Friday, December 14, 2007

Cleveland: City Mood - November Winds

There's the old Cleveland joke about our climate. If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes...... it'll change. What may have started as a pleasant sunrise reflecting off the Hope Memorial bridge at 9 A.M. could end up as a rush hour thunderstorm by day's end.

Visitors to our city don't really don't appreciate this statement until they've spent some time here. But Living on the Northcoast, Clevelanders enjoy Lake effect snow and rain, blistering summers, ice storms, high winds, and temperatures that can vary over 110 degrees in a single year.
Many of us feel this area offers great compensation for the winter slush and cold. You get beautiful spring blossoms followed by spectacular fall foliage. Short as the summer may seem, it is ideal for boating, hiking, picnicking and visiting area attractions.

As an east sider we often see heavy dark storm clouds coming in out of the West. One minute we may be enjoying a beautiful sunset over the West Side Market or a pastel backdrop framing an ore freighter moored on the Cuyahoga.

And within less than an hour, a twilight overcast can roll right over the downtown skyline. Building tops will disappear in fog. Short ragged waves will dance along the Cuyahoga. High winds and stinging rain will lash across the bridges and roadways.

But most of the really nasty weather comes out of the Northwest. Before the heavy snows arrive we get the Alberta Clippers blasting in over Lake Erie right out of Canada.
Lake Erie's waters remain relatively warm into the fall. In late November the cooler western and Canadian air begins washing over it. The warm lake air rises and collides with this cold front. First we get sleet on the roads along with pea sized hail. As the temperature continues to drop, we get our famous lake effect snow.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sits right on the edge of the Inner Harbor. Built in 1995, it's glass and steel frame is designed to withstand 150 MPH winds. Fortunately we rarely get lakefront gusts above 60MPH. Either way you don't want be at water's edge when the lake takes on a stormy aspect.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Photography Under Surveillance

"I-90 Bridge Over the Flats"

“I can see him walking down the West steps. Yes, he’s the guy with the beard and camera. He’s taking pictures of the railroad tracks right now…..”

I could overhear the young security guard as he spoke into his walkie talkie. He was obviously reporting my step by step movements to somebody in the building’s command center. Was that a laser dot I imagined on the back of my neck? Or was I just being paranoid?

"West of the Federal Courthouse"

Fortunately I’d made the guard’s friendly acquaintance a few minutes earlier. I had even given him a business card. “My specialty is weddings,” I cheerily said “If you know anybody getting married I’d be glad to provide a free quote. I also do other social events.”

"On the Detroit Superior Bridge"

This was a recent encounter I had on my way to work. I’d stopped at a downtown street corner with camera in hand to take advantage of the Fall morning light as it spread across downtown Cleveland.

The sun is quickly getting lower in the sky. The shadows are growing longer. This creates an intriguing pastel interplay over the bridges and tracks that crisscross the Flats. It’s a photographer’s dream and my favorite shooting venue. Unfortunately I was capturing these scenes from the plaza of the Federal Courthouse. My actions attracted a security guard who seemed to appear from nowhere.

"Ore Freighter Alcoway on the Cuyahoga"

Our “introduction” went well since I made it a point to be pleasant and cooperative in response to his questions. I even referred him to my website where he could view my work. I have no doubt that he and a variety of cameras kept a close watch on me. But I made sure to direct my camera and attention away from the Federal building. They don't like people taking closeup photos of the building.

"A Rainy View from the Superior Viaduct"

I respect law enforcement. Police, the Feds and security guards have a tougher job today since 911. Anything perceived as suspicious behavior becomes suspect. Mundane activities can really be hidden threats. In partial defense of the Establishment I can understand this attitude.

"Guardian of Transportation - Hope Memorial Bridge"

The urban photographer can easily fall into the category of suspicion as he walks around the city, loitering with camera in hand, studying the shadows and detail, looking for the next “great shot”. Will photographing a bridge attract unwanted attention? Does aiming a camera at a freighter look suspicious? If you seem too interested in a Federal building does that imply an ulterior motive?

