Meandering and trespassing

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One cold night a few weeks ago, a friend perplexedly asked me why I would walk around in single-digital temperatures to photograph people on the streets of Chicago.  Without hesitation, I answered her, “I will do whatever necessary to take a shot I want, especially if it is THE shot.”

I have been stuck in Youngstown for nearly a fortnight now.  Mercifully, I shall return to my beloved Chicago next week.  Despite having grown up here, I still find it difficult to be in the Youngstown area every time I visit my family.  I cannot be myself here.  I end up having to suppress and censor my thoughts, keep a low profile, and in some cases actually hide from certain people.  This town does nothing but amplify a geographically specific misanthropy that I just cannot quash.  As such, in the past two weeks I have experienced a heightened sense of annoyance and frustration, a depression in my sense of creativity, and stress-eating contributing to weight gain from holiday dinners and a lack of physical activity.  Of course, the weight gain just means I’m assimilating to the culture here.

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I finally got some reprieve today, however.  Surprisingly, the sky was clear and the sun shining—a phenomenon that occurs on average about 63 days per year here.  That is not a hyperbole.  (See here.)  My family tasked me with running some errands out to the west of Austintown (a municipality of the Youngstown area where I actually grew up), and I saw in that an opportunity to take a lens out with me.  Accordingly, I mapped out a detour that would take me around the Meander Reservoir, areas of which I believe receive less attention from local photographers due to the prevailing reputation of Mill Creek Park.

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I did not expect much, however.  Asides from how uninspired I have been feeling as of late here, Youngstown/Austintown is not an easy place to photograph.  It is not at all a pedestrian friendly place; everyone here drives.  The recent snow storm made access to the more quiet and scenic wooded areas a bit more treacherous, especially given a low-grounded sports car as my mode of conveyance.  While I am willing to do whatever necessary to take THE shot, no scene in Youngstown is worth pushing my car out of mountains of roadside snow after an ambitious but rubbish parking attempt.  As I was driving alone, any prospect of shooting behind the wheel at 40 MPH was ridiculously dangerous; the perils of mobile phone selfies while driving are bad enough, but composing and metering with a DSLR and zoom lens while trying to steer via knees is just out right foolhardy—I’d feel safer driving after several glasses of absinthe.

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Nevertheless, after wandering around and getting a little lost in what I can only describe as a weird dichotomy of vast farm land and industrial plants, I managed to find a few spots where I was able to safely park and step out of the car to shoot, even if that involved driving onto the grounds of the Meander wastewater treatment facilities.

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As much as I should not publicly admit this, I did in fact commit a minor act of trespass onto restricted property.  As the sun was setting, I was returning home and crossed a bridge over the reservoir.  I had noticed earlier how smooth the snow-covered lake surface was, but I could not at all find a place to park.  It was not until heading back in the opposite direction that I noticed the unplowed parking lot of a nearby church.  Taking a reasonable risk of having the car stuck in the snow, I drove in and proceeded on foot down to the bridge.  The sun was much lower by now and no longer shining on the arch bridge directly.  The wooded area around the lake was fenced off with barbed wiring.  I struck some luck as I approached the bridge and noticed a gate with the locking chain loose enough for me to fit through.  Although many car occupants driving by were giving me strange looks as I slipped past the gate (an Asian wear a black peacoat and carrying a large DSLR squeezing through a chain-locked barbed wire fence is not exactly a common sight around here), I proceeded much closer to the lake bank and bridge base with some renewed zeal and excitement, a feeling of looking through a lens that I have not felt in weeks now.

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Alas, that great feeling of making a photograph, just like any decisive moment, is a fleeting one.  It was not long after resuming my course home that I found myself back in the more populated area of Austintown, and so returned my geographically specific misanthropy.

Just one more week before my detention in Ohio ends and I return to the Windy City.  Just one more week.

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All images © K. Dao Photography 2014, all rights reserved.