A Trip to Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH

A WEEKEND IN THE STEEL CITY

Over the weekend, Ashley and I drove to Pittsburgh, PA for a couple days away from home. We only made the plans two weekends earlier after realizing we'd be without our pup (she went to my parents' for the weekend) and we had nothing on our agenda already. Cincinnati is only 4.5 hours from Pittsburgh, making it easily drivable in an afternoon. Friends of ours live in DC, which is also about 4 hours from Pittsburgh, so we invited them to meet us.

We left on a Friday afternoon and arrived around 6:30 PM. After seeing the amazing city reveal from the mouth of the Fort Pitt Tunnel (no photo because I was driving), we checked into our hotel on Penn Avenue and headed out to explore downtown.

THREE SISTERS BRIDGES

We walked along Fort Duquesne Boulevard, checking out the Three Sisters Bridges along the way.

The three bridges are named for Roberto Clemente (baseball player), Andy Warhol (artist), and Rachael Carson (marine biologist). All three were built between 1926 and 1928. The Roberto Clemente bridge, otherwise known as the 6th Street bridge, replaced an existing John Roebling-designed suspension bridge.

POINT STATE PARK

We then made our way to Point State Park—the tip of which intersects where the Allegheny, Ohio, and Monongahela Rivers come together. Many people were there to enjoy the sunset and riverfront. Riverboats drifted around the area, while motorboats idled just off shore.

From the park, you could see the Duquesne Incline, Heinz Field, Fort Pitt Tunnel, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette building, and several hotels/condo buildings.

DOWNTOWN

After enjoying the scenery (it was really quite a nice park), we walked back into the central business district to see what was downtown. Our first impression was courtesy of this combo in front of the Wyndham Grand hotel: an elaborately designed crosswalk and a novelty sign that made us smile.

Pittsburgh is often compared to Cincinnati for myriad reasons. While I agree it bears similarities, it’s also different in as many small ways. It’s alleys feel deeper and grungier—more like something you’d find in NYC. It has fast food we don’t have in Downtown Cincinnati, like McDonald’s and Arby’s. Bike lanes, both protected and unprotected, line the sides of several streets. There are noticeably less murals. Train tracks run through the northern part of the city, connecting to an inner-city Amtrak station.

All in all, Downtown Pittsburgh felt good to walk through. It felt larger than Downtown Cincinnati, but not totally alien. The following photos were taken over two days.

THE STRIP DISTRICT

On our second day, we had breakfast at Kelly O’s (which had a funny, aggressive list of rules above the doorway to the dining room) and walked the city’s Strip District. It felt like if Findlay Market was elongated and had 1000% more traffic. Candy shops, fresh produce, sports apparel, sandwich shops, and more lined either side of the street. I could’ve spent all day going through each shop.

RIVERWALK PARK

After the Strip, we hiked Riverwalk Park where we could see all of the 16th Street Bridge. Built in 1922, the bridge features three “humps” flanked on either shore by tall, stone pillars bedecked with ornate tops. It was my favorite bridge we’d seen up to that point. What looked to be the former Heinz factory, which after a quick Google revealed is now possibly apartments, was directly behind it. Its double smokestacks instantly drew my eye.

Riverwalk Park is great because it’s as bike-friendly as it is pedestrian-friendly. We saw substantially more cyclists on the path than we did walkers. It was a lovely day for a ride. Without cars sharing the path, I imagine bicycling along the river’s edge is a lot of fun. It was certainly nice for a walk.

DUQUESNE INCLINE

From there, we cabbed up to the Duquesne Incline. As a fan of Cincinnati’s long-lost inclines, this particular bit of the trip was my most anticipated part. The incline originally opened in 1877 and, according to it’s hilariously Comic Sans-laden website, was restored in 1963. Exact change (re: cash) was required, and the car didn’t have air conditioning. It took about 3-4 minutes to get from the bottom to the top.

At the top of the incline is a museum all about its history, as well as a wall of photos of other inclines around the world. Of course, I spotted a framed photo of Cincinnati’s Bellevue Incline (fourth photo). As I scanned the wall, I also noticed a picture of the very first incline I ever rode in Bridgnorth, England back in 2013 (fifth photo). Remembering that ride and seeing it represented on this wall in Pittsburgh made me happy.

It goes without saying that the view from the top of the Dusquesne Incline is tremendous. I’ve seen it before in photos, but it was even better seeing it in person. I walked up and down the street trying to find the best angle; the platform by the incline seemed to be the best vantage point for photos.

