Backyard bugs

Copyright, Roger Vogel 2020

This is Mabel…. And…

This is Mabel

She is feral

But that does not mean that she is homeless.

This is Mabel’s front door.

It is in our back yard.

Our back yard is full of cat poop.
Not just Mabel’s. I estimate that there are at least nine thousand stray cats in our neighborhood. And most of them think that our yard is a great place to put their poop. I love them all equally. But Mabel is the only one I have agreed to feed.

I keep a zip lock bag of Kit & Kaboodle beside a chair inside the garage door that opens our basement to the world.

I feed her to win her affection.

Though she is not shy, she doesn’t talk much. She is cautious, curious and polite. She is appreciative, but keeps her distance.

She wants love, but has issues with trust.

It’s a hard life. But she doesn’t complain. She’s a survivor.

We can’t feed them all. That only encourages and creates more poop.
But I’ve felt a certain obligation to help her.

Winter is coming. And worse than that, there are tomcats everywhere.

In this episode, Mabel confronts the tomcat from the night before….

After consulting a local cat genealogist and historian, we believe that Mabel was a single kitten birthed by by a stray named Maude and possibly sired by a green-eyed, soft gray tabby named, Bobby Flay. She is probably under a year old.

Indications are that Maude’s next litter was so cute that they all got accepted into an adoption program and are hopefully now living happy lives of domesticated leisure. Bobby Flay is rarely seen.

Mabel has been living outside and independently and does the best that she can. But, for a feral feline on her own, it can be a big, cold, stressful world.

So, a few weeks ago I contacted a non-profit who helps those who help strays and got on the list to be seen by a vet and to arrange the operation to get the kittenmaking mechanism shut off before we added any more hungry mouths and poop machines to our neighborhood.
My plan was to Trap, Neuter, Spay and Return.
And, I’ve been considering designs for a weatherized, insulated cat-house warmed in the winter by a heating pad.

But as is often the case, life was marching on while I was still making plans.

The other day when Mabel came out for dinner, she paused and turned back as if something was following her….

To be continued….

Bonus Media

Episode in which Mabel has an altercation with one of the local groundhogs. (Music:
Mabel’s portfolio. So far….

Nature is rude

It is a shame that a lady can’t stop for a snack without some buzz-off pushing her off her posey.
Nature is rude.

“The Eye”

You cannot teach it. You can teach the technical stuff– aperture and f-stops, shutter speeds and frames-per-second, but you cannot teach “the eye.”

Some photographers simply see things instinctively in a way that puts all the points of focus, the colors and shades, the action, angles and the expressions all together in one quickly composed click that is measured often in the hundredths of a second…

…by a moment that comes together and reverberates emotionally like the way a musical chord is composed of simultaneous harmonious notes. And as every chord can carry a different mood in every different key, each image resonates with its own feelings and emotions and meaning… if it is a good one.

You can talk composition and you can lecture about exposure and the rule of thirds and the zone system and argue Cannon versus Nikon and you can even say it, “Nee-Kohn” as if you are so into it all that you are turning Japanese, but there is at least one simple way to say if it is a good picture:

It is a good picture if it makes you go, “Wow!”

Or if it makes you go, “Oh, no!”

Or, “Yuck!” or “Ha, Ha, Ha” or “boo, hoo, hoo.”

If it makes you feel something, it works. How strongly you feel it is how well it works. It is especially good if it makes you feel something about another person.

Video is the same but continues by rolling a string of those moments enlivened by the natural sound. It is the same, just chronological and energized and flashing around 30 frames per second. “Photography,” means, “to write with light.” We are all storytellers.

You can’t teach “the eye.” A photographer either has it, or they don’t. That is not to say that many a photog hasn’t had happy and productive careers making the grade bringing back technically proficient images or acceptable video that fills the void or covers the VO (voice-over). But it can do more. There are those among us who see things through their lens that make the world a much prettier place than your average point-and-shooter, or a more meaningful or pertinent place, because they let you see it that way. There are those that feel their work. Some instinctively know how to tell those stories without words, and they lay it out within the frame as art. And among those who know, it is said that those photographers have “the eye.”

That principle was explained to me on my first day of my first job as a news photographer. It was explained to me by JD Kirkpatrick. JD definitely had “the eye.”

