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Archive for May, 2011

Rollergirl, She’s Taking Chances

But the rollergirl she’s taking chancesToxic 253 Trio
They just love to see her take them all
                    Skateaway, Dire Straits

My next-door neighbor, Leah, is on a roller derby team – the Toxic 253. (253 is Tacoma’s area code.) Her rollergirl name is Slim Shanky. The Toxic 253 is a relatively new and inexperienced team. Last Saturday, Tanya and I went to the Toxic 253 bout against Team Bravo, a team from Fort Lewis. The conditions weren’t very good for photography – indoors, fairly dark, bright windows in the background, fast-moving subjects. I ended up pumping up my ISO to 3200 and worked with shutter speeds from 1/30 to 1/200 seconds with f-stops typically around f4 to f5.6. But it was fun shooting the event. Here’s a few highlights.

Jammer Block 
Pack Action
Slim Shanky Faces the Competition  Toxic 253 Bench
Block Out
Action on the Corner
Slim Shanky as Jammer
Jammer Waits for the Start
Toxic Bench Enjoys the Show
Before the Fall
Flying Skates
Bravo Girl

The Lost Sunset

Olympic Sunset

My "lost sunset" taken at the Skokomish River delta along Hood Canal.

Last week Tanya, Carson (our Newfoundland), and I circumnavigated Hood Canal. (For those not familiar with Washington State geography, Hood Canal is not a canal. It is a natural saltwater channel, essentially a fiord – long and narrow- that runs along the east side of the Olympic Mountains.)  I was hunting for good photographs. Tanya and Carson went along for the ride. We first stopped at Shine Tidelands State Park, on the west side of the Hood Canal Bridge. The tide was very low, and we saw some interesting sea life. Carson took a swim, or more like a wade (he seems to be the only Newfoundland in the world that doesn’t like going in water deeper than where he can touch the bottom). Not much photographically, but fun nonetheless.

Moon snail

Moon snail at Shine Tidelands State Park. The shell on these snails about about 4 inches across.

We continued west and then south, through Quilcene to Mount Walker. I was hoping to get some forest shots of wild rhododendrons. The road to the top of Mount Walker is lined with them. Unfortunately, we only saw one bud just starting to open. That’s it. We probably saw 2,500 rhodies, but no blooms. To make matters worse, it was raining on the top of Mount Walker. There are two viewpoints up there. At the northern viewpoint, we could only see a couple dozen yards. At the southern one, there was a hole in the clouds, so I did trip the shutter a few times (in the rain) looking down on a sunny Hood Canal and Puget Sound. Nothing too special, but it gave me a chance to use my rain sleeve.

After driving back down to the highway, and a quick-lunch stop, we continued on to Brinnon. There we stopped at Whitney Gardens and Nursery. Whitney Gardens includes over 7 acres of rhododendrons and azaleas, seemingly in peak bloom, as well as other plants and trees. It was not crowded, most people were staying in the nursery portion of the grounds. I had the garden to myself. With the sun in and out of the clouds, I was watching out for too much contrast. So I  looked for compositions mostly in the shade or when the sun was behind the clouds. After about an hour and a half, I’d had my fill of rhodies.


Rhododendron at Whitney Gardens in Brinnon, Washington

We then drove up the Dosewallips River Road to look for river and forest scenes. We pasted a herd of elk on the way out of Brinnon, as I didn’t have the big glass (big for me anyway) on the camera. I decided to shoot the elk on the way back. We stopped a Rocky Brook Falls and it had a good flow. The sun was fully out now, and the contrast was too much for any decent waterfall shots. But back at the car, we found it wouldn’t start! We had the starter replaced about a week earlier, but since it was “fixed”, it sometimes wouldn’t start when the engine is hot. So we had to wait, but that just gave me more time at Rocky Brook. By now the clouds had come back some and the contrast had dropped considerably. I was able to capture a decent shot of the creek and a better one of the falls.


My typical shot of the elk when they saw my camera!

