With just over a week left in Southern California before being homeless for a month and relocating back to Maui, I find myself revisiting some of the spots around San Diego and La Jolla that I have shot over the past 3 1/2 years. Not that there is much time! My sweetheart and I are not only moving, but we’re getting married! Either one of these events unfolding in a relatively short window would be a lot, but putting them together has made everything quite exciting – to say the least. Like now, for example – I’m pretty sure there are about 127 things that I should be doing to move forward with all of this, but here I sit, adding a blog entry. Well, that’s how I roll. And I’m gonna make more efforts to add blogs along the way – I am really curious what will happen with my shooting and aesthetic returning to beautiful Maui after being away for nearly 5 years. Will my year long stretch of seeing the landscape in black and white revert back to color? Will I shoot both? Who knows?! We’ll see..
I have been opening up my photographic skill-set to a whole new area – people and off camera lighting. Talk about feeling like a total and complete rookie again – Wow! But, it has been fun and feeling green with a camera has been an interesting feeling – and I have managed to put together a number of images that I am quite happy with…but, more of that later.
This image is of Coronado Bridge in San Diego. Shooting from this location can feel a bit sketchy at times – I remember the first time I came here alone and it was getting dark and there were a bunch of shady characters lurking about, and here I am with 10k of photography equipment on my back! This is usually the type of scenario that gets me to visualizing full-on Jackie Chan scenes unfolding in my head – 10 bad guys chasing me around while I use my tripod to catapult from this pier to that and otherwise defend myself with dance-like precision and fluidity. Last night, it was a little earlier in the evening and there were families and kids running around while dad’s were fishing from the end of the pier, so no dramatic action scenes going on – just a quiet observer enjoying the path of life, with a bridge ahead leading from one destination to the next.
This is why you have to set the alarm to 4-something and get up out of your warm sleeping bag and get out there! It’s called Sweet Light and it is always a sight for the eyes and makes the heart giddy – or is that the sleep depravation? Either way, it’s well worth waking for, even after a late night of cold-adult-beverages and the company of good friends. Hell, you can sleep during the day when the light sucks! and if you’re a little slow (aka. hungover), there’s nothing like the Sweet Light to lift you up.
We camped at Oh Ridge Campground for a couple nights which is the perfect place to stay to shoot at Mono Lake. It overlooks the scenic June Lake and is a 20 minute drive from the campsite to the parking area at the State Natural Reserve along the north shore of Mono Lake.
I went down three times to this area over the couple days and walked away every time with shots I was happy with. Sure, I was lucky with the stormy skies, but even with clear skies, I think you could make some compositions work here – it’s just that interesting of a place! This image is looking west with the sunrise at my back. Most of my efforts of late have been with a black and white aesthetic, but for this 10 minute period, it was impossible to ignore the color version of this amazing scene.
Yosemite Falls is the highest measured waterfall in North America. Located in Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, it is a major attraction in the park, especially in late spring when the water flow is at its peak.
The total 739 metres (2,420 ft) from the top of the upper falls to the base of the lower falls qualifies Yosemite Falls as the sixth highest waterfall in the world, though with the recent discovery of Gocta Cataracts in Venezuela, it appears on some lists as seventh.
Although often referred to as a “two-stage drop”, the falls actually consist of three sections:
Upper Falls: The 1,430 ft plunge alone is among the twenty highest waterfalls in the world. Trails from the valley floor and down from other park areas outside the valley lead to both the top and base of Upper Yosemite Falls. The upper fall is formed by the swift waters of Yosemite Creek, which, after meandering through Eagle Creek Meadow, hurl themselves over the edge of a hanging valley in a spectacular and deafening show of force.
Middle Cascades: Between the two obvious main plunges there are a series of five smaller plunges collectively referred to as the Middle Cascades. Taken together these account for a total drop of 670 ft, more than twice the height of the Lower Falls. Because of the narrow, constricted shape of the gorge in which these drops occur and the lack of public access, they are rarely noted. Most viewpoints in the valley miss them entirely. Several vantage points for the cascades are found along the Yosemite Falls trail. Several hikers climbing down from the trail towards the cascades have required an expensive helicopter rescue due to steep and slippery terrain and features.