Our cab driver on the way to the Duquesne Incline mentioned visiting the other incline (Monongahela Incline) at night for “the best view of the city.” Figuring I wouldn’t be able to get to work that into our loaded weekend schedule, I took full advantage of the Duquesne view I did get to see while there.

It was hot, so we ducked into the Grandview Saloon for a pint and a bite. Our buffalo chicken dip was $16 and our beers were a staggering $9.50 a piece. Paying that much for bar food wasn’t ideal, but at least the view from the table was excellent. At least, that’s what we told ourselves to justify the bill.

RANDYLAND

From there, we cabbed to Randyland—a public art “museum” full of colorful, upcycled craziness on the north side of Pittsburgh. Mannequins, plastic fruit, old TVs, flamingos and dinosaurs, rotary phones, and many other odds and ends strategically litter the property in an artistic, fun fashion. Though it looks chaotic at first glance, it’s clearly well-curated. Randy Gilson, the man for whom the property is named, spent the last +20 years creating the iconic space that’s since become one of Pittsburgh’s biggest cultural attractions. We read about Randyland on almost every “essential Pittsburgh” lists we found, and it didn’t disappoint. It was by far the most photogenic block we found the whole weekend.

OAKLAND

Once we’d satisfied our eyeballs with enough Randyland sweetness, we cabbed over to Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood to the Phipps Conservatory. Oakland is on the eastern side of the city, so it was the longest cab we’d hailed yet.

While we didn’t actually pay to go inside Phipps, we briefly admired it from the outside and stepped foot inside the lobby to see its hanging Chihuly sculpture.

While the exterior of Phipps was nice, I couldn’t help but notice something in the distance: a skyscraper that looked…different. A quick Google revealed it was the Cathedral of Learning, and it was only a half mile away. I had to go see it.

CARNEGIE LIBRARY

While we walked toward the skyscraper, we stopped off at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Andrew Carnegie, the unbelievably rich Pittsburgh steel magnate, used his enormous wealth to fund its construction in 1895. Of course, this wasn’t the only Carnegie Library; more than 2,500 others would be built all over the globe. Even the Cincinnati region has its own group of Carnegie Libraries.

Upon entering, a security guard asked me not to take photos with my DSLR, so I used my iPhone to get what I could. The interior, while updated, still bears many original architectural features. The first floor staircase, as you’ll see in the gallery below, was the crown jewel.

An old water fountain and diplodocus with a Terrible Towel wrapped around its neck outside the library were also notable additions to this stop.

CATHEDRAL OF LEARNING

We proceeded toward the Cathedral of Learning after leaving the library. As we approached from the back, we passed Heinz Memorial Chapel. A wedding party was unsurprisingly taking photos outside.

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I wandered around the Cathedral of Learning, taking photos of its exterior from every conceivable angle. Building the Late Gothic Revival skyscraper was apparently a slow affair. Construction started in 1926 and didn’t finish until 1934. It was formally dedicated in 1937.

The Cathedral is also apparently the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere, and the second-tallest Gothic structure in the world. It stands 42 stories tall in total. Below are photos of its exterior.

But I wasn’t prepared for its interior. As I entered, my head was immediately thrown backward to gaze up at the four-story, vaulted ceiling overhead. My jaw dropped to the floor. It was magnificent.

I wandered around the hall and up some stairs to the second level for a few different perspectives. I could’ve spent the rest of the day in there and still not seen enough of it. I hope the photos below do it justice.

We took the elevator to the 36th floor where the Honors College is, but for whatever reason, I didn’t take any photos aside from the view from the top. Unfortunately, the two sides we wanted to see were behind locked doors.

CHURCH BREW WORKS

Keeping with the non-secular theme, we got a cab from the Cathedral of Learning to Church Brew Works, a brew pub in Lower Lawrenceville. We ate pierogies and I enjoyed my favorite type of beer—a coconut stout. The brew pub is located in a converted church, similar to Taft’s Ale House in Over-the-Rhine. Large brewing containers occupy the altar today.

MONONGAHELA INCLINE

With satisfied stomachs, we cabbed back downtown to take a walk. Our friends called it a night, so Ashley and I wandered around the central business district as twilight approached. Having enjoyed the Duquesne Incline earlier that day, we looked toward the Monongahela Incline, which was lit with blue lights on the hill in the distance. We decided to walk over to it after asking a cop for directions.

We crossed the Smithfield Street Bridge (built 1883) over to South Shore. The light was growing weaker on the horizon while the city brightened across the river. I had to grab a couple photos to commemorate the picture-perfect scene. You can see the Mon Incline in the first photo (look for the blue strips of light).