On the next try, the car started right up, and we drove to the end of the road. On the way back, I took a few shots of the Dosewallips River and put on the 70-200mm lens with a teleconvertor to shoot the elk when we got back toward town. The elk were still there, now on both sides of the road. They apparently didn’t like the looks of me, because they sure turned their backsides toward the camera whenever I stuck it out the window!

Back on the highway, we continued south. At the Hamma Hamma River, we again drove in toward the Olympic Mountains. I took a few shots of the river, but not much else caught my eye, so it was back to the highway. But a short ways down the highway, at the mouth of the Hamma Hamma, there was a good view over Hood Canal. The tide was now high, and the Hamma Hamma delta was flooded. I liked the flooded grasses in the delta with big towering clouds on the other side of the canal.

Rocky Brook Falls

Rocky Brook Falls near Brinnon, Washington

We skipped the drive up to Staircase and stopped at the Tacoma Power park at Potlatch for a picnic dinner, though it was a bit cold to eat outside the car. After dinner, Carson took another “swim” off the boat ramp. Then it was on to the far side of Hood Canal near Union to find a good spot for sunset shots. Earlier in the day I would have bet we would not have seen a sunset, it was that cloudy. But now, there was the chance for a colorful one. We drove up and down the highway south of Union, and I finally decided on a spot overlooking the Skokomish delta, with Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains in the background. The mountains were mostly covered with clouds, but the sunset wasn’t bad. Based on the featured photo on this blog, you be the judge.

I spent about an hour at the spot, first waiting for the sun to set, than shooting about 180 frames. I had used most of an 8 GB card earlier in the day, so for these sunset shots, I put in a new 4 GB card. I was pretty happy with the results and we headed home.

By this time, you might be wondering why this blog entry is titled “The Lost Sunset.” Well, the next day I downloaded the 8 GB card with no problem. I was using an external hard drive with a card reader attached with a USB cable to my computer, downloading directly to Lightroom and backing up at the same time. When I stuck the card in with the sunset shots, it went in a little funny. Lightroom showed the first two shots and the very last shot, all the rest were nothing but white frames with lots of color noise. I pulled the card out and saw one of the pins on the card reader bent flat. I put the card back into the camera, and the camera failed to recognize it. The card was corrupt and my sunset shots were lost. I felt slightly sick.

Hood Canal at the Hamma Hamma delta.

Hood Canal at the Hamma Hamma delta.

At the time I didn’t own any file recovery software. The following day I did some research on the internet, and downloaded a couple of free programs. Both these succeeded in pulling some old photographs off the corrupt memory card – photos left over from an old shoot, shots that had been erased when I reformatted the card prior to the card at Hood Canal. Neither was able to same the sunset shots. I had heard that PhotoRescue was good program, so I downloaded it. Though it costs about $30, it allows you to try before you buy by showing thumbnail images of the files it can recovery. It seemed to work, and $30 later, I had my lost sunset shots.

I guess the morale of the story is don’t force your compact flash memory cards into a card reader. If they don’t go in smoothly, try lining it up again. And if all else fails, try PhotoRescue. It rescued me.

Rhododendron macro

Macro of the rhodie at Whitney Gardens

Dosewallips River

Dosewallips River

Skokomish delta sunset

Another from the lost sunset set.

Notes from the TPN Seattle Convention

Pike Place Pig

Pike Place Market is known for its bronze pig.

This blog finishes up re-publishing articles I wrote for the Travel Photographers Network. Where do travel photographers go when in Seattle? To find out, read this articl eabout the August 2007 meeting of the Travel Photographers Network.

Not sure what to expect, I rolled out of bed at 5:30 to try and get to Seattle before 7:00. Sure I had met these people on-line at TPN, and we comment on each other’s images in the forums, but I’m apprehensive. Meeting someone in person is totally different than on line. Tom Guffey suggested meeting for breakfast at Lowell’s restaurant in the Pike Place Market, so after finding a rare parking spot on the street, I walked into Lowell’s at 7:00 on the nose and didn’t see a soul with a camera. Lowell’s is a fairly small place, but it does cover three floors (a description that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but trust me on this one), and going to the top floor I finally spy someone with a camera. We kind of looked at each other and ventured, “Are you with the travel photographers?”