Lower Falls: The final 320 ft drop adjacent to an accessible viewing area, provides the most-used viewing point for the waterfalls. Yosemite Creek emerges from the base of the Lower Falls and flows into the Merced River nearby. Like many areas of Yosemite the plunge pool at the base of the Lower Falls is surrounded by dangerous jumbles of talus made even more treacherous by the high humidity and resulting slippery surfaces.
In years of little snow, the falls may actually cease flowing altogether in late summer or fall. A very small number of rock climbers have taken the opportunity to climb the normally inaccessible rock face beneath the falls, although this is an extraordinarily dangerous undertaking; a single afternoon thunderstorm could restart the falls, sweeping the climbers off the face.
The Lower Falls are easily accessible near the Yosemite Lodge in Yosemite Valley. The top of the Upper Falls may be reached via a steep, strenuous, and usually crowded 3.50 mi hike beginning near the Sunnyside Walk-in Campground. The Upper Falls may also be reached via several routes from the Tioga Road to the north. (from Wikipedia.org)
I had hiked Half Dome the day before and today was happy to be chillin’ with family and friends down along the Merced River in Yosemite Valley. This area is called swinging bridge, though the bridge there doesn’t swing much. Perhaps an old bridge that is no longer there had a little more swing to it?? Anyways, this was a perfect place to spend the better part of the day barbecuing, biking to nearby scenic spots, playing with our nieces and nephew, and simply enjoying the river. This view is from the bridge and I liked it very much. I mean, come on – it’s incredible! I waited for the afternoon clouds to form and then used my dark filter to lengthen the exposure along with a nd grad – and voila! – here it is, one of my favorite images from the trip!
I’m not sure if I was just coming off the high from climbing Half Dome the day before or being wooed by the river, but I soon got in my mind that I had to swim across this – the Merced River. It certainly wasn’t for others. That was actually the main deterrent – the number of people that were around and on the bridge throughout most of the day. There would generally be a couple dozen people lingering around most of the time and I didn’t want this to be a “stunt”, but I decided I had to do it regardless and I’d have to just block them all out. Most every sane person would tell you the water was “freakin’ cold”! In fact, coming down from Half Dome the day before we stopped around Little Yosemite to enjoy the river for a spell and I put my head in the water for 10 seconds only to get severe brain freeze. Yes, you could say it was VERY cold, but my experience with cold water is that you can’t tell yourself it’s cold – so I blocked those thoughts out and rephrased them in my mind to use words like refreshing and invigorating.
I tried to recruit another to take on this challenge but couldn’t find anyone to make that tweak in their mind from cold to refreshing! I was on my own. It’s fine, no one has ever died from 90 seconds of cold water, I told myself. As the time neared and I stripped down to my board shorts, I tried to remain focused and just not think much about it. I got Rebecca setup with the camera so she could take pictures (this could be great stock) and then headed over to the beach to the left of this scene. The idea was to swim from there, straight out into the middle of the river and let the current take me under the bridge and exit a little down river by the bbq area. I didn’t wait long and I ran into the water and began to swim quite hard. The refreshing and invigorating water stung my skin and where I initially wanted to keep my hand down and stroke, I quickly found that I had to breathe more. Putting my head up, I saw that the current was taking me, maybe a little quicker than anticipated, toward the middle pylon of the bridge and a log jam-up. I stroke harder and missed it by a couple of feet. By the time I was 3/4 of the way across, I was getting tired and my freestyle stroke turned to a sidestroke, and of course this happened right where there was a circular current in the river that was stopping my forward momentum. I was ready to be out! 20 seconds more of strong swimming and I was at the edge. My skin felt like it was on fire and I had a bit of a headache – but no goose-bumps! That’s because I never told myself it was cold.
Later I began to recollect, a thought from deep within my memory banks (or made up completely..), that my brother had swam across this river as a boy. I would have been too young to attempt it at the time, but I wondered if this were why I had felt such a strong desire to swim this. To match him on something that I couldn’t have done at the time. I’m still not sure if I am remembering this right or not – I’ll have to ask him, but I thought it interesting anyways. What compels us to do the things we do? Are all our thoughts and compulsions rooted in some previous experience?
Anyways, it was a wonderful experience and a challenge. I find when I’m in nature I come up with these challenges for myself more frequently and naturally than I do in the “real world”, and that is certainly one of the things I love about nature. I am absolutely positive in saying – I am happiest while in nature!
