Titano

Two years ago, Paul and I started on our journey of shooting sideshow folks here in Philly.  Introduced to the overwhelmingly large and vibrant sideshow subculture by way of Carnivolution, we were quickly frustrated with having to shoot from the audience.  We wanted more control over the environment, and less chance of Paul threatening to throw rich drunk Drexel punks over the balcony at the Tiberino (and yes, that totally happened).  With Paul’s ability to find amazing, remote locations, and my ability to co-ordinate with young performers and models that are often working without computers, decent phones or stable living situations, we’ve assembled an really impressive group of photographs, reminiscent of Bruce Davidson’s “Circus”, but with a variety of performers and locations that I don’t think even he would have deemed possible.

Our collection is becoming astounding.  We’ve set up a faux engagement shoot between arielist Madeleine Belle and firebreather Terry Fields, and shot a pregnant, sword swallowing Rev MacKenzie Moltov.  We’ve shot Mike Icon and Jexime breathing fire at the Wissahickon and got some truly stunning performance photos of all the Carnivolution folks.  We’ve even taken sideshow legend Harley Newman to Centralia, a town crumbling from an underground coal fire.   I have a project in mind, but somehow we just didn’t have enough variety.  Our collection was lacking, and just didn’t feel complete.  We needed more men.  And then we found him, Titano Oddfellow.

Being new to Philly, Titano is more classic strong man than any we’ve encountered since we started this project.  Soft spoken, but with a hearty, infectious laugh and a charming smile,  Titano is the real deal.  He decided to sword swallow for our shoot, although he’d never done it before.  Not only did he successfully swallow a fairly impressive sword, he posed like a pro for several minutes while it was lodged firmly on whatever internal organ that those things end up resting on.  A few days after our shoot, Titano decided to attempt to break the world’s record for “beard lifting”, although he’d never lifted with his beard before.  He not only broke the world record, he shattered it, by lifting 148 pounds with his beard, crushing the previous world record of 139 pounds by a Lithuanian man who has been training for 30 years and who is considered a national hero.     He is quite honestly one of exactly two people that I would trust to swing a sledgehammer towards my camera, and the only one that I’m not sleeping with.   A large, imposing figure covered with face tattoos and a gentle, kind spirit, Titano is exactly what you want in a viking strongman, a noble savage with a perfect combination of strength and kindness.  I have a feeling he’s a travelling sort of nomad.  I truly hope he plans to hang his horns in Philly for a long, long time.

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soup-38

One of my last jobs before jumping the food ship and delving into photography full time, was for a soup company in New York City.  They had 30 stores, and over 200 kinds of soup.  This was just around the time that Paul and I started shooting professionally for a magazine in Philly and knew that was the direction we wanted to take our lives.  I used to stand below the massive promotional photos in amazement that a large company with those kinds of resources would have such bad photos.   Every photo was flooded with light.  Blown out highlights gave the food a blinding presence, obscuring the details that give ingredients their texture.  Ingredients were enhanced to the point of perfection, like a bowl of waxed fruit, too perfect to be real.   A giant raw chicken loomed above the soup line and I wondered in what universe uncooked poultry would make someone’s mouth water for soup.  I knew I could do better.

So when Mary Kate Carpenter, the sister of one of our favorite brides (insert shameless plug for awesome wedding here), contacted us about a shoot for her new line of soups, Ladles Out, I could barely contain my excitement.  With her slogan of  “Not Your Mamma’s Soup”, we felt challenged.  How would we make soup young, sexy and interesting?   Like we tend to do in most of our art, we decided to go dark, both literally and metaphorically.  We started by staining some wood planks in 3 different stains: white, walnut and oak, to use as backgrounds.  We assembled ingredients, piles of dried beans, rosemary branches from our front yard, kosher salt, peppercorns.  After braving some harsh weather, we arrived at Double Decker Pizza, one of the two locations where Mary Kate’s Soups were born and are currently being served.

Their spacious second floor dining room was awash with natural light, nicely diffused by the overcast day and previous snow fall.  We set up by a window, used a reflector for some fill and resisted every urge to flood with flash.  Kissing with light and painting with shadows, Paul manned the tripod and while I straddled the ladder as we played with geometry, spilled colorful herbs and surrounded cups of beautiful soup with natural, imperfect, unsaturated ingredients.  It was truly one of the most relaxing, zen like photo shoots that we’ve been involved in.  So to that big, corporate soup company that made me wear a hair net and stare at raw chicken all day?  It’s taken me two years, but we’ve definitely got you beat!

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