Market Flowers

Cut flowers for sale at Pike Place Market in Seattle

 It was Dan Parker, up from Colorado. Then looking down the stairs there were more cameras. A few quick introductions later and I had met Tim Goodspeed, from Portland, Oregon, and the master of the show himself, Jim White. We and grabbed a big, round table on the top floor with a view of Elliot Bay. Soon, Tom Guffey showed up and, finally, Sheril Foust. A small turnout perhaps, but a group overflowing with photographic talent (not to mention, as I was to find out later, a lot of BS as well).

 The “convention” actually started the night before (Friday), when several of the attendees met for liquid refreshments in the Marriott lounge. Saturday’s session started with eggs, bacon, hash browns, orange juice, and coffee (one must have coffee in Seattle, where there are usually more than four coffee shops within any city block).  Over breakfast, Jim asked people’s opinions concerning the TPN site: what we liked or disliked, what improvements could be made, or how the site could be changed for the better, ideas for attracting and keeping a larger membership. Every convention must have some “housekeeping” work to do, and I guess this was it for this one.

 Then talk turned to what to photograph. Tom played local host, at least for Saturday. He distributed Seattle maps, indexed with 30 great photographic locations.  A second sheet gave a description of each location along with the type of photos that might be taken there. A thumbnail photograph taken from the location also accompanied each description. We talked about where to go, but the first choice was easy. We were sitting in one of the premier travel photography locations in the city: Pike Place Market, or number 6 on the Guffey List.

American Pig

Pig statue and American flag at Pike Place Market in Seattle

 We ventured back downstairs, and the marketplace that had been relatively empty at 7:00 a.m. was now bustling. Cameras were pulled out and image making begun. Pike Place Market is more than a farmer’s market in the heart of the city; it’s a mélange of everything Seattle. It has fish, fruit, flowers and forest; wine, water, beer and coffee; there are men in business suits, men in fishing overalls, and homeless men; tourists and locals; shoppers and protesters; and above all, a lot of photographic subjects. As it turned out, the 100th anniversary of the market was the week we were there, so the market was extra crowded and extra crazy. We fanned out and shot like crazy.

 Somehow, we all found each other again, near a street performer playing an erhu (a two-stringed Chinese violin; I can’t report that he was making much money), taking pictures of a man with a parrot. Jim started asking about pub’s (turns out Jim White is almost always asking about pubs), so we ventured over to an Irish pub (Kells) located in the Post Alley portion of the market. There, we drank liquid refreshments while Jim regaled us with stories of Israeli Mossad  agents and old Swiss women (believe me, you had to be there to understand). After more discussions about where what and when to shoot, we headed off to the Center for Wooden Boats & the Maritime Heritage Museum, also known as number 11 on the Guffey List.

Small Steam Powered Boat

Small steam powered boat on Lake Union at the Center for Wooden Boats and Maritime Hertitage Museum

The Center for Wooden Boats is on the southern shore of Lake Union, at the northern end of downtown Seattle; a brief car ride from the market. The center has more than 100 restored, historic wooden boats and is adjacent to the Maritime Heritage Museum. The weekend of the TPN convention, it was hosting an event featuring steam-powered boats. We wandered the docks, photographing boats, steam engines, and reflections.

 Tired and hungry, the crew decided to head back down to the waterfront to recharge batteries (in the hotel) and stomachs at a seafood restaurant. We chose Anthony’s Pier 66 across the street from the recharging batteries (at the Marriott). This was also a choice location because next to the restaurant is a pier-top view of the waterfront, also known as number 3 on the GuffeyList.

Street Light Dragon

_ Dragon on street light pole in the International District

 After crashing a wedding reception that had reserved said pier-top view (well actually, we only crashed the party set up, but they did lock the gate after us), we headed over to the Marriott lounge for some liquid refreshment while waiting for the golden hours near sunset.