In 1859 William (a.k.a. Waterman) S. Bodey discovered gold near what is now called Bodie Bluff. A mill was established in 1861 and the town began to grow. It started with about 20 miners and grew to an estimated 10,000 people by 1880! By that time, the town of Bodie bustled with families, robbers, miners, store owners, gunfighters and prostitutes of all kinds. At one time there was reported to be 65 saloons in town. Amongst the saloons were numerous brothels and ‘houses of ill repute’, gambling halls and opium dens. Needless to say that there was entertainment for every taste.
After a long day working the claims, the miners would head for the bars and the red light district to spend their earnings. The mixture of money, gold and alcohol would often prove fatal. It is said that there was a man killed every day in Bodie. Presumably, the undertaker never had a slow day.
There are records that say that William Body took a ship from New York, around the horn to end up in San Francisco. The name of the town was changed at some point in time, before the majority of the people made their way to Bodie. There are different stories as to why – one says it was to keep the correct pronunciation of town’s namesake. Another says that the sign painter didn’t have the room for the tail of the lower-case “y”.
There’s a story about a little girl whose family moved from San Francisco to Bodie. She wrote “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie”.
(above written on Bodie.com)
An average of one murder a day!? What a wild place! Was the church empty or was it a safe haven and packed with those seeking refuge from the dangerous streets of drunken greedy miners? Perhaps Sundays the church pews would fill with those seeking forgiveness from the prior weeks blurred late nights of gambling, drinking and violence. In any matter, I was most intrigued by the church in this old ghost town of the wild west. As my mind often works with making images, I wanted to make a time exposure in hopes of getting some movement in the clouds – and therefore a further dynamic to the image. Once I put on the dark filter and started my 60 second exposures, I realized the possibility of achieving the “ghost affect” with the other tourists visiting Bodie. Then, of course, it clicked! How perfect to try and have a ghost-like affect in a ghost town!
This turned out to be the final cover for the book, but unfortunately, I am not overly thrilled about the results. This is the 2nd time I’ve put time and energy into making a book with Blurb, and both times I felt disappointed when I finally received the much anticipated finished product. So, instead of sharing with you my excitement of this new book, I’ll instead give you a little review of the product and my perspective on Blurb so you can know what to expect if you plan on using their services to self-publish a book.
First of all, I do think that self-publishing like this is getting better and better and I strongly suspect it will eventually allow for “bookstore quality” books without having to spend 10-15k to publish a run of books. Eventually, you’ll be able to make individual books made-to-order that are as good as the coffee table books we pay 50+ dollars for at Borders, but regardless of what they say, these are not yet “bookstore quality.”
The first Blurb book I made, Time Exposed, took quite a number of hours to do. I’d say I spent at least 30 hours on it. This time was spent getting the picture files sorted out, sized and ready. Figuring out which images to include, a layout that flows in a sensible manner, finding and/or writing text to include, and then laying it all out with the software provided by Blurb – it ends up being a lot of work! After weeks of this, couple hours here and a few hours there, it was ready to publish. The book was printed and delivered fairly quickly, around a week, and I was very excited to flip through the 158 pages. But right out of the packaging, I was already disappointed with the cover. The cover image, which I had done with the “image wrap” style, simply did not look very good. The image was Cosmic Life and the deep rich blues in the upper corners were choked and transitioned poorly into black (which no blacks exist in the image!). I mean, I personally don’t agree with – you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Hell yes, you can! Not to mention there was a scratch on the back cover! You can certainly come to some conclusions simply by the cover and this wasn’t looking good. It didn’t get any better from there. Immediately upon opening the book, I noticed the paper quality was anything but the “bookstore quality” that they claim in their product. It felt thin and cheap, and just by turning the pages, dents in the paper were forming. Not good. To top it all off – the colors were a bit inconsistent throughout. After spending so much time on this, to say I was disappointed was an understatement. Sure, I should have slept on it and let myself settle down some, but I didn’t. Instead, I wrote an email to Blurb and it probably wasn’t the nicest letter.
Blurb responded promptly and I must say, they do seem to have good customer service. They began a new book and I sent that one in to be replaced, mainly due to the scratched cover. I was hoping for some kind of miracle, but the 2nd one was much of the same without the scratch. I didn’t announce the book to anyone and figured it would just sit on my bookshelf.
