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Buffalo with Brendan Bannon

Brendan Bannon in the Middle of Things

Brendan Bannon in the Middle of Things

I have long known how to get in the middle of a landscape and have no issues wading waste deep in a swamp, bushwhacking off a trail with my machete, or lying down over the edge of a cliff to get in the middle of things, but I am way more reticent when it comes to people.  I decided I wanted to learn how to do more justice to people in my photos and how to create more compelling stories, so I went to the best–Brendan Bannon.  We were going to photograph the Burmese fishing, but the weather was pretty chilly and we didn't find many fishermen at first.  We did find a group of guys playing volley ball though.  I wasn't really sure how photographing sports was going to do me any good, since my children are all grown and I am no longer photographing their sporting events.  I soon became aware that I was being given an invaluable lesson.  Brendan suddenly told me to go in and lie down on the field under the net.  I, of course, was chicken.  He asked permission and went and did it instead and the image above shows the reaction he got. The young men were a bit surprised at first and then continued on with their game.

Why I Love Brendan Bannon

Why I Love Brendan Bannon

The photograph above shows Brendan in the thick of things shooting blind, but anticipating every action nonetheless. He seemed to be having as much fun as the players.  He was also so aware of his own body in relation to the athletes that none of them seemed to fearful of his being in the middle of their playing field.  He later explained that photographing from inside the game instead of watching it from without and lying down and allowing himself to become vulnerable in relation to the people he was photographing would give his images a unique and immersive perspective.

Waiting for the Ball to Drop

Waiting for the Ball to Drop

Finally I got up my courage and went in under the net.  I was half up and half down and Brendan ever so kindly said either I had to trust them 100 percent and lie down, or I had to get up and leave the field.  The half in half out method was not going to work, just like it never does in life.  I made several images of people fighting over the ball at the net or leaping in the air to spike it, but the image that really expressed my feelings that day was this one.  I loved how every fiber of this young man's being is strained waiting for the ball to drop.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I was never 100% confident lying under the net.  This image was taken from my three quarters of the way down one quarter up position (the closest to the ground I managed to get) before he made contact with the ball and sent it on its way.  There is anticipation, a somewhat hesitant stance, but total engagement on the part of this athlete who was giving it his all but was not the super star with the red shoes, trendy haircut, jersey, and regulation sports pants that had first grabbed my attention.  This was a regular guy who was still in the game waiting to connect with a lofty ball and pass it along. I identified with this guy. Still, in the future I will work on getting 100 percent on the ground metaphorically speaking.

Immigrants Fishing and Photographing on the Niagraa River at the  a the Black Rock Canal Locks

Fishing and Photographing by the Confluence of the Niagara River and the Black Rock Canal

After the volley ball game, we did encounter some fishermen.  A boat that had just come through the locks and they'd seemed very impressed as it passed by.  This one young man continued photographing it until it was well in the distance. According to the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, over 80 species of fish have been recorded and it is still a popular fishing spot despite the impact of industry and development on water quality.  This has resulted in "chemical contamination from PCBs, mirex, chlordane, PAHs, dioxin, and pesticides."  The Niagara River has been listed as an Area of Concern by the International Joint Commission, a regulatory agency of U.S.-Canada shared waters. In addition there are frequent fish consumption advisories.  Yet immigrants and others economically disadvantaged people still fish in polluted areas. Sustenance living is an ongoing issue in this country and all people deserve access to fishable, drinkable water. In addition, as more contaminants enter our waterways, the entire food chain is becoming increasingly compromised.  This is an issue that affects all people.

Birds Flying Over a Cargo Ship, Niagara River

Birds Flying Over a Cargo Ship, Niagara River

The ship must have stirred up the fish that may have been lower down in the water column due to the cooler temperatures.  Before the ship went through, there had been no birds but suddenly, being opportunists, they filled the air and began diving for the surfacing fish.  I could see why this was a popular fishing spot.

Being Pushed Through the Black Rock Lock by a Tug

Being Pushed Through the Black Rock Lock by a Tug

This man had been on this vessel all winter and had loved it.  He said they had to take the canal, because the Niagara River was so shallow near here.  The lock was constructed between 1908-1913 by the Army Corps of Engineers.  The lock, the Black Rock Channel and the Erie Canal provide an inland water route between Lake Erie and the Atlantic Ocean.  Though it is an important shipping channel, locks and channels disturb the natural riparian banks.  The Black Rock Canal and Erie Basin continue to be impaired by PCB's and sewer overflows.

Tree Growing in Trapped Dirt Along a Pier, Niagara River

Tree Growing in Trapped Dirt Along a Pier, Niagara River

I was stunned to see this tree somehow growing along the pier.  Enough dirt must have gotten trapped along the rocks in much the same way trash had as well.   There were signs that it was going to begin leafing out soon.  It always amazes me to see the persistence of life in unlikely places. Development and industry along the river have altered habitat and water quality, as with most rivers in the United States.  According to the Riverkeeper, over "60% of the shoreline is lined with sheet metal or rock boulders that are difficult and dangerous to traverse for both people and animals."  (http://bnriverkeeper.org/places/niagara-river/

Cargo Ship and Tug Seen Through the Fence

Cargo Ship and Tug Seen Through the Fence

Everywhere I go, locks are protected by fences with barbed wire and guards–the larger the locks and dams the larger the security presence.  Yet the protection afforded nature is minimal by comparison.  

Boom by the Black Rock Canal

Boom by the Black Rock Canal

This boom was likely in place to prevent construction materials used in lock repairs from entering the river.  These are the devices typically used near construction projects on waterways as well as for oil and other chemical contamination spills. The problem is that they merely soak up and block surface water pollution. Most times I see evidence of oil sheen or contimination that has seeped through below.  Booms work best in calm water and are only 10 percent effective in open seas or turbid waters, and the Niagra River has turbidity issues due to large boats and weather conditions. Saturated booms cannot be reused either and their disposal is a big issue.  (http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/a15666/santa-barbara-oil-spill-skimmers-and-booms/).    

Wastewater Pipe and Coal and Oil Train, Niagara River

Wastewater Pipe and Coal and Oil Train, Niagara River

This section of the Niagara River is right in front of the Bird Island wastewater treatment plant, which began operating in 1938. In 2014, he Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper worked to push the EPA and Sewer Authority to prevent billions of gallons from raw sewage from flowing directly into the river. Buffalo and older cities across the county have combined sewer systems, which mix human waste and stormwater runoff together..  During heavy rain events, there is too much stormwater for the systems to process and it is dumped untreated into waterways. The agreement between the EPA and the Sewer Authority allocated $41 million in upgrades.  After seeing how old that plant is, I was relieved to learn the need for improvements had been recognized although reaching that goal was 20 years away from the time of the agreement, so bacterial pollution continues.  (http://buffalonews.com/2014/04/20/sewer-authoritys-long-overdue-plan-will-slash-pollution-of-the-niagara-river/).  

In the 2016 Riverwatch Report, the Buffalo Niagar Riverkeeper reported that though the Niagara River is "a source of drinking water for much of the region. The NYSDEC considers this use to be threatened by known contamination from toxic sediment and suspected contamination from combined sewer overflows and urban stormwater runoff." In addition, while I was surveying the impaired riparian banks, a train carrying bakken crude oil and other fossil fuels from Canada passed over the bridge into the United States. It is essential that we uphold the Clean Water Act and continue to raise awareness of water quality issues.  Water is a diminishing resource as it is, and we cannot allow more of our waterways to be impaired to the point that they are no longer viable as drinking water sources.