 The golden hours didn’t appear, clouds did. But one doesn’t have the chance to photograph Seattle everyday (or at least for four of the six of us); so clouds or not, we drove around the bay to West Seattle and found a great spot along Alki Beach with a view of downtown, also known as number 1 on the Guffey List. Daylight faded, and we captured the evening blues and downtown lights. Day one was over, and with it the skies were threatening rain. Tom Guffey begged off on day two; and I drove home not if I would return the next day or not. The company was great, but I can shoot Seattle in the rain anytime.

 Sunday morning didn’t bring rain, but there wasn’t much sun either. I stayed home and dug a ditch (somewhat telling as to the conditions that I would stay home to dig a ditch rather than go shooting). But as I dug, the clouds parted, and it started to look like a halfway decent day. I traded the shovel for my camera and headed back.

 Meanwhile, after a disappointing sunrise, Tim Goodspeed headed home to Portland. Dan was staying up on Whidbey Island and, like me, was slow in getting back to the city. So Jim and Sheril walked down the waterfront to see the Seattle Aquarium, also known as number 4 on the Guffey List. Around noon, both Dan and I appeared at the Marriott and now, with the group down to four, we again ventured out. We walked down the waterfront, which was crowded with tourists and seagulls, over to the Pioneer Square district, also known as number 7 on the Guffey List.

 Pioneer Square, at the southern end of downtown, is Seattle’s oldest neighborhood. It is a National Historic District and contains a portion of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park (the other portion is in Skagway, Alaska). We indeed found historic buildings, squares, statues, and totems. We even found a waterfall (in the Waterfall Garden, a small park that marks the birthplace of the United Parcel Service). Jim led us down a dark back alley to see some of the underside of the city. This spot was not on the Guffey List, so we labeled it number 31.

 We continued our walking tour, soon encountering dragons on the street lights: a sign we were entering the International District, also known as number 8 on the Guffey List. This district houses many Asian restaurants and shops. However, it seemed the favorite subject in the International District was a huge flock of pigeons, easily numbering over one thousand. Also not on the Guffey List, we labeled this spot number 32.

Details of buildings in Pioneer Square, Seattle

Details of buildings in Pioneer Square

 Back through Pioneer Square, taking time to photograph Pioneer Square Park and Pergola (which dates from 1905), we walked back to the waterfront, stopping again at number 3 for more shots from the top of Pier 66 (sans wedding reception). Then back over to the Marriott for liquid refreshment and relaxation.

 Hunger called, so with our final photographic destination in mind, we piled in my car and headed to the base of Queen Anne Hill. There, we found another more liquid refreshments in yet another Irish pub and enjoyed a meal of buffalo wings (which Jim reports are not commonly found in England) and salad (okay, it was only celery sticks that came with the wings). The evening promised better light than the day before, and as the sunset approached, we drove up to Kerry Park, also known as number 10 on the Guffey List.

 Kerry Park is halfway up Queen Anne Hill, just north of downtown Seattle. It has a fantastic view of the city, Elliott Bay, and Mount Rainier. The mountain was not visible that evening, but the sunset wasn’t bad, and as the lights of the city came on, we clicked away.

 With that, and of course some more liquid refreshment at the Marriott lounge after the Kerry Park shoot, the TPN convention was over. I started the weekend apprehensive about meeting people I only knew from on-line. I ended with more good memories than pictures (that’s saying something considering number of compact flash cards I filled!).

Protest at the Market

Pike Place Market, home to produce and protests

Alki Point at Sunset

Sunset over West Seattle and Puget Sound

King Street Station

King Street Station - the train station in downtown Seattle

Wooden Boat Details

Details of a boat at the Wooden Boat Center

The Gibraltar of Greece – Monemvasia

Main Square Monenvassia

A view looking down on the main square area of the ancient town of Monemvassia also known as the Gilbraltar of Greece.

As with my last blog, this blog re-publishes an article I wrote for the Travel Photographers Network, this time back in 2004. It is  travel essay covering the town and island of Monemvasia, off the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece. The photos included with this article were all captured in 2003 on slide film, prior to me owning a digital SLR. Several of these images have sold for use in Greek publications. Monemvasia is off the beaten path for most Americans visiting Greece. I highly recommend it; it’s a great place to visit, especially for a photographer.