It was my first day and I wasn’t a very good journalist. I should have taken notes. I should have written down the things JD said to me that day. I should have rolled tape on it.

“It’s the greatest job in the world.”

That I can put quotation marks around. In my memory, it was pretty much the first thing that he said to me as we left the station on my first day working at Channel 6. It was my first day working in any way in news, and to tell the truth, in the beginning, I did not particularly want to be doing it. But JD talked me into it.

Lanny, the chief photog, had spent the morning with me and another new guy, going over the gear and the cars and he gave us a quick but succinct rundown that ended up being the extent of all the formal instruction I ever got as a news shooter, then he sent me out with JD for a ride-along to see how it was done.

I was young and still had that confidence that now seems more like a low level of inexperienced arrogance and was probably convinced that I had a much better handle on practically everything than I actually did. I had been studying photography in an effort to make some money doing weddings, and didn’t want to respond to a help-wanted ad for videographers at WJAC, because up until then I was one of those guys who was inclined to make fun of local news.

But my wife at the time had easy access to my resume’ and applied for me and I didn’t know that until I heard a message on our answering machine inviting me for an interview.

So, my plan was to do it until I found something better, but JD took off talking about it as if we were already half way through the conversation and words will fail if I try to explain how, but by the end of that shift I had in my head an inspirational new perspective that news is about what is real and somehow that made it art and that made it fun and that changed my mind and I was off on a new career.

What he was talking about was things like the legitimacy of when you catch something in its natural state in the actual moment, or how it not only documents, but when you see it well lit, cleverly composed and colorfully delivered like a poem, it can almost be a spiritual thing. I don’t think that he used those words, but even today when I am watching CBS Sunday Morning and I see a sweetly shot package about someone or something and I suddenly get charmed or mesmerized or tantalized into caring about it, those pieces inspire in me a soulful feeling that moves me deep like a hymn. And if not quite a religious experience, I can at least try to explain it by saying that I caught the photojournalism bug off JD that day. The news bug bit and gave me a big, swelling itch to do something important with it.

And that was my training. Me tagging along while he shot some b-roll and we checked out something that they heard on the scanner at the station that turned out to be nothing, and JD telling me how it was done the whole time offering suggestions, instructions and conversational opinions like:

“Don’t let them call you a cameraman.’ Never put the camera before the man.”

And he good-naturedly lectured not to let the reporters introduce you as “My photographer.” Meaning that we are a team and that we work with a reporter, not for them.

And he talked a lot, because JD was like that. And I am glad, because he and I continued to talk about photography for many years afterwards. One of the best ways to learn is to study your heroes. I learned photography by searching flea markets and antique shops for old Life Magazines and by watching shooters like JD.

One of the best quotes by one of the great Life photographers is a famous one by Alfred Eisenstaedt.
“It is more important to click with people, than to click the shutter.”

People liked JD as much as they liked his work. Colorful, creative, cleverly off center sometimes, and always lit with a little something unique.

Did you hear about JD?”

Ron Ream said that. I had just hopped up on a hay wagon that they were hauling a bunch of us on to go and meet and greet and take pictures of Jackson and the other elephants at the Pittsburgh Zoo’s ICC. It was reporters, a couple video shooters, the PR person from the zoo and me.

“Oh, shit…” I thought, “They got his plants.”

I honestly don’t think JD would mind me talking about that. It was a big part of his personality. He practically introduced himself like that.

“Hi, I’m J.D. and I like to smoke pot.”

He didn’t hide it. I’ve seen him joke about it in a room full of State Troopers and seen them laugh along. They all knew him. He was just being JD.

But that wasn’t the news that Ron was delivering that day. He went on to tell me that JD had died.

He’d gone to bed the night before, not feeling well, and did not wake the next morning to go fishing.

He is hard to characterize. Maybe at first you try to see him as an old hippie, but that’s not quite it. He’s a U.S. Army veteran and he served in Vietnam, but I never heard him talk about that and I can’t say that I ever felt the warrior in his personality, if there was one. At times he would wear a kind of long military-green field coat with patches and insignias that I assume represented his actual service, but to me it was just a cool coat and not like a uniform. Other than a talent for tightly rolling up mic chords, I can’t think of much of anything regimented about his personality, or remember him to be either the sort of person to give or to take orders.