Getting to the Mon Incline was pretty easy. It was just across the road and down a block from where the bridge lets off. The incline house was packed, so we bought our tickets at a machine inside and got into the hefty queue.

The Mon Incline was different from Duquesne. Instead of a single deck cabin full of people, it’s tiered, not unlike stadium-style seating at a modern movie theater. Each level fits eight people. An ornate grate at the top level is open to the elements, allowing airflow to travel into the cabin and out several fist-sized holes in the bottom level window. A gross, bulbous spider had made a web near one of those holes, but we only noticed it at the end of our trip up, thankfully. The photos below are of the house at the top of the incline. The fourth photo is of the top level of the incline cabin.

To no one’s surprise, the view was breathtaking. The cab driver who said it was the “best view of the city” was right. It was especially beautiful at night. Pittsburgh looked huge from that hill.

It was crowded and cars were racing up and down the street at obnoxious speeds. The homes across the street, which I imagine are worth ungodly amounts of money, must be used to traffic noise and constant pedestrians lurking just beyond their front yard.

After taking in the sights and walking up and down the aptly named Grandview Avenue, we wandered over to Shiloh Street for some ice cream at DiFiore’s Ice Cream Delite. It was about 10:00 PM at that point, and the ice cream shop was closing at 10:30. We quickly ordered treats and sat beneath the awning’s fluorescent lights. They cut the power to the sign and lights 30 seconds after I took these photos.

After an absolutely full day, we took the incline back down to South Shore, crossed the bridge, and walked back to the hotel on Penn Avenue. That end-of-the-day shower felt amazing.

UNION STATION & FIRST PRESBYTERIAN

The next day, we got coffee at Crazy Mocha and walked around downtown. While on our walk, we discovered two buildings that stood out. First, we came across The Pennsylvanian, an apartment building that was once home to Pittsburgh’s Union Station. Designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham, the building opened in 1903 and features a marvelous rotunda with circular skylight and ornate details. It’s a Beaux Arts masterpiece if I’ve ever seen one. Had I not seen the Cathedral of Learning the day before, I would’ve proclaimed this the most jaw-dropping bit of architecture I’d seen on the trip. The modern Amtrak station is still attached to the structure.

Then we found First Presbyterian Church several blocks away. The Gothic Revival church was built in 1905, but its congregation is said to date back to possibly 1773. For comparison, the settlers who founded Losantiville (and later Cincinnati) didn’t even arrive to the area until 15 years after that Pittsburgh congregation was formed.

Though we didn’t have time to go inside, something about that inner-city church really stuck with me. I particularly liked the built-in stone podium that faces the street for what I assume was for facilitating outdoor sermons. Also of note are the church’s service times that are literally carved into stone (third photo).

ANDY WARHOL MUSEUM

We checked out of the hotel and met up with our friends across the river at the Andy Warhol Museum. We did all seven floors and it was fine. Not a huge Warhol fan, but it was an interesting museum. I’m most fond of his early paintings. Count me out when it comes to his filmmaking.

The whole weekend, though, I’d been waiting to eat Primanti Brothers. I’d been told countless times that it’s Pittsburgh’s hometown cuisine; their “Skyline,” if you will. We settled on eating there for a last lunch before we parted ways with our friends, so we went back to the Strip District to eat at the original location.

I ordered the Capone. It was a lot of sandwich, and I enjoyed it. I won’t say it necessarily lived up to the hype, but I didn’t expect it would anyways.

Though I haven’t been craving it every day since I’ve left, I will certainly eat it again when I return. And I will return to Pittsburgh. We had a fantastic weekend in the Steel City, and I’ll remember it fondly.

A Close Call With a Reckless Semi-Driver

The intersection I visited to capture an image I thought would be interesting. (Image courtesy of Google Earth)

I spend the majority of my day working on the website. It’s been that way for years, and it’s only gotten busier since taking a leadership role back in August. However, there are unexpected pockets of down time that randomly crop up every so often, and when that happens, I rarely use it for anything useful. Truth be told, it’s largely because I’ve forgotten what I enjoy doing and end up napping or endlessly scrolling through toxic social media feeds to fill time.

Yesterday, though, I had a chance to spend two hours in the middle of the day doing what I like. Determined not to waste it, I found an eBike at the nearby RedBike station and headed to Queensgate. I had a photo opportunity in mind and there was a pleasant break in the weather.

After 15 minutes, I’d ridden to the intersection of Merhing Way and Freeman Avenue in Queensgate. A small section of 5th Street still exists there, and there’s an interesting view of Carew Tower right above some overgrowth in the foreground. Thinking I could adequately capture it the way I’d envisioned with a 24-120mm, I attempted to make my photo.