I know what I am doing when I photograph a cityscape. But how does that appear to law enforcement? Extra effort must be made to act responsibly and with common sense these days. Now more than ever you have to be aware of your surroundings.

"Near the Oxbow Area"

On the way back to my car I cut through a parking lot. The attendant spotted me and quickly approached. "What are you doing here with that camera?" Again, I explained my photographic interest in the Flats and gave him a business card. We chatted a little. Eventually he seemed convinced that I was harmless.

"The reason I stopped you is because last week there was another guy going through the lot with a camera. He was taking pictures of all the cars. We think maybe he was a car thief making up some inventory photos for interested buyers." Now that's something I never would have thought of myself.

Click on photo to see full panoramic image

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Horsing Around at Landerhaven

The horseplay was only minor. Bit it did add to the fun I had photographing the wedding of Megan McCoy and Brian Astman at Landerhaven on October 13, 2007.

As much as I like recording Cleveland’s urban landscape, I also enjoy covering weddings and social events. This has been going on now for over 30 years.

Working with Megan, Brian and their large wedding party of 18 was a lot of fun that Saturday.

They were easy to work with and made the day fly right by. I have to say they were a pretty handsome looking group too.

Other than a cool Fall breeze the weather was cooperative. We were able to do much of the preliminary group and casual portraiture on Landerhaven’s beautiful grounds prior to the ceremony. I prefer doing this beforehand as it's less stressful for the bride and groom later in the day.

There is nothing worse than a nagging photograper insisting upon a shot list late into the evening.

The ceremony began at 6:30 P.M. with Robert Stephens and Henry Cogan officiating. At that point the weather was starting to turn and a few rain drops could be felt.

Dark clouds began rolling in and the temperature was steadily dropping. Fortunately umbrella's were not necessary and the ceremony was over by 7 P.M.

Mother of the Bride Linda McCoy toasting the couple.

When I first started covering weddings in 1973, I was typically close in age to that of the bride and groom. Now I am usually the age of their parents. The irony of Megan's wedding is that both the bride and my daughter Jennifer went to high school together.

These were only a few shots from Megan and Brian's wedding day. You can view their entire online proof gallery by clicking THIS link.

Once you arrive at the first screen, click on slideshow (upper right corner) to view all the photos in sequence.

If you wish to order any of the photograhs, you can do so by either contacting the bride or clicking on my ORDER FORM. Print out the form, complete the necessary information and then mail it back to me with a check for the appropriate amount.

Want to learn more about Stuart Pearl Photography? Visit my website or call me on (440) 449-2782.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Ponte Vecchio - Different Perspective for this Photographer

I’m not a restaurant critic. But give me a beautiful night out with my wife Jeanne, good food in a fine eatery with great views of the city, and I can be a very happy man.

All of this came together Saturday night. To celebrate Jeanne's birthday, we had a delicious dinner at Ponte Vecchio Restaurant in the Flats, atop the old Superior Viaduct.

I discovered Pont Vecchio by accident while looking for new photography venues. I’m currently building a Flats portfolio and I try to visit familiar as well as new areas of the city under different lighting conditions. The Superior Viaduct provides great views of the skyline as well as areas of the Flats and Cuyahoga River.

To reach the Viaduct from downtown, head west on the Detroit-Superior bridge to W. 25th Street. Turn right when you get to the light. Drive a few hundred feet until you see Superior Viaduct road on the right. Turn right again and drive through the iron gate until you see the restaurant on the left, halfway down what remains of the Viaduct.

It’s hard to say if many know about this area. Condos, apartments and restaurants are now replacing what used to be old warehouses and machine shops.

While some city neighborhoods continue deteriorate, this is one pocket that seems to be staging a comeback.