With the recent Summer Olympics in Athens, there has been a renewed interest in Greece. For many travelers, especially Americans, a trip to Greece is synonymous with a trip to one of the Greek Isles. Popular Greek islands such as Santorini, Rhodes, Crete, and others are wonderful places to visit, but they can add substantially to a trip’s time and budget. For photographers on a budget, either time or dollar-wise, there is a little known, historic and photogenic alternative – the island of Monemvasia.

Compared to most of Greece, Monemvasia is young. The island itself is less than 2,000 years old, having split off the Peloponnese peninsula during an earthquake in 375 A.D. In the 1,629 years that followed, the island went from uninhabited to a powerful city of over 50,000 to the present-day village that has neither a bank nor post office. Over that time span, Monemvasia has survived attacks by Avars, Slavs, Arabs, Normans, Crusaders, Turks, and Franks. It has been ruled by the Byzantine Empire, Rome, Venice, the Ottoman Empire, and independent Greece.

Known as the “Gibraltar of Greece,” the key to Monemvasia’s history is that it is a natural fortress, easy to defend from both sea and land. It is easily accessible to the mainland and at a key location on Mediterranean trade routes. The name Monemvasia means “single gate.” The name applies to both the town, accessed by a single portal, and the island, accessible by land from a single point.

Bell Tower in Monemvassia Greece

The bell tower which borders the main square in the ancient city of Monemvassia, Greece

Byzantine Greeks fleeing marauding barbarians first settled the island in the 6th century. They built a double-walled city, with a lower town on the southern slope of the island monolith and an upper town built on its flat-topped summit. The island grew in importance. At a time when Athens was reduced to a mere village, Monemvasia grew to be the most important maritime city in southern Greece – a port of call for all commercial ships plying the waters between Constantinople and Italy. Monemvasia’s strategic importance made it the scene of epic sieges. When the Byzantine Empire fell at the end of the Middle Ages, the Greeks turned to Venice for protection. However, Venice and the Ottoman Empire traded rule of the island over the next several hundred years. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the city sank into insignificance, as many of its Greek families left or were killed in a rebellion against the Turkish government. Monemvasia was freed from the Turks during the Greek War of Independence in 1821 when its Turkish inhabitants were, in turn, massacred following a three-month siege.

Following the Greek independence and even with an influx of Greeks to their former home, Monemvassia shrank even more. In 1911, the upper portion of the town was totally abandoned, and in 1971, the population shrank to its low mark of 32 inhabitants. Today, it looks very much a medieval town with a mix of Byzantine, Venetian, and Turkish influences; a maze of pathways between crumbling ruins, restored house, castle walls, and Byzantine churches zigzagging up rocky slopes. At times it can seem crowded owing to its small size and an influx of weekenders from Athens, yet with its frescoed churches, cobbled streets and paths, and abundant flowers, the town remains peaceful.

A half-mile causeway connects the island to its neighboring town of Gefyra. The causeway is closed to cars between June and September. Even off-season, cars are never allowed inside the town gate. From the gate inward, it is foot traffic only. From the mainland, Monemvasia doesn’t appear to be much, a few rampart remnants on top of its rocky heights. Even from the city gate, not much is visible. The gate is built into an impressive, 20-foot tall castle wall, but nothing is visible beyond the wall or through the gate.

Stepping through the portal into the town is like stepping back in time. Visitors entering the town walk from the small parking area outside the gate into darkness, wend through two 90-degree turns in a short tunnel, and step out into an oddly mixed touch of the 21st century and the Middle Ages. Small shops in 800-year old buildings line the narrow, main street selling tee shirts, souvenirs, soda, and Kodak film. Side streets, barely wide enough for two to walk abreast, branch off without apparent reason leading to restored houses, piles of ruins, churches, and the sea wall. Outside the shops and other commercial establishments, the 21st century is largely absent. The town has been restored with electrical wiring, plumbing, and antennas hidden from view.

