Cassadaga, The Town of Psychics

Going to Cassadaga, self-proclaimed “Psychic Capital of the World,” is really like entering another time period.  A newspaper article about Cassadaga I had read described the scene when they had last visited, saying a woman riding a horse along the side of the road and smoking a cigarette really set the mysterious tone for them as they entered the town.  Sadly, we did not see anything like that, but there’s definitely a strange vibe in the air as you enter the town limits – a hey-we’re-not-in-Kansas anymore type of feeling fills the humid air as you drive past the 1800’s-era homes.


Cassadaga is home to The Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association, which was founded by noted medium George Colby in 1894 and controls about 57 acres of the land around here.  Today, it is home to many psychics, mediums, and healers.  Two camps seem to have emerged here, one sanctioned by The Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association, which certifies their mediums after a certification process that can take several years to complete – their web site lists 42 certified mediums.  The other camp seems based around the Cassadaga Hotel – these are not licensed or affiliated with the camp but they do readings up on the top floor of the hotel.


I had come here to photograph some psychics and mediums for a personal project I’d been working on and had a few appointments set up.  However, it quickly became clear that the portrait sessions were not going to happen as one backed out at the last moment. Another, who at first claimed he needed 30 days to decide but then said OK, turned me down on his doorstep saying, almost accusatory, that he had lost his phone and was unable to contact me (never mind that fact that we had emailed the previous afternoon).  I went over to the Cassadaga Hotel to inquire about the possibility of a portrait shoot with one of their mediums but was quickly shot down with “I don’t think anyone here would be interested in that.”

Back across the street at the camp’s book shop, the two friendly women behind the counter said there might be – I should look on the white board to see who was available that day and just give someone a call.  The first person I called was Rev. Ed Conklin, who said he had seen me earlier that day walking around shooting images of the town.  He readily agreed and told me to come down to his place, three doors down from the book shop on the left, where he was waiting for me with a smile.


Ed grew up in New York State and has an academic BA in psychology, MA in Humanities, and a Ph.D. in Religion.  He taught at the college and university level at Webster University, University of Central Florida, and Daytona State College, among others. While living in Orlando, a friend introduced him to the religion of Spiritualism at Cassadaga. He moved to Cassadaga in 1992 and his certification process took about five years to complete, a process the camp is hoping to obtain state licensing for in the next few years.

Ed tells me that from about 35 years of age on, he began to have visionary experiences of deceased spirits. He began to take mediumship development classes and his ability increased. He has had a number of spirit guides -an Indian, a Persian, and Zen monk to name a few- and occasionally deceased relatives sometimes act as guides. He believes that many folks have the ability but those who are better at seeing spirits have inherited it genetically or may be the result of karma from past lives.  Ed’s ability, he continues, comes from his past karma of at least 17 remembered lives.

I suspect the most popular questions that get asked around here are about Christianity and what exactly their religion is. From what I can gather, and from what Mr. Conklin told me, the religion of Spiritualism at Cassadaga is a distinct religion but some members of the camp tend to also have Christian and New Age views. Spiritualism here is not a theistic religion with a personal god but is more pantheistic. Buddha and Jesus (and other religions’ top figures) are respected as teachers.

It was quiet as we headed out of town, a group of folks walking over to the Cassadaga Hotel with what seemed to me to be the oddest thing I saw there all day: a woman pushing a stroller with her dog relaxing inside, a net protecting her from the elements.  It wasn’t a ghost or a woman smoking on horseback, but it would do for now.

Savannah, GA: Revisiting the Past

A failed newspaper editor named James M. Harney issued a now-famous curse on the city of Savannah on his way out of town: “I leave you, Savannah, a curse that is far worst of all curses—to remain as you are!”

Well, apparently that curse has been lifted.  When I attended SCAD in the late 80s/early 90s, Savannah was a small Southern town whose streets emptied at night, no one really played or hung out in the many squares dotted around town, the tourists were on River Street and a smattering of them at City Market but not really anywhere else, Broughton Street was a sad collection of boarded up storefronts and wig shops, and the intense odor of the nearby paper mill could be smelled in the plane as you were landing at the airport and everywhere else once you were on land.

Clockwise from top right: Horses waiting for tourists just off City Market; Pinkie Masters; Bonaventure Cemetery; mannequin head at Oscar de la Renta exhibition at SCAD Museum of Art.

Clockwise from top right: Horses waiting for tourists just off City Market; Pinkie Masters; Bonaventure Cemetery; mannequin head at Oscar de la Renta exhibition at SCAD Museum of Art.

Now, the cheapest hotel room we could find was over $200 a night, there was a J.Crew, Gap, Urban Outfitters, and L’Occitane on a bustling Broughton Street, the old Savannah Morning News building has been transformed into a sleek and modern hotel, and there were local coffee shops, locally sourced and organic restaurants, SCAD has exploded all over town and I can’t imagine their Historical Preservation Dept. appreciated them painting the old wooden stairway in Preston Hall a bright neon green or inserting a gleaming modern art museum into the 1853 brick building that was once the railway depot for the Central of Georgia Railway.

Top: Preston Hall's neon green railings; bottom: Forsyth Park.

Top: Preston Hall’s neon green railings; bottom: Forsyth Park.

I couldn’t wrap my brain around how much Savannah has changed in the 20 years since I’d been there. I honestly don’t think I would have necessarily fit into this environment back in the day – SCAD was still fairly new when I started and they themselves were not sure of their identity yet. My class was the largest they had ever had up until that point and they had purchased an old roadside-type motel (now Oglethorpe House) to house us – and they didn’t even change the furniture in the rooms! They clearly did not know how to manage us as a group and, looking back, I kind of liked that very unstructured way of learning. Looking around last week, I don’t believe the school is like that anymore – it seemed very structured, clean, corporate – and very wealthy. I doubt I would get accepted there today and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford it – and if I managed to do both, I don’t think I would have ever fit in there today. It seemed so sanitary and all the rough edges that I liked about it were smoothed off and painted neon green.

Pinkie Masters

Pinkie Masters

Thank God Pinkie Masters hasn’t changed and that there’s still a souvenir of old Savannah