The Old Order

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As secular and religious intolerance appears to be on the rise, and sectarian violence continues to displace, injure or kill thousands, if not millions, it is refreshing and enlightening to find religious people who have found a way to peacefully coexist with others, even though their beliefs and practices are radically different from those with whom they interact.

This project documents one such people — an Old Order Amish community located in Western Pennsylvania. Though the Amish are sometimes described as the Plain People, my visits to this community revealed that to be a gross oversimplification, as their culture is an amalgam of the old and the new, the simple and complex, the drab and colorful.  The Old Order Amish are characterized by worship in private homes rather than in churches; their adherence to traditional farming methods; and an aversion to the use of electricity and automobiles. The Old Order Amish also do not want to be photographed, as posing for photos, or even permitting them to be taken, is inconsistent with their core belief in humility. There is a certain amount of leeway, however, especially when it comes to photographing “the little ones,” which made this project possible.

A study in contrasts, the elder’s furniture shop is a good example of how they have merged their beliefs with their needs.  Lit only by natural light, the shop seemed like a soothing oasis — that is until the shop owner showed me how everything worked by firing up the diesel engine that powered all the equipment.  Although the Old Order Amish eschew wired electricity, believing that it improperly connects them to the outside world, this does not stop them from using certain types of engines, or using car batteries charged from these engines.  They also do not own or routinely use telephones, but there are a few conveniently place telephone “booths” that can be used in an emergency.  Their boats are not powered, but they use manufactured fishing gear, including the artificial worm caught in mid-flight.  Tennis balls are placed at the bottom of desk chairs to protect the schoolhouse floor.  The funeral was a horse and buggy affair, but the “English” were still needed to use gasoline-powered vehicles to drive in those living afar. Capturing this ambiguity became of primary importance to me as the project developed.

As modern technology continues to consume society, it remains to be seen whether this Old Order Amish community will be able to maintain the balance it has found — a balance that allows its members to be secure in their beliefs yet able to interact with outsiders without fear of unwanted infection.  I intend to continue my visits to document their journey in a respectful way.

The above photograph, and others from The Old Order gallery, will be part of a group exhibit at the Hoyt Institute of Fine Arts in July 2014.

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90-year-old Joe Bonadio lives on the steepest paved street in the continental United States — Canton Avenue in the Beechview section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Lured by jobs in the steel mills, the coal mines, and the railroad, Joe’s father Santo brought the family to Pittsburgh from Calabria, Italy, in 1897.  They built the Canton Avenue house in 1903, and added on to it over the years to accommodate the ever-increasing household, as Joe was one of ten siblings raised in the home.

Although he lived on Canton Avenue his entire life, Joe earned his living as a golf pro at the Longboat Key Golf Course in Sarasota, Florida, where he wintered for over 50 years, and he is a proud member of the Professional Golf Association’s Centennial Club.  But Joe’s prowess on the golf course is only part of his story.  A lifelong musician, Joe has mastered numerous instruments including the violin, the tenor saxophone, the clarinet, the bass and the flute.  He has played professionally with the Butler Symphony Orchestra and the Sarasota Pops Orchestra, as well as with some of the giants of jazz, including Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Stitt, James Moody and Roy Eldridge.

Joe’s life took a turn in the year 2000 when his ceased his winter travels and returned home permanently to take care of his older sister Catherine, whose health was failing.  Joe’s year-round presence in Pittsburgh forced him to give up playing the bass professionally as he could not park in his driveway in the winter and it was just too cumbersome for him to lug the large instrument up and down the many steps to Coast Avenue where he was able to park.  But having to give up the bass did not end Joe’s musical career.  At the age of 79, Joe was invited to learn how to play the flute by Wendy Kumer, the director of the Pittsburgh Flute Academy.  He took her up on the offer and has been playing the flute ever since.  Joe continues to take weekly flute lessons and plays in concerts for the Flute Academy, the Community Band South and the South Hills Flute Choir.

A very active Joe Bonadio will turn 91 this summer.

To see a slideshow about Joe published by Public Source, go here.

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Carrie’s Sleeping


Carrie’s sleeping now, but when she was awake, her eyes received air heated to 1800 degrees, and she exhaled molten steel.  This is a photograph of the bottom of one of the blast furnaces, and the round openings you see were the receptacles for the tuyeres (large pipes no longer attached), which carried the super heated air used to ignite the coke within the furnace.  The burning coke would then increase the interior temperature to the 3000 plus degrees needed to melt the iron ore and other materials.  At that temperature, even the refractory brick could melt, so cooling water was injected behind the brick layer through the smaller pipes that are still evident.  Once the process was complete, the mouth you see would be tapped, releasing the molten steel.  One steel worker who had manned the room when Carrie was operational explained that the temperature immediately below the 1800° tuyeres was 350° to 400°, an ideal temperature for cooking dinner, which they often took advantage of.

This photograph was part of the “Carrie Furnaces:  Contemporary Views” exhibit at the Silver Eye Center for Photography in August of 2013.

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Hopeful Contemplation

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As the Pittsburgh Pirates have a winning season for the first time in a generation, and as Pittsburgh continues to evolve from its steel manufacturing roots and its later rustbelt status to a region better known for its high tech, medical, educational and cultural assets, it is time for all of us to pause and contemplate the past and present, and what the future might bring – and what we can do to make Pittsburgh a vibrant and livable city for all of us.

This photograph was part of the Pittsburgh By Pittsburghers exhibit at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination in October 2013.

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Outside Looking In


I first walked the hallways of Western Penitentiary in 1987 when I was given a tour of an unused wing.  The outer wall was vast, yet the inner cells were tiny.  I can still remember wondering how a human being could live in such a small space.  Young and naïve, I assumed that I was witnessing the remnants of a less enlightened past.  Perhaps I was.  But now, over 25 years later, it is my understanding that the wing, though modernized, is back in use.

Whether or not one views imprisonment itself as a societal ritual, the mass incarceration of millions of our citizens is rife with ritual, from the mundane repetitive behaviors of the imprisoned population to the scheduled visits by their parents, spouses and children, some of whom will only know their fathers and mothers as they exist behind glass or in a visiting room.  From the architecture, bland food, and uniform clothing, to the supplanting of names with numbers and inevitable de facto segregation, the layers of ritual go on and on.

Although structure is necessary to maintain safety and order in such a place, what happens when someone is released and the structure stops?  Does ritual beget ritual?  Is the saddest ritual of all the return of the repeat offender?  Although many modern prisons provide inmates with self-improvement programs, do we as society really believe that imprisoning people who were undereducated and unemployable prior to being jailed, removing them from society as time marches on, and then releasing them with the label “ex-con,” will somehow lead to a greater good?  Some rituals live forever, some transform, and some we jettison as we evolve.  Given the high cost of incarceration, both monetarily and spiritually, is there a better way, at least with respect to non-violent offenders?

The above photograph was exhibited at the Garfield Artworks in the spring of 2013 as part of a group show on Rituals by AgWorks, a photographic artist’s collective.

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