Unfortunately it’s very easy to drive by this area off W. 25th if you’re not aware of the new construction. You cannont easily see the restaurant from the main road. However, it’s worth the search for both the food and the view.

Jeanne and I had a very pleasant and relaxing evening at Pont Vecchio. It was was fantastic weather for a Saturday night out. We were also fortunate to meet Britanny Smith, charming daughter of Pont Vecchio's owner who told us a little bit about the establishment.

Leaving the restaurant we took a stroll to end of the viaduct to view the city lights and the river below. Who would think we’d still be enjoying 80F+ weather in October here in Cleveland?

Want to see more photographs of the Cleveland skyline? Click HERE. Additional images can also be seen in my Flats Gallery.

Please visit my website at Stuart Pearl Photography.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Envisioning Cleveland" Exhibit Opens at CSU

What do local photographers think of Cleveland? How is the city perceived through their lens? Are their images viewed as art, social commentary or both?

These are some concepts that were explored in the September 27, 2007 introductory speech by Professor Helen Ligget for Envisioning Cleveland , a new urban photography exhibit. It has just opened in the Levin College for Urban Studies near Playhouse square.

Professor Ligget works in the related fields of urban and planning theory at Cleveland State University, as well as visual culture and photography.

This is the first exhibit I’ve been involved with in years and four of my works are hanging in the show. Enlargements of these can be seen in my prior blog article about the College's competition.

Professor Helen Ligget

It was very gratifying to enjoy the support of friends and family who attended the opening . But my foremost appreciation is to my wife Jeanne who helped make the final selections, and then assisted me in framing the works. She also accompanied my mother Ida Pearl to the gallery.

Jeanne Pearl

Joining her was my brother Arnie and his girlfriend Lori Berenson.

Also in attendance were Joe Polevoi, my long time friend from the Ohio Bell days, and his wife Marcia of Coventry’s “High Tide-Rock Bottom” fame.

[Joe & Marcia Polevoi on Oct. 1, 2005 the day before the store closed]

Close friend and coworker Mark Long joined us to view my work as well as the other entries.

Mark is a notable Cleveland artist in his own right, being an accomplished musician and writer of several compositions.

Mark Long

Our furthest visitors on opening night were Lisa Beachler and her husband Jim who drove up from Warren, Ohio just to see the opening. Lisa and I are members of the “ Photography-on-the-Net” forum where members share tips on photography, critique work and mentor each other in technique and composition. Not only is she a fellow wedding photographer, but Lisa actively photographs Warren sports teams.

Lisa and Jim Beachler

Other good friends Frank and Marybeth Skala were also in attendance for the event. Frank and I have known each other since our early Ohio Bell days back in the mid ‘70’s.

Louise & Brian Bowman

In a postscript to the opening day reception, long time Florida friends Louise and Brian Bowman came up from St. Augustine. at the end of October for visit. Cheap air fare and an excuse to see old friends was all the reason they needed for a visit to Cleveland. We go all the way back to 1969.

The exhibit will continue on through December of this year.

About 175 submissions had initially been made, with the committee selecting 40 works from 26 local artists.

All of the submissions can still be seen at the Levin College online gallery. At its completion, plans are being considered to move the collection of work to other venues in the city for public viewing.

Stuart Pearl

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pearl to Exhibit In "Envisioning Cleveland" Show

"Crooked River Pyramids" © Stuart Pearl 2007

It's been years since I’ve submitted photographs to exhibitions and competitions. Raising a family and working at my regular job has occupied much of my time. But recent photographic projects have paid off.

Last week I was notified that four of my submissions to the “Envisioning Cleveland” photo competition had been accepted. Some of my recent “Flats” images will be displayed alongside works of other photographers in the atrium gallery of the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban affairs at Cleveland State University.

The Envisioning Cleveland exhibit will open with a public reception on Thursday September 27, 2007 from 5:30 – 7:30. The Levin College of Urban Affairs is located at 1717 Euclid Avenue. The building is on the northeast corner of Euclid and E. 17th Street.