The lackluster photo that really puts the “meh” in Mehring Way.

Long story short, I needed a lens with a longer focal length than the one I’d brought to do what I wanted. The image turned out to be lackluster and not commensurate with the perspective I had in my head. No worries, though; I was in Queensgate on a bike and there was more to see. I had two hours, afterall.

I then proceeded to travel north on Freeman toward the Police HIstorical Museum at 8th and Freeman where a mural I wanted to photographed was plastered on one of its exterior walls. It was about a three block ride from where I’d been. Traffic was light, so I rode on the street as I normally do when I’m on a bike. As I passed the 6th Street exit, a large semi truck was rounding the curve to get onto Freeman. I sped up to get ahead of it so I wasn’t breathing exhaust when the truck accelerated up the bridge ahead of me.

I was going about 15 mph and pedaling as fast as I could. Where I needed to go would’ve taken about 20 seconds to get to as I crested the bridge. Freeman is four lanes across, two of which are dedicated to the direction myself and semi were going at the time. The semi, apparently too eager to get to where it needed to go, decided to pass me, but instead of going into the other lane where I wasn’t riding, it passed me IN THE SAME LANE as we went over the bridge.

I am not exaggerating: the semi was so close, I could’ve reached out and touched it if I’d leaned far enough left. In all seriousness, it was somewhere between three and four feet from my shoulder. The thought of bouncing beneath the massive tires breathing on my legs mere feet away instantly entered my mind and I froze. It was incredibly loud and I squinted involuntarily. The semi sped up to pass me, but feeling the length of that truck—so close and hot—felt like it took a full minute to pass when, in reality, only about seven seconds or so probably elapsed from grill to hitch.

The bridge where the semi passed me. I was heading to the red marker. (Image courtesy of Google Earth)

Whatever fury I felt was neutralized by the fear in that moment. But as the semi appeared in full in front of me and I realized everything was over, the fury boiled over again. I raised a what the hell, man? hand and got off the road to the right as soon as I could. I couldn’t believe this person driving this deadly machine could be so careless and in THAT much of a rush to put a stranger’s life in danger like that. I was obeying the law and not riding on a one-lane street. There was NO reason for this driver to do this.

Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I tried my best to stop from becoming outwardly angry. I was shaking and actively trying to calm down. To make matters worse, the semi was stopped at the stoplight just 50 feet away. Its insistence on passing me was for NOTHING.

I couldn’t look at it. I couldn’t approach and scream at the driver. Anyone that reckless, I reasoned, could put my life in danger again if they had a weapon. I just parked my bike and got my camera out to take a photo of the mural in front of me. As I raised the camera to my eye, I could barely level it because I was still shaking. I went through with the photos anyway, relying on the technology’s VR to stabilize the images.

All of this is to say: Cincinnati is NOT bike friendly. The lack of bike lanes forcing cyclists into traffic with reckless drivers, the hostility toward cyclists, and the lack of vision from our leaders to protect cyclists makes this place a bad place to ride. And I really, really hate admitting that.

My whole job is to build up Cincinnati and find its strengths—to shine a spotlight on that which deserves highlighting. But I can’t pretend that Cincinnati is anything but unfriendly to those who ride in it. An unprotected bike lane on Central Parkway doesn’t make us worthy of that accolade.

Sure, some of this vitriol is a direct result of an emotional response to having my life needlessly threatened for the sake of getting to a stoplight three seconds faster, but isn’t that reason enough to raise hell? At what point do we look at the facts and address the fact that Cincinnati is hostile toward cyclists?

A Foray Into Film

After recently interviewing a local man who has over 175 vintage cameras collected in his East Side basement, I decided it’s finally time to start into film photography. Several friends of mine have been doing it for varying amounts of time, and their work slowly inspired me bit by bit when I’d see it. “You’ll learn to love the art form anew” and “it’ll recalibrate how you shoot” are arguments I’ve often heard from them. I knew at some point I would bite the bullet, but I didn’t expect it so soon. Then again, why not now? What am I waiting for, exactly?

After inheriting my mother’s old Olympus OM10, I bought a new battery and two rolls of Kodak Tri-X 400 B&W and ran through a roll in a couple of days. My friends were right. It’s fun taking your time and not knowing if it turned out or not. I shoot slowly using a DSLR as is because I want to get it right in the camera, but I shot even slower with the OM10. It’s satisfying to live with the image without running it through Lightroom afterward. The imperfection analog offers is liberating and tests your ability to make a photo better than digital does.

No one will process Tri-X 400 locally (if there are, I simply don’t know about them), so I sent them to The Darkroom in San Clemente, CA for developing. I received the digital files days later.

I think I have a little bit of a light leak (half the roll has a highlight line through it), so I’ll need to inspect the case when I open it again to see if I can replace the seal. Also, I might need to have the camera recalibrated because most of my shots are slightly fuzzy.

Below are some highlights from the roll. The only thing I did to these was resize them down to 3000 pixels on their longest edge and straighten a few of them that were barely off balance. I did a decent job making sure they were level when I took them, but some of them needed very slight alteration nonetheless. No corrections were made to exposure, highlights, shadows, or anything else. Living with the settings made in the moment is key to the integrity of the process.

Descriptions for each photo were added.


The Many Faces of Union Terminal

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For the grand reopening of the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, Landor Associates produced 15-minute, looping light shows that were projected onto the face of the building for a solid week beginning on Veteran’s Day. The light shows began at dusk and played until 10 PM every night. November 17th was the final night you could see them for yourself. The shows had a decidedly BLINK-like quality to them, although that’s probably due to the exclusivity of seeing projection mapping at that event (RIP, Lumenocity).

Though I got to Union Terminal too late to photograph the Veteran’s Day-themed show, I returned to the building every following night to create photos. I stood just behind the Terminal’s entrance sign and used a Tamron 150-600mm G2 on a tripod (at 150mm) in the same position every night. Some nights were cold, others were wet, and a couple were relatively comfortable/dry. For the nights I had to shoot in drizzle, I used a rain sleeve to protect the gear and it worked beautifully. That was my first foray into using one even though I’ve owned it for a couple of years.

This project was interesting because I’d never seen Union Terminal used as a canvas like this before. The parts of the daily shows that integrated the curvature of the dome into their design worked the best, in my opinion. The simple scrolling photos that would slide from one side to the other weren’t overly memorable. I’ve omitted a lot of the second day’s show because it featured a large amount of kaleidoscoping photos of the Terminal during construction that were difficult to make sense of in the moment.

If you missed seeing it in person, below are stills from each day’s show. They aren’t in any particular order.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Westcott House

Two weeks ago, a friend and I drove to Springfield, OH to see the Westcott House. A Prairie Style mansion built in 1908, the Westcott House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for a rich couple who had moved to Springfield from Richmond, IN. The two-story house features a pergola that connects to what was once a garage and attached stable. The whole property is elevated slightly above the street, giving it this air of superiority (though the front door is technically at street level below the house). It was subdivided in the 1940s, fell into disrepair by the 1990s, and was sold to a foundation that successfully restored it to its original look in 2005. It's been open to the public for tours ever since.

This is the first Frank Lloyd Wright home I've ever had the privilege of photographing. What strikes me most about Wright's design is how low the ceilings feel compared to other houses built around the same time. I'm no stranger 12-foot ceilings bedecked with elaborate trim and stenciled designs, and this house has none of that. Aside from some geometric woodwork and a blocky motif shared between the house and it's furnishings, there isn't much in the way of overt extravagance. It feels odd, but not in a bad way. Had this place been built in 1950, I wouldn't bat an eye. When we walked through it, I understood all over again how Wright's influence over the following century of American architecture took form.

The skylight above the second floor foyer adds a nice touch of natural—albeit harshly colored—light to an otherwise dim upper floor. Had the house not been designed with so many windows, it'd feel like more of a man-made cave than a proper dwelling. Bedrooms vary in size, with the patriarch's and matriarch's rooms being the largest (they had separate rooms). Small bathrooms, closets designed with built-in wardrobes, a sleeping balcony (we take air conditioning for granted), servant's quarters and staircase, and a 360-degree view of the surrounding land are all part of the second floor.

The first floor has a staircase that connects the street level front door to the elevated first floor of the house. There, a study with period furniture, a piano and sitting area, a dining table with built-in lamp posts, and a sizable kitchen can be found. The pergola connects a back room and the kitchen to the garage and stables, which now serves as a gift shop and visitor center.

THE PHOTOS

While I shot the house in color, I ultimately chose to make a version of these black and white with a subtle warm hue. I did this because I felt the house demanded an older looking edit due to how hard it tries to preserve its original look. The result, I think, is a pleasant, vintage aesthetic that speaks to Frank Lloyd Wright's turn-of-the-century vision. While I wouldn't apply this type of edit to most of what I shoot, I felt like this particular instance made sense.

If you'd like to see color versions, I put them on Cincinnati Refined.