I watched a few Steeler games at his house, and I remember that he was sweet and gentle with his dog. He was generous and helpful by nature, and sometimes he had a slightly raunchy sense of humor. He was fun loving and more than occasionally obnoxious when not kept occupied– and certain targets had to be wary of surprise attacks from the rear with his wet finger suddenly wiggling into your ear. But he also had a timely habit of sticking his head into an editing bay and telling me something that I needed to hear, just about when I needed to hear it. He was great with kids. He loved to fish.

What JD was, was a friend. Not just in news photography, which he truly introduced me to, but in life. When I was downsized the last time and lost my license to travel about taking pics, it was JD who I wished I could have called to lament that loss. I hope that many people will be glad to see these old images of JD at work. But I find it sad that he won’t.

I don’t know if the business is anything like it was when I shot these pictures. That camera was shooting that big, old SuperVHS tape. And those editing bays are now no more than nostalgia, I am sure.

But, occasionally I still get the chance to shoot some high school sports and I see some of those young shooters on the sidelines and I think that it is a shame that they won’t ever get to work with JD. I wouldn’t be able to explain that to them and I doubt that they are looking for much “old school” advice. But I wish that sometime someone would ask me. I think that it would be fun to tell them,
“It’s the greatest job in the world.”

KIRKPATRICK – J.D., 61, Johnstown, died July 25, 2009, at his home. Born Sept. 29, 1947, in Johnstown

The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

This is Boo

This is Boo.
I did not name him. I did not know him as a kitten. He came to us under vaguely explained circumstances that seem to involve some sort of territorial dispute involving himself and a pitt-bull puppy. He doesn’t talk much about that.

I don’t ask.

Before us, he was the companion of my wife’s daughter who expanded his education by choosing him as a roommate at WVU’s Borman Hall. I don’t think that he took any classes, but just hung around with the girls there. But I am sure that he learned some things. And though he is a cool cat who knows how to keep his mouth shut, after gaining his confidence he has since made some conversational inclinations that he has, “Seen some things.” Again, I don’t ask.

So, by the time he ended up here, he seemed, as one might expect, a little nervous and perhaps a bit over-stimulated, which is understandable.

But he’s a cat who knows how to make himself comfortable and in time and with plenty of pampering, reassurance and all sorts of kingly comforts and treats, he has settled in.

And though he says that he has never liked the term, “domesticated,” he has resolved himself to the life of an “inside kitty” and peacefully made a place for himself amoungst four poodles and two somewhat odd adult human beings.

He doesn’t usually tolerate formal photography, though he, like the Amish, will allow it as long as I don’t ask him to pose.

But these days, he knows that I am out of practice and that I miss being a photojournalist, so he graciously has allowed me to follow him around to do this “Day in the Life During the Pandemic” portrait project

from a feline point of view.

How has life changed for this house cat, since the pandemic has changed the world?

Not much.

I know what some of you are thinking…. And I ask that you be considerate and kind in your comments.

He is no more vain that any other cat. He has worked through his abandonment issues and is overall very confident and certainly has no problems with self-esteem….

But he has grown somewhat sensitive about his weight.

He tells me that in his younger years he was really quite svelte.

And he still moves well, for a big man.

But what looks like lazy might just be laid-back

and at this point in his journey through nine lives he is trying to grow over all that superficial stuff. Perhaps sadly, but truly, he is more thoughtful than playful these days.

He is a cat of few words and is wise in that he stays in the moment. He doesn’t waste any energy regretting the past or fretting for the future. He doesn’t waste any energy.

He spends a lot of time napping.

This is where we keep the towels, some of my old New Yorkers
and the cat.

In the big picture, he really is, as they say, “a good kitty.”

Except that he sits on the table and has diligently and systematically destroyed every piece of furniture that calls to his instinct to sharpen his claws.

But he puts his poop where he is supposed to, and he is a good listener.

And we have to take care of each other.

Kitty Boo is not allowed on the table.
But we love him anyway.

“they complain but never
they walk with a surprising dignity.
they sleep with a direct simplicity that
humans just can’t

when I am feeling low all I have to do is watch my cats and my courage returns.
I study these creatures.
they are my teachers.”

Charles Bukowski– “My Cats”

Football action at Berlin

You should have seen the shots I missed!