With a little time, my feelings settled and I forgot how frustrated I was over the book. Then, Blurb announced a Premium paper upgrade (that you pay extra for), and I thought – Wow, that could make a big difference. With Christmas around the corner, I ordered one and had it delivered to my parents. Now, I guess this is all relative and I’ll surely be more critical of the final product than anyone else because I put in the time and want it perfect, but my parents absolutely loved it and still mention it from time to time.
Months later and skipping up to this latest work – I’m 75% of the way finished with a series of black and whites and I’m thinking – a Blurb book might be worth another try. Better paper, black and white images so you can’t mess that up, right? I’ll do a smaller 8×10 book so it won’t cost as much… So, I get started on it. This time, I consciously try to stay patient and not rush it to get published. I work on it a couple hours here and a few hours there for over 2 months! Definitely, a good amount of time gets invested in this. In my mind, I’m hoping to use this book to help market this series of works, almost as a portfolio. I spend much time making sure the images are sharpened correctly. I make full pages in Photoshop with the images and text and simply plug-in full bleed pages as opposed to using their software, just to have total control as to how each page will turn out.
I finally send the book to the publisher and there’s no turning back then. Once again, Blurb is quite quick with getting the book printed and delivered and I have it in a week. This time, I go with the book cover instead of the Image wrap, because that was sucky last time. I kept the book to 80 pages in the 8×10″ size so it would be a little more affordable, in hopes to actually sell some books. Again, the book is packaged well and this time, I am quite happy when I unwrap the book. The cover looks amazing! Shiny and perfect and the image looks great! So far so good. I open the book and the feel of the paper is better – I’d call it getting quite close to what you expect from “bookstore quality”, but not quite there yet. Even as a still-new book, the pages are a bit wavy when you lay it flat on a table. No $50+ book from Borders does that!
It’s new…it has “Premium Paper” which costs more…it’s called “Bookstore Quality”, but it still is wavy??? Oh, and this problem tends to get worse with time.
The front cover turned out great this time! If only the whole book had been done this well…
The printing seems to have the most problems in the blacks and darker areas, and in the more extreme transition zones. It’s hard to see here in this picture, but the pointed out area is highly choked and it really ruins the image. Over 1/2 the images in the book either have this sort of choking, or lightly colored (!?) blue and purple rainbows (!?!?).
Again, this has bad choking, colored rainbows, and a much darker vignette than the image should have.
I want to like Blurb as a company. I like what they are trying to do, but I guess I just have to come to terms with the fact that the quality isn’t there yet. This sort of self publishing absolutely does not produce “bookstore quality” books and that’s a bummer. I wish it did because I would absolutely love to have a quality book out there in the world for people to view. Even if it were more expensive and I wouldn’t make any money on, which is generally the case with Blurb books. My first Time Exposed book costs me over $90 to make a 158 page book!! and the quality isn’t there. This Dark Coast book costs over $35 and it’s a small book of poor quality! What do I do with that!? I suppose my parents might be able to overlook the poor quality and enjoy it…
I had hoped to enter Blurb’s 2nd annual book competition with this book. It seems to be a reputable contest with many big name sponsors, but I don’t see how I can enter this. I had hoped to use this book as a tool to help market this series of images, but I certainly won’t be doing that either. Instead, I will most likely take both books off Blurb’s storefront, remove the announcement of the books from my facebook page and website, and start saving my $15k to do a real book the right way! And in the meantime, control the work I put out with excellent quality fine art prints.
So, if you are looking to make a book as a gift or for mom and dad, then you’ll probably be happy with Blurb. If you are thinking that you are gonna make a fine quality book of your work to sell, market, or show in public, then I’d recommend not wasting your time with this sort of publishing and start saving your fun-tickets to do it right. Unless of course, you have a better idea – then, please share it with me.