The main street leads to the town square, which contains an impressive bell tower, topped with a white cross, an ancient well, and an old cannon overlooking the Aegean Sea. The largest surviving Byzantine Church in southern Greece, the Church of Christ Helkomenos (Christ in Chains) built in 1293 by Emperor Andranikos II Komnenos, also borders the square. The church is a domed, three-aisled basilica with a barrel-vaulted roof. Inside are frescos, portable icons, and an Episcopal throne. Across the square is the small, domed former church Agios Petros (St. Peter), which today houses an archaeological collection dedicated to Monemvasia. This museum was originally built in the 16th century as a Muslim mosque, was later converted to a church, a prison, and a coffee shop. The museum opened in 1999 and is admission free.

After the town square, the main street is seemingly lost among a number of smaller streets leading uphill toward the ruins of the upper town, or further eastward to less restored sections of town. One side street leads southward to a small sea gate through the base of the castle wall. Numerous other churches, in varying states of repair, can be found in the lower town. These include the Church of Panagia (Our Lady) Mirtidiotissa, built around 1700 that today stands as a virtual ruin, though it still houses a small altar with religious offerings and a flickering candle. The recently restored, 16thcentury Church of Panagia Hrysaphitissa has beautifully white-washed walls and overlooks the sea. Others churches are dedicated to St. Nicholas, St. Anne, St. Anne the Catholic, St. Andrew, and St. Demetrois. In total, the former city had more than 40 churches.

Room with a cistern

The sitting area within the “cistern room” at Ardemis Apartments. The glass-topped table in the photograph is the opening to a cistern formally used as an ancient water supply.

A steep, winding path leads from the lower town, though an iron gate, to the remains of the upper castle and town. Most of the upper town remains in ruins, overgrown with vegetation. Maps available at the museum show the locations of old cisterns, houses, churches, and fortifications. At the far end of the island, standing alone among the ruins, is the Church of Agia Sophia, perched high above the Aegean Sea on the edge of a cliff. A smaller version of the more famous St. Sophia in Istanbul, Monemvassia’s Agia Sophia is an octagonal domed church dating back to 1150.

Spending the night in Monemvasia is magical. There are several hotels in town, and all are unique. The largest is the Malvasia, which has rooms scattered throughout town in restored, traditional buildings. Another is the Lazareto, which is built in an ancient hospital. The Kellia is a converted monastery. During our visit in Monemvasia, we stayed in the Ardamis Apartments, a small hotel with five rooms. Our room was built in the 1200s and contained a spotlighted opening to an ancient cistern, converted to a glass-covered coffee table, and a sunken bedroom. The walls were built of local rock and contained fossils. The room had a small patio, with a gate that opened to the sea wall. Nighttime is quiet and dark; there is no air or light pollution to interrupt an evening spent sipping wine on the patios of the few restaurants in town. We spent two nights there, and both mornings we were awakened by the clip-clop of packhorses outside our door, hauling baskets of construction materials from the town gate.

Photographic opportunities abound in Monemvasia. Besides the churches, there are ancient stone walls, castle fortifications, and an endless supply of flowers in the spring and summer. The locals are friendly. Cats and dogs have free reign in the town’s restaurants, gladly posing in exchange for a scrap under the table. The town of Gefyra is a half-mile walk and presents its own photogenic sights. The town has a small harbor and waterside cafes. The day’s catch (when we were there, it was octopus) can be seen hanging from clotheslines on balconies above the cafes.

Monemvasia can be reached in six hours from Athens by car. There are also daily buses from Athens. Hydrofoil service to Gefyra is available in the summer.

Gefyra Harbor

Boats in the Gefyra harbor; the island monolith of Monemvasia is in the background

Cat for Breakfast

Cats have free reign in Monemvasia and are a common sight at Monemvasian restaurants. Here one lies in the sun at a restaurant rooftop patio above the town square.

Chasing History in Georgia

Line of civil war cannons at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

This blog re-publishes an article I wrote in 2007. It is  travel essay covering photogenic historical sites in Georgia including the City of Savannah, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Andersonville National Historic Site, Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site, and others.