I got to go to a great game Friday night as Berlin hosted Windber on the Mountaineers Homecoming. I had plenty of chances to get plenty of good action, but I have to say that I missed way more than I got.
Anyway, it was two great teams and a great night for football and here I offer a few images that I did get.

IMG_5689 8x6 72mm

Click on images

IMG_5828 8x5 72mm

See many more images from this game and support my efforts by purchasing prints or full resolution digital files, Here.


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Blogging my way back on the field

So, I’ve had a website and blog up and floating around aimlessly in cyberspace for well over a year (earth time) and I’ve yet to say anything with it.

Conceived on emotional impulse, the sense of unfinished business, nagging underdeveloped ideas and the somewhat questionable concept that anyone would want to know what I think about anything, here is evidence that I exist. Here is me, reminiscing in my past and meekly making an effort to create a new future. Here is a bunch of old pictures and hopefully some new projects. Here is a typed version of things you would never be able to decipher if it was still in my handwriting. Here is the blog of a former photog.

If any of you remember my column in the Daily American and if you liked to read it and miss it even a little bit as much as I miss writing it…. Stay tuned. I hope to be disciplined (that sounds like getting a spanking) and get in the habit of putting together long and looping sentences on choppy, bumpy rhythms (that read like pushing a shopping cart down cobblestone) and tie them together with a few quick, tight, light and lyrical ones while I try to twist a few ideas and phrases between it all and call it writing (picture me with furrowed brow, tapping my pencil against my temple in a deep and thoughtful pose and feeling like I look like Hemingway– truth is, I’ve read that he wrote standing up, and I am sitting here typing in my underwear).

Beware of Oxford commas and I reserve the right to awkwardly change tense, just for the fun of it, interrupt ideas with other ideas within parenthesis that pop up in the middle of something you were already having trouble following, and to generally blabber on in sentence structure no self-respecting editor could ever approve of.

Attentive readers will see below that I’ve already ripped off Kurt Vonnegut Jr., but please note that I did yield not to the temptation of using “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  For the most part and for what it’s worth, this will be all mine. I don’t need no stinkin’ publisher.  I am a one-man-band. I am multi-media man!


Back on the field

Click for photo gallery

Meyers20TD 2x3

Tyler Fisher on the 1st play of  Meyersdale’s 1st home game

There I am again. Down on the sideline of a high-school football game. Instead of sitting at home all mopey and self-pitying and jealous of all the employed shooters with legitimate reasons for being there.

I don’t know if you could tell, but I was having a hell of a good time.

Some of you may remember me. I used to be the photographer for “the paper.” You used to see me at all the big games of all the small schools in the county. I used to be somebody. I don’t mean to brag, but I was once something of a local celebrity.

Well, a minor celebrity, or more of a local personality, not as much remarkable as just plain noticeable. The nature of my job placed me in plenty of public places and in most cases I over-eagerly subscribed to Robert Capa’s advice that if your pictures aren’t good enough, you are not close enough…. And I’ve never been graceful, and I sweat a lot, and I usually needed a haircut and had a Domke bag and a couple of large cameras hanging and swaying at awkward angles from a unique physique which most found on first impression to be more suitable for jobs that involved carrying heavy things than for the gentle art of photography. It is a journalist’s job to not be a part of the story, but sometimes, I admit, you just couldn’t help but notice me.

When my job was new and Facebook was new, some of the local youth even put together a “fan page” making good-natured fun of my muscles and portraying me in the same way that Chuck Norris gets his own line of jokes:

When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night he checks his closet for Chuck Norris….

Chuck Norris can strangle you with a cordless phone….

Chuck Norris puts the “laughter” in “manslaughter….”


True story.

Me and Chuck Norris.

(Please ignore the lovely, young Russian girl, who seems to have shown up late to the party. I doubt that she is truly a fan.)

It was a good time for me. I was taking decent pictures, winning some minor awards and I was Facebook famous, at least with the high-school kids. We had a wonderfully supportive publisher and I was hired to improve the photographic presence of the paper, was very inspired to do so and I was hopeful of the future. I was a big fish in a small pond, for sure, but I was a pretty good swimmer and the water was warm and it sure was nice to be there.

When I first landed that job (taking the pond metaphor ashore) it was after having been downsized from the Cambria County bureau of WTAJ TV. I had been unemployed well past my last benefit check, in the process of divorce and in the waves of that (back in the water again), was well on my way towards bankruptcy.  So when I got the job of being the only photographer at the small paper back in my hometown, many of my friends from television news and from the bigger publications in the counties above said congratulatory things like, “It will be a good place to work, until you can find something better.”

But it was exactly where I wanted to be. Not that I had planned to move back home again, but that I very much wanted to be out doing the daily duty of putting faces in the paper. I was still passionate about my profession and still studied the masters and my main motivation was to dignify the little guy with documentary photography. Not only could I do that there, but for the most part, I could do it the way I wanted to do it and people seemed to like it. I didn’t need to “find something better.”

There are faces everywhere. And if you have ever rode around Somerset County with your window down and just talking to people and meeting folk and making someone front-page famous every day, you would probably agree that there are interesting individuals everywhere and it was a wonderful way to eke out an existence.

It was the greatest job in the world. Or, at least the best one I ever had, or probably ever will have. My salary was almost, but not quite, doodley squat, but I was taking pictures for a living and taking it pretty seriously, like art.

And I was thinking about all that while driving up the mountain on my way there. I was missing who I used to be and I was remembering the good times. I was re-feeling many memories, among them quite a few good ones of that 2006 powerhouse Meyersdale Red Raiders team:

QB’d by Matt Stahl, working behind a wall of linemen that moved like a machine and as hard and efficient as a dozer blade.  And  if I was in the right place in the right time with my camera pointed where it needed to be, it was a beautiful thing when a moment would materialize and helmets and pads and asses and elbows and grunting and muddy, grass stained aggression parted as blockers pushed defenders aside for Tyler Edwards to come darting through on a graceful cut and an angled maneuver and quick strides that left a swooshing feeling behind him much like a down hill skier does.

Or other times, the blockers hardly even needed to be bothered to open a hole– Stahl would just hand the ball to Jeremy Faidley (they called him, “Buddha.” …I guess it was a belly thing…) and he would rumble and stomp and power through carrying and dragging any pesky opposing players that bothered to cling on; and generally making entire defenses look silly– having as much success restraining him as sparrows trying to stop a bowling ball. I truly believe he only ever yielded his forward progress out of courtesy to give the opposing squad another try. I saw him carry an entire team, several coaches, some cheerleaders and even a few “chain gang” guys that tried to pile on one Saturday at Ferndale. Just one big towering mound of yellow Jackets, arms and legs dangling– but the pile never stopped moving forward. The officials only whistled it dead because they simply couldn’t find Faidley underneath it all.

And I am remembering Edwards zigzagging through and Buddha running right-the-hell over ’em all. And that team had great receivers and I-can’t-wait-to-hit-you linebackers and an army of fans that could fill up the stands with more home-town enthusiasm and love of the game than any sentence I can write could ever convey…. You didn’t just hear that crowd– you could feel them.

And then I parked my car and there I was, again, on Friday night, older, fatter, with antique lenses and lost in my memories and the building buzz of the thrill of the moment. I’d arrived just in time and barely made it to the field, fired up my new-used-outdated 7D at 1000th a second and f/2.8…

…and I know, acknowledge and have to admit that I missed at least thirty yards of good, easy money shots because honest-to-goodness tears of exhilarated joy clouded my focus when number 20 came around the right end and ran eighty yards down the sideline right at me, on the first play from scrimmage, at Meyersdale, on my first play back on the field after around five years of not being a photographer. Tears of joy, like coming home, like an epiphany or like finding something that was lost, like being welcomed by old friends, like having a Canon in my hands sighting through golden setting sunlight at a wide-open aperture channeling that kid’s energy and excitement straight back to my brain, magnified by ten artificial crystal fluorite and Ultra-low Dispersion glass lens elements and bathed in soft, sparkling bokeh…. My lens. My old friend. My favorite way to spend a Friday night.


So, I intend this to be a publication in which I can continue my humble efforts as a writer and documentary photographer. I seriously doubt that my reputation will ever be raised again to Facebook super-hero, but for the sake of wrapping up the blabbering blog post, let’s pretend that I am “Multi-media Man!”

Armed only with used Canon cameras and ancient L-series lenses, he spends his days as mild-mannered Testing Lab Assistant, Roger Vogel, but after work and weekends he shoots sports action, human-interest images, all sorts of video and now he taps a blog out through a keyboard.

Wish me luck. And as they say:

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