I mentioned in the previous post working with a different aesthetic and how liberating it has been. Really, I have been taking a whole new approach to making my images, the different aesthetic is really just a part of it. In the past, I would generally pre-visualize a scene, then go and work to create it. Or, I would scout out a location and figure out the light (and color) that I hope to get and then go, usually a number of times, until I was able to capture the image and the feel that I was after. For a landscape photographer, this is probably a general work style – find a dynamic scene and return time and time again until you’ve captured the essence of it. But that’s not what I’ve been doing the last months. Now, I am leaving the house with minimal gear, all fitting in a smaller camera bag slung around my shoulder and a tripod, and no predetermined ideas about what I may or may not shoot. I am trying to go out clean and to allow myself to be open to whatever may inspire me photographically. My success rate has been really unbelievable! How inspiring this has been! And surely there are many photographers who approach their work this way naturally and are thinking, “yeah, so what”, but for me it has been a big change. Perhaps for the first time as a photographer, I feel I am really being present and allowing the process of making images to simply unfold, and the results have showed with images coming more naturally than ever before.
Along with all this, which I feel is really just a natural procession of my work as a photographer, comes many new images and beginnings of studies. (This is another difference in my new approach – instead of just going out looking to make individual greatest hits, I am taking a subject that I am drawn to and photographing it in many ways and working with a mindset as to “study” a subject. Quite a different process as before.) Which leads me to this series of flight and boat paths at night.
I love to photograph at night for many reasons, the primary one being that I love the capture of time in a still image. Obviously, capturing extended time at night is a little easier than during the day because it is dark! As I have been heading out lately under the dark night skies, my attention has been drawn to the incoming flights that fly directly overhead the seaside park by my house, and the fishing boats in the bay with their lights on to attract their catch.
Working with these images, new ideas have formed and new studies are already on their way, having been spawned through the study of capturing the trails of light from planes and boats, neither of which I would have thought were much of a photographic subject had I thought about it. And maybe that’s the point to all this blabber – that thinking about what you are going to shoot is not always the best method. You hear coaches tell athletes,”Let the game come to you.” What exactly do they mean? The player has practiced practiced practiced and when game time comes, it’s time to stop thinking and just play – naturally, without thinking. Let the game come to you and flow naturally with it. That’s what the best players are able to do, and I suppose that is what I am talking about here. If you already take this approach to your work, good for you. If not, try it. Go out with your gear and have no thoughts or ideas about what subject you may photograph. Pick an area of interest and allow your attention to go where it may. You’ll know when to pull out the camera and let the game come to you.
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CLIFF BIRDS. STUDY 1. LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA 2009
If you follow my work at all, then you will have noticed that recently the work has taken on a different aesthetic. Although, my primary focus over the last several years has been based in bold color and often, the panoramic format, there has been quite a number of things that has led me to seeing and shooting differently as of late…and I must say, it has been a thrill!
Early on my photographic path, and as I embarked on landscape photography specifically, the works that were influencing me were color. Art Wolfe’s book Edge of the Earth Corner of the Sky was a big influence and still one of my personal favorite collections of photography. Many of those images touched me strongly and his use of capturing time resonated with me. Around this same time, I found panoramic photography and began educating myself on this aesthetic. One of the initial ideas of the panoramic that really resonated with me was – it is the most natural photographic formats to view with the human eyes, it is how we see. Sounds good, right? We do see wide. It was with this thought that I wanted to learn to capture the landscape in a wide panoramic format, and so I purchased a Linhof 617 and began to work at it.
The learning curve was steep for me, and I found some months of time and many shooting attempts passing by before I made what I felt was a successful image with the wide 3-to-1 format. You have to see the world different and the composition contains so much area, it becomes quite difficult to make every element make sense. I pressed on. It was probably two years before I began to feel somewhat comfortable and probably a third before I felt anything resembling confidence with the format. In the back of my head, I always wondered what it must feel like to find the perfect format (for me), where the work came more naturally. It was obvious that most other landscape photographers had found their ideal formats and weren’t going through these same struggles, right? I mean, whether it was Kenna and his Hassleblads, Wolfe with his 35mm, Fokos with his large format 8×10, it seemed that most weren’t going through these difficulties. To make matters worse, I was trying to mingle the panoramic format with the 6×7 medium format AND 35mm/DSLR formats, all making for a lot of confusion. Of course hindsight being 20/20, I now clearly see that for a developing photographer, this is madness!
I began working in photography galleries where the work was primarily hyper-color. Fuji Velvia and beyond. I spent several years talking with people about these works and the surreal colors and it clearly had an influence on my work. I shot only Fuji Velvia and chased after sweet light and moments of glorious color. Now, several years later, my thoughts and feelings regarding color, and specifically the hyper-colors in photographs, have somewhat changed. Not due to any one moment of epiphany but rather to a culmination of many things. Primarily, I began to see that, with the digital age in full swing, that people get hung up on the colors that I was accustomed to making. Whether it was done naturally with film did not matter, most people simply couldn’t allow themselves to view a bright colored piece and have the communication with it that I would hope because they couldn’t get past the color!
I think this is what happens – People think, hey, this isn’t how I see the world…I don’t see color like that in my everyday life, so it must be false…it must be Photoshopped and enhanced. With my work, I never really did try and create photographs to look exactly like the way you might with your eyes, I more tried to create images that would evoke a feeling or a line of thought. As an artist trying to communicate to the viewer, and to see the viewer continually not having this communication, seemingly due to this hang-up regarding color, was troubling at first, but led me to explore this topic deeper.
Amazingly, I never saw these same reactions from the viewer with black and white images. It is crazy to me, since we see the world in color, not black and white! Nonetheless, people seem more open and able to simply view the black and whites and I seldom saw these same hang-ups. Even when the black and white was heavily manipulated with a time exposure and dodging and burning vs. the color image that is very natural and straight out of the camera, 95% of the time, viewers would have no issue with the black and white and question the color!
Over time, my aesthetic was naturally becoming more simple. I was working harder to leave more out of the compositions. I was also working harder to leave more gear at home and to simplify my entire process with less gear, and therefore less decisions. With all of this mentioned and many other factors, I have, of late, been finding myself going out with one camera and one aesthetic – the black and white in a square box. I haven’t been shooting with anyone else in mind, but trying to solely focus on what I find intriguing in an image. This aspect of the photograph has remained constant – the capture of time in a still photograph is what I find most intriguing. Whether it’s a simple landscape with the movement of the ocean, people moving around a breakwall, or birds moving throughout the exposure, it’s this study of time that I am most drawn to capture. I can’t say I’m abandoning color, or the panoramic format, but this recent work has felt so liberating and has come so naturally to me. I have felt the way I always suspected of other photographers but never had fully experienced, totally at peace and at ease with the format and the aesthetic. The work has come more easily, more naturally, and whether it communicates to any viewer is completely unknown, but I can say – I don’t much care. Just the making of them has been pleasure enough.
THE WALL – MORPH. LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA 2009
My first visit to the Big Apple was a quick 19 hours, though I didn’t let that stop me from getting some shots. The first stop was under the Brooklyn Bridge for the late afternoon and sunset light. Unfortunately, I got off two frames before being escorted off the “State Park” premises. Apparently, I didn’t look like the typical tourist taking snapshots with a tripod, Lowepro pack full of gear, and a digi SLR and Horseman 617(!!) hanging from my person. When the Ranger asked me the purpose of my shooting, I figured “Art” would be a safe reply. I was wrong. Without the proper permits, nothing more than cheesy snapshots. Wow, these New Yorkers are hardcore!
I was on “Top of the Rock” at 10pm and again at 8am. The morning was much better. Again, difficult to shoot (especially at night!) since tripods are not allowed. Also, it took me awhile to figure out to get to the very top to have views that are not through the protective-glass. For the morning shot, I was there first thing and used a bean bag to help with the camera. That method worked alright, but I would have liked a mini-tripod or gorillapod (which I haven’t yet used, but will look to add one to the camera bag after this trip.)
I stayed at the Renaissance Hotel at Times Square, which was convenient for getting to “the Rock” and walking around shooting. I did do a number of long exposures and had no trouble using the tripod around town, though I was a bit paranoid that I’d get arrested or something! Next visit, I’ll probably look to get the required permit and save the stress.
All in all, I’d call my 19 hours in New York a shooting success. The above images were some of my favorite from the digi and I still have a number of film images that I like. A project that I had been brainstorming for a couple of years about a collection of New York images is even more clear in my mind now and I can’t wait to get back and spend a good amount of time manifesting it sometime in the future. The trip also acted as a useful lesson that not all successful images necessarily come from endless hours/days/weeks of pursuit, but more from the internal spark of inspiration and passion. New York definitely lit me up.