A total of 175 photographs were submitted online to the Envisioning Cleveland competition. The judges chose 40 works representing 26 local photographers. These selections will be displayed in the Levin College gallery.

"The Brothers Grim" © Stuart Pearl 2007

My selected work features scenes of downtown Cleveland and the nearby industrial Flats. All images were shot within the past six months as I tried to capture the sun's early morning and late afternoon impact on the urban landscape. Everything was shot with a digital SLR, processed through photoshop and then output to an Epson R1800 printer.

The picture shown at the top of this article , “Crooked River Pyramids” was shot before 8 A.M. shortly after it had stopped raining. The downpour had created fascinating reflections both on the river and among the gravel yards. It felt like I was looking down on a Tonka Truck playground of bridges, trucks and boats.

“The Brothers Grim” was shot in the same area as Crooked River Pyramids and the title refers to spray painted grafitti on the concrete. It had been an overcast morning and I was waiting for the sun to break through to illuminate the bridge pylon. Timing is everything; patience can be boring.

© Stuart Pearl 2007

“Afternoon Fog Over the Inner Harbor “ was one of those Cleveland weather anomalies that we experienced this past May. It was also featured in an earlier article. Taken from a hill next to the Great Lakes Science Center, I was experimenting with a circular polarizing filter and a new ultra wide angle lens I’d just purchased.

“New Geometry against an Old Theme” was shot just a block from where I work downtown. Again, the low angle morning light generated perfect contrast and shadow across the RTA Train Station.

If you are in the city that day we hope you can make the opening of the show. While the web makes it possible to share art across the world in seconds, it is not the same as viewing a matted and framed 15"x10" photographic print in a properly lit gallery setting.

© Stuart Pearl Photography

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Margaret Bourke-White, the Flats and My Dad

© 2007 Stuart Pearl - Click on Photo to Enlarge

I wonder if Margaret Bourke-White walked the same roads. Perhaps she focused her lens on the same old bridges during her Cleveland years. These are thoughts that I have as I explore the industrial Flats and the riverbanks of the Cuyahoga with camera in hand. For Bourke-White it was all about the interplay of light and shadow among the structures she discovered. The bridges, factories and smokestacks were a fantastic playground for her creative eye. I think I now understand some of what she saw more than 70 years ago.

See more Cleveland photos at:

Margaret Bourke-White might be surprised by many of the new structures that comprise downtown Cleveland and the Flats today. But I believe she would still recognize those signs of the early steel industry which spread across the Flats last century. Many of these factory and bridge structures still exist today. They remain a testament to what was once a center of thriving industry and steel manufacturing.

Arrival in Cleveland
Bourke-White photographed Cleveland during her short residency here from 1927-1930. Those early images were diverse, covering both the steel industry as well as private residences of the wealthy which were then published in Town and Country Club News. (1)

The industrial pictures focused on ore processing in the old Otis Steel Mills. After extensive experimentation, she was able to create images of the manufacturing process that had never before been published.

I’ve been reading Bourke-White’s excellent autobiography Portrait of Myself.(2) Her book has been somewhat of an inspirational roadmap for my summer project photographing the Flats. She was Fortune Magazine’s first photographer and a forerunner in the field of photojournalism. Her notable images include those of Stalin, Churchill and Ghandi, as well as the Great Depression and WWII. She has the distinction of being the first female accredited war correspondent.

It is Bourke-White's early years in Cleveland that have special meaning for me. She was enthralled by the massive machine images

of the area's growing industry. Our cameras were attracted to the same industrial subjects.

Bourke-White came to Cleveland in 1927, arriving by overnight ferry from Buffalo. Margaret wrote in her autobiography: "I stood on the deck to watch the city come into view. As the skyline took form in the morning mist, I felt I was coming to my promised land...columns of machinery gaining height as we drew toward the pier, derricks swinging like living creatures. Deep inside I knew these were my subjects."