It was first published by the Travel Photographers Network, also known as TPN. I’ve discovered broken links on my website to several articles previously published there. The links broke when the Travel Photographers Network overhauled their website. The articles may or may not be republished by TPN, but until then, over the next several days, I’ll republish those articles here on my blog so I can re-establish links.

Standing in a rain-soaked, grassy field, I could barely see the line of artillery at the misty edge of the forest trees. Around me are other artillery pieces sporting big, brown-spoked wheels, their cannons green with age; some slightly rusty. Nearby are stacks of cannonballs, placed where officers fell and died. The higher the stack, the higher the dead soldier’s rank. Though peaceful today, in my mind it’s easy to imagine lines of gray and blue men, struggling, fighting, and dying.

Cannon in front of the visitor's center, an old southern mansion, at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Miiltary Park and Battlefield

Throughout much of the United States, it’s difficult to get a true sense of the historic. Unlike Europe and much of the rest of the world, America is just too young for a visitor to feel much history, such as one instinctively feels standing at the Acropolis in Athens or the Coliseum in Rome. But here, in the midst of Georgia at the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, history impregnates the scenery. The same is true in much of Georgia, which is filled with important American historical sites from aboriginal times, the colonial days, the American Civil War, and even modern times. Georgia boasts twelve sites in the National Park system, nine of which are related to American history. Most are within a day’s drive of Atlanta. Visiting these nationally recognized sites presents the travel photographer with a wealth of visually stimulating and historical opportunities.

The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park encompasses a broad area of forests and fields in northern Georgia near the town of Fort Olgethorpe. It is one of the few spots in the United States where the Confederates won a Civil-War victory (the Confederate south of course, later lost the war to the Union north). Here, in 1863, General Braxton Bragg lead 43,000 Southern soldiers in defeating 66,000 Union soldiers headed by General William S. Rosencrans. The defeat directly lead to Ulyssess S. Grant assuming overall command of the Union forces. Grant later became President of the United States. The visitor center is housed in a southern mansion and offers descriptions of the battle, as well as a large collection of rifles used not only in the Civil War, but also throughout American history. The park is filled at seemingly odd locations with monuments to regiments from both sides, stacks of cannon balls where officers died, and lines of cannons and mortars, all which can make interesting photo opportunities.

Unknown Soldier Grave amongst thousand of Cival War headstones at Andersonville National Cemetery

I found the Andersonville National Historic Site in south-central Georgiato be truly moving. Andersonville, also known as Camp Sumter, was the largest of the Confederate military prisons operating during the Civil War. Today, the prison site itself is a broad, sunny, grassy field with a few sections of wooden stockade wall. It’s hard to imagine the 34,000 men packed into a 26.5-acre prison area, surviving with little fresh water and poor sanitation. The reality of the prison’s history is more tangible at the National Cemetery also situated on the Historic Site grounds. Row after row of white marble gravestones mark the resting place of the 13,000 prisoners who died at the camp. Other sections of the cemetery are reversed for American veterans from other wars. Also built at Andersonville is the National Prisoner of War Museum, which tells not only the story of the Civil War prison, but also memorializes American prisoners of war from the Revolution to the first Gulf War. All together, the museum, cemetery, and former prison grounds provide many poignant photographic subjects. A telephoto lens is particularly useful in the National Cemetery for compressing thousands of gravestones into a single image.

Perhaps there is no place in Georgia where history is more alive than in Savannah. The city was founded in 1733 and was America’s first planned city. Its founder, James Oglethorpe, laid out the city in a grid pattern with wide boulevards and 24 squares; 21 of which are still present today. As a major seaport, the city flourished with the cotton trade, especially after the cotton gin was invented on a nearby plantation.  Cotton prices for the world were set at the Savannah Cotton Exchange, whose building today houses small shops and restaurants. During the Civil War, Union General William Sherman ravaged and burned Georgia on his way to the sea, but he spared Savannah as a gift to President Lincoln. 

Although more than 10,000 people are buried at Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, only about 600 headstones remain. Some misplaced headstones have been mounted on the brick side wall of the cemetery.

Although more than 10,000 people are buried at Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah only about 600 headstones remain. Some misplaced headstones have been mounted on the brick side wall of the cemetery.

 That gift has left Savannah with many elegant, historic homes and churches dating from the 1700s and 1800s, which today provide excellent photographic opportunities. Historic churches in Savannah include: the Lutheran Church of Ascension, built in 1741; the First African Baptist Church, the oldest African American church in North America, founded in 1777; and Temple Mickve Israel, the third oldest Jewish Congregation in the United States (1733) whose gothic synagogue was dedicated in 1878. All these, and many more, are found in Savannah’s historic district, an area 20 blocks long and twelve blocks wide. The streets and squares of the historic district are lined with grand, old oak trees, dripping with spanish moss. Each square is distinct, with statues, monuments and gardens. Beautifully restored townhouses and homes are on most every corner. Many serve as bed-and-breakfast inns, allowing a travel photographer to sleep and eat in one of their potential subjects. Also of photographic, and historical, interest are the city’s two major cemeteries: Colonial Park Cemetery, with graves dating from Georgia’s colonial days, and Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous by the book and movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

Entrance to Fort Pulanski, a civil war era fort on the coast by Savannah

Just east of Savannah, at the mouth of the Savannah River, is Fort Pulaski National Monument. This military site has held various forts since 1761. The current fort took 18 years to build, starting in 1829, and stands as a proud monument to the day when masonry forts were the height of military defense. Just 13 years after it was finished, in its first battle of the American Civil War, that day ended when 30 hours of bombardment from the North’s new rifled cannons pierced the fort’s 8-foot thick walls and the fort’s commander surrendered. Today, the fort’s brick walls still contain cannonballs from that fateful battle. Besides examining Civil War era military hardware, the enterprising travel photographer can find abundant wildlife on the grounds, including alligators in the fort’s moat.

More modern, but no less important, history can be found back in Atlanta. This city was the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., America’s most famous civil rights leader. A National Historic District named in his honor celebrates MLK Jr. and his legacy. There is an impressive visitor center containing powerful exhibits on American apartheid and the evolution of civil rights in the States. His birth home, a two-story Victorian, is preserved. Sitting in the well-worn wooden pews in Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached, brought me memories of old news clips of MLK Jr. preaching from the pulpit. Most touching, at least to me, is MLK Jr’s crypt, set on an island within a series of reflective ponds.

Other Georgian sites of photographic and historic interest include Ocmulgee National Monument, which preserves earthworks created by pre-historic inhabitants of the region; the Jimmy Carter National Historic District in Plains, where the ex-president still lives; and the old Atlantic Coast Highway (Highway 17) along the south Georgia coast.

I visited in summer, when the weather was hot and steamy, with afternoon thundershowers. This weather kept crowds down at the historic sites outside of Atlanta and Savannah. The Chickamauga battlefield was quiet and empty, Andersonville was all the more haunting because it was deserted, and the earthen mounds at Ocmulgee were silent with age. More people are about in spring, which is much milder and drier, and offers lots of flowers. Traveling to Atlanta is simple; the airport there is one of the largest in the United States. For visiting sites outside of Atlanta and Savannah, a car is almost essential since there is relatively little public transportation outside the cities.

Interior of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

Although more than 10,000 people are buried at Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah, only about 600 headstones remain. Many areas in the cemetery have very few standing headstones.

Monument Marking where Union Col. Hans Heg was mortally wounded, Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

Civil war prision gate and wall at Andersonville National Historic Park

Skulls on Steps, Historic District, Savannah

Crypt of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Atlanta

Inside the fort, Fort Pulaski National Monument, near Savannah

Details of a typical house in the historic district of Savannah

Statue at the National Prisoner of War Museum, Andersonville National Historic Site, near Americus

Close up look at cranes in the Landmark Fountain in Forsyth Park, Savannah

Refleciton of the steeple of the new Ebenezer Baptist Church at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta