seeing that it is actually a pile of peanuts that was placed in the middle of a city park. So simple of a shot anyone can do it. As the urban sprawl encroaches and deer have no natural habitat left, we always find whitetail deer literally living in people’s backyards. Capturing a shot of the mother and her fawn can often be accomplished while sitting on your back deck or porch while drinking your morning coffee.

The stories become even more pathetic when we see so called “Wildlife Photographer’s” who have portfolios of fox, wolves, bears, tigers and much more that were all shot at a zoo, reserve, preserve or whatever. There are many places that will let you pay a fee to stick your lens through a chain link fence and capture images of a so called wild whatever. And just like that “you’re a wildlife photographer. Just the same way photographers can pay to shoot a model on a set where the lighting is all preset and there are people to assist and guide you to get an awesome shot of a model and call it “their own,” you can pay for just about any genre of photograph you can think of.

Myself, I may not be the best photographer however, I have made it to 55 years old without paying to photograph wildlife. I have paid models and that was in the context of a commercial gig where photographs are being used for business purposes. There is just some kind of satisfaction that comes from capturing an image/s that came from effort that was put in or it could be just pure, flat out luck.

6:03:58am

So, let’s talk about the ‘effort put in” and then we’ll talk about the “luck shot.” Be it a bird house or a photograph, if I put my hard work and effort into it, I know I will love it more and it will bring me much satisfaction. I think back to a time where I had these scrap pieces of wood leftover from a small repair, I was making on a storage building. While cleaning up the wood scraps I thought why not make a birdhouse. Actually, I ended up making 4 Blue bird houses.  I placed them across the fields that surrounded my home at the time and when taking my daily walk, I could see them. They lasted about 8 years, nobody ever knew I made them (until now) and it just gave a warm feeling to walk those fields and see the birds in houses I made. I think everyone at some point in their life has made something with their own two hands that has brought them comfort and satisfaction.

Walking through the brush in the predawn hours to get to a point on a ridge overlooking a meadow in hopes… yes in hopes that there will be whitetail deer there when the sun comes up is putting in effort. There is no guarantee the deer will show. Sure, they are there most mornings but, what if something spooks them this morning? I end up doing macro photos of dandelions and field birds lol.

So, how about that luck shot? Everybody at some point in their life will have the chance at a luck shot. I say “have a chance” because many a person has blown their chance at the luck shot. The easiest way to blow your chance is to not be prepared and the biggest prep you can do in photography is “know your camera inside & out and know your settings and how to change them quickly.” Let’s say you had a chance to get a beautiful shot of a red fox running across the field and you have on a 24-70mm because you are shooting a model in the field. You would have to switch lenses and maybe you don’t even own a 70-200mm. In this scenario you didn’t blow your chance, you just never really had the chance. However, if you were shooting the whitetail deer I Aperture Priority and you see the fox and you need to switch it up to Shutter Priority or go in to Manual Mode with a fast shutter speed you should do it just as fast and instinctively as you would put your hands out to break a fall when you trip over something. If you missed getting a shot of the fox because you fumbled your camera settings, you may want to chalk that up the “blowing your chance at a luck shot.”

I have wanted to get a decent shot of a blue heron for many years now. I have put effort into getting a chance at a shot and it never worked out. My longest lens is a 70-200 and really it would be much easier if I had something longer like a 400mm. But still I try. I was at the local wildlife preserve up the street from my house, rain was forecasted and I wanted to shoot a YouTube video of a LensCoat camera rain cover. There is a small lake with some geese and occasionally some wild ducks. Blue heron frequents the lake but, on this day, I know there will be people fishing and the blue heron will most likely not be seen.

I arrive at the lake and I get set up with my camera on a tripod and I just have to wait for the rain to roll in. I figure I will shoot the YT video under the premise that I am there to photograph Canada geese. Actually, I am sick of photographing geese because I can do that any time on any given day. Soon a few fishermen arrive and not long after that there comes a blue heron. Wow! He flew in from the opposite side of the lake and perched high in a dead tree overlooking the whole scene. At this point he is too far away for any kind of a decent shot, he is just sitting and watching and he is not going away so that is a very good sign he will stay. Now I’m getting a little excited and I start to go over camera settings and making sure the batteries are good. After all I did none of the normal pre-shoot checking because I figured I would just be there long enough for the rain to start, I could record the video of the rain cover being put onto the camera, talk a little about the rain cover while the cover got nice and wet and it would be a wrap and I’d head back home to a nice cup of coffee.

The coffee will have to wait… and the rain is running late. According to the satellite images on my phone the rain should have arrived already. I’ve got the camera racked out to 200mm and I’m in Tv (shutter Priority) set to 1/1600 sec and if is forcing the aperture to f/3.2, ISO is set to Auto and it is coming in at ISO 250. The Blue Heron perched in the tree at 10:50am and I’m waiting, he has been in the tree for over 10 minutes. What if the rain comes and I start to shoot my video of the rai cover and the bird makes a move? I need a plan. Mentally I start to run through everything. (The camera settings are good; camera is in my hand and not on the tripod. If he moves, he will most like move to the furthest place from any humans. Double check: AI Servo is set. I’m good). I shoot a few photos of geese and I’m thinking the whole time; this bird is about 600 feet or more away, he can see color, he can see my blink… hell he can count my individual eyelash hairs. I can’t really control what the fishermen are doing however I can control what I’m doing. Don’t look at him, look at the lake, fiddle with the camera… do anything just don’t look at him. If he sees your eyes he will fly away. I say this because this is what always seems to happen. When the heron sees my eyes and or my camera lens, this is when they seem most apt to fly away. As I stated earlier, I have been trying to get decent shots of a Blue Heron for several years and not having a 400mm (or more) lens makes it a bit difficult, but I still try. How many times have I had a good clear shot and as soon as the camera comes out the bird flies away.

It is 11:15am he has been in the tree not moving a muscle. 11:18am he drops from the tree and flies over the water along the shore of the backside of the lake. There is a small island in the center of the lake, as he emerges from behind the island, he is only about 24 inches above the surface and I lock focus and start shooting. I keep shooting until he lands and would you look at that? He lands only 200 feet from me but quickly walks behind a wall of cattails. After only a few minutes he came walking out of the cattails and there he/she was. Just standing there letting me take as many photos as I’d like. Even when two people walking in the park were returning to their car and came close to the shoreline the blue heron just stayed there looking very cautious. I captured a photo of the heron looking at the lady returning to her car, while at the same time a huge fish (most likely a bass) is going after minnows and creating a raucous in the water near the heron. Still he never flinched and stood strong.

After picking at minnows for several minutes the heron moves back behind the wall of cattails and just hangs out. And wait what’s this… another Blue Heron arrives at the lake and perches in the same tree as the first one did. Soon he drops from the tree to the water in front of the tree and not long after flies the same route along the backside of the lake and lands at the same spot as the first one did. Now there are two of these gorgeous birds with in 2 yards of each other. The second one I can see and the other is hiding in the cattails. Sadly, I was not blessed with getting a shot of both in the same frame but, that is ok, this day has been generous enough and I’m very happy. Now all I need is for the rain to roll in and I can shoot my YouTube video and all will be good with the world.

Is that an eagle? What the…

To be continued in part 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luck Shot (part 2) I knew he was close to the ground and… there he went right into the water like a rocket.

 

Continued from part 1.

So, after basking in the glory of capturing some decent images of a Blue Heron at the local lake just literally two minutes from my driveway, I was taken by surprise to see yet another bird come over the lake at breakneck speed. So, in part 1 of the blog post I was telling how I set off to go to the local lake to create a product video for my YouTube channel. I wanted to shoot a camera rain cover in use, the rain was do in at any moment and I was surprised by the arrival of a Blue Heron and a while later a second Blue Heron arrived.

However, now I see something over head about 200 feet up. It circled over and went out of sight; I had caught a glimpse at the last moment and looking at the silhouette against the bright sky I thought it to be an eagle because as it flew away the wingspan lay very flat from tip to tip. I am by no means an avian expert however; I do know how to identify a few birds of prey by their silhouette. I started rubbernecking trying to see where he went. All of the sudden he was coming back on a rather sharp downward angle and he was not an eagle. My camera was set to Tv (shutter priority) 1/4000 sec at f/2.8 ISO 100 200mm, I instantly locked focus but, this guy was coming in hot & heavy. I just stayed on him the best I could as he seemed to just drop from the sky like a rock. As I tracked, I just kept shooting and then I see a red post move in front of my lens and I lose focus lock for maybe two or three shots. As I seen the red post move in front of the camera, I knew he was close to the ground and… there he went right into the water like a rocket.

Of course, all of this is playing out in mere seconds and the moment he went into the water I prayed “please let him come up with the biggest fish ever.” When he first hit the water, my focus was unlocked and on the second frame after hitting the water it locked and he emerged with empty talons. I stayed on tracking him as he lifted, circled and departed up and out of sight. As he was departing, I realized it was an Osprey or Seahawk as they’re sometimes called. What a display of nature to see this bird make a dive at a fish. Of course, I kept watching and hoping he would return for another attempt.

Now it was starting to mist and I prepared to make the YouTube video. I get the rain cover in place and of course the sun comes out lol. The mist stops and low and behold the Osprey appears again, he does a majestic low flyover the lake and swoops up into a tree. He looks out at the lake for a few minutes and then hides himself into the leaves of the tree. I keep watching and I never see him anymore that day. Not long after the sky gets extremely dark in the distance and the storm is eminent at this point. I get reset with the rain cover and I complete the video as planned.

Looking back, who would have thought a plan to make a simple YouTube video would have led me to getting some decent images of a Blue Heron and to also see an Osprey make an amazing dive at a fish. It truly was and amazing site and of course it would have been much nicer to see the bird emerge from the lake with a beautiful Rainbow Trout in his talons still all in all I am happy just to see the event as it was. Now that I know the Osprey is present at the lake I will certainly keep an eye out for him an get that luck shot.

Thank you so much for reading and have a great day.