The Cleveland shoreline is now quite different from that 1927 view. Some bridges have been demolished while others and have been closed and now point forever skyward. Whiskey Island’s Huelett ore unloaders ceased operation in December of 1992. They were dismantled in 2000. Although steel production has dwindled in the Flats, you can still see remnants of the city’s industrial heritage along the banks of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River.

The Artist Moses Pearl
Many artists and craftsmen have been drawn to the Flats over the past 150 years during its industrial age. From the middle of the last century until just a few years ago, my father Moses Pearl spent many mornings visiting the Flats. He could often be seen standing at his easel with charcoal pencil or paint brush in hand. As an urban landscape artist he captured a variety of those industrial images on both canvas and sketchpad.

Dad would return home after his sketch trips and promptly display the new work in his studio for all of us to view. It was always fascinating for our young family to see which new factory structure, river bend or sweeping bridge arch he had chronicled on canvas. Even though we lived in the suburbs, we were treated to new glimpses of the city almost every week during this period of our lives.

And with this window into a fascinating and unusual environment, it was probably inevitable that I would explore the same crooked streets and factory structures when I grew older.

Medium Format View
My photo trips to the Flats began in 1974. I chose camera and film instead of brush and canvas, and my tool of choice was the medium format twin lens reflex. That summer I bought a used Mamiya C220 TLR which was my first pro level camera. It created a square negative measuring 2 ¼” x 2 ¼”.

Rugged, easy to use, and with simple manual adjustments, it was an inexpensive way to get into medium format photography. It also created an image that was more than three times the size of a 35mm negative. This larger film format made it possible to create highly detailed enlargements with excellent resolution.

During this period I had also started doing part time wedding and social event photography. The Mamiya proved to be a boost to my wedding work which in turn helped to finance my fine art efforts. By using a professional format camera, I was now able to offer images that were superior to those of my competitors who still used 35mm equipment.

Dad encouraged my pursuit of photography as an art form. To that end he built a modest but functional darkroom in our basement. I developed and printed my first medium format negatives in that small room in our suburban home.

Nearly 50 years earlier, Bourke-White followed a similar passion as she created her iconic images of Cleveland's industry and manufacturing operations. Her darkroom was located in the new Terminal Tower complex. Besides capturing images of steel production in the Otis Mills, she had also documented construction of the Terminal complex for the Van Swearingens. She always matched her tools to the task, shooting large format film for her industrial images. Later as a photojournalist she adopted more compact cameras and smaller film formats.

I professionally shot medium format film for more than three decades. Most of this was wedding and social event photography. In 1998 I upgraded from Mamiya to the Hasselblad equipment, one of the finest medium format SLR systems ever made. The lenses are superb and the camera itself is both ergonomic and extremely reliable. It’s no surprise that Hasselblad accompanied NASA on the moon trips.

Whenever I had spare time I would always return to Flats and the Lake Erie shoreline. Cleveland’s seasonal changes create a variety of lighting conditions that can generate some fascinating images. Family vacations were also an opportunity to photograph the National Parks. I loved doing medium format work in all of these locations.

Late in 2005 I realized I had to make the switch to digital if I were to continue with event photography. This was a difficult and painful decision. I had always been a film person and was very reluctant to set aside the Hasselblad equipment.

My rationale for changing was both financial and competitive. Lab costs for film processing were spiraling upwards. Many of the pro labs no longer printed directly from film negatives. Commercial labs still processed film in the conventional manner, but then scanned and digitally printed the images. This “middle” step was not only slowing my workflow but it was potentially degrading some of the detail and tonal range of the original film capture. At the same time, my competitors were delivering more pictures to their clients, very extensive coverage, and enhanced finishing services at costs I couldn’t touch with film.

I bought my first digital single lens reflex camera in the spring of 2006. After months of research I decided upon the Canon Camera system and now use 5D in my pro work. I also acquired some wonderful zoom lenses that which simply were not available for my medium format equipment. Coupled with auto-focus and improved exposure technology, I was now in a better position to compete.

Digital View of the Flats
My transition to digital has offered a variety other benefits. It is now much easier pick up the camera on a whim, experiment, and view the printed results almost instantly. I no longer have to wait several days for UPS to deliver the results from my commercial lab. If the exposure is undesirable, it can be changed and verified on the LCD in a matter of seconds.

All of this has meshed very nicely with my summer project photographing the Cleveland Flats. Just as Bourke-White would always try to match the proper camera to the job, I believe she would have enjoyed the evolution to digital. She loved technological advancement and marveled at the 20th Century's early machines.
She experimented with the latest lighting techniques, films and paper emulsions in order to get her breakthrough Otis Steel Mill shots. And it was those early industrial images which brought her to the attention of Henry Luce, creator of Fortune, Time and Life magazines. I believe the dSLR would have been welcome in her camera bag.

Summer Project
In the summer of 2007 I took the 5D into the flats for the first time. I have never been a morning person, but looking at things photographically my favorite part of the day is prior to 9 A.M. The low angle sun casts cool shadows and intricate patterns across the bridges, trestles and old factory buildings. I prefer this to the midday sun which blasts the landscape flat into an uninteresting canvas that lacks texture and depth.

At least one day a week I would get up early to make either a quick scouting or shooting trip into the Flats. Photography is often spontaneous but planning for the best light will usually result in the most gratifying images. If time permits, I would also return to the same areas after 5 P.M. to see what new angles and shapes were revealed by the hotter afternoon sun.

Cleveland’s Flats and the downtown skyline continue to change. Margaret Bourke-White documented that urban evolution for a short period early in the 20th century. This was an era of growth and expansion for the city. But by the time she had gone on to become one of the century’s greatest photojournalists, local steel production had hit its zenith. In the latter half of the 20th century Cleveland had gone into industrial decline. Fortunately the city’s commerce had diversified into finance, insurance and healthcare, moving segments of the region into the new century with some vitality.

From a visual standpoint there is no doubt that the city has changed. The ore boats still wind their way up the Cuyahoga through the Flats, but the streets no longer echo to the sounds of the Otis Steel Mills as they did back in 1929.

By 1930 Bourke-White had taken a position with Fortune Magazine in New York City and enjoyed a penthouse studio in the Chrysler building. She would often look out her windows and marvel at the city’s moods. Fog, rain, snow and sun all offered wonderful vistas for her camera. And it was her stay in Cleveland that helped Bourke-White to develop that critical eye for light and shadow.
The Northcoast has well defined seasons, and each dresses the city in a different mood. The changeable weather offers many viewpoints and perspectives. Although much of my recent Flats photography was done this past summer, I hope to return in the Fall and Winter to capture different aspects of the same venues.

Passing of Artists
Margaret Bourke-White died in 1971. Her passing was coincidentally six months after I had purchased my first serious film camera. At that point in my life though I was not even aware of her role in photojournalism. While she had been struggling for years with Parkinsons, I was just a kid growing up in the suburbs.

My father passed away more recently in August of 2003. His paintings of Cleveland covered nearly every wall of our home and he had always been a strong creative influence on me. Both Moses Pearl and Margaret Bourke-White deeply affected the way I regard the city, but in ways that I have only truly come to appreciate recently. Perhaps I’m seeing some of my dad’s old watercolor paintings through the viewfinder, or a vantage point that Bourke-White might have contemplated. Either way, I think they would have been pleased with my efforts.

Flats Gallery Photos

Want to see more photographs of Cleveland's Industrial Flats and the Cuyahoga River? Visit my gallery at:


(1) Margaret Bourke-White The Cleveland Years 1927-1930 The New Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, Ohio © 1976, Introduction by Theodore M Brown.

(2) Portrait of Myself Margaret Bourke-White Simon & Schuster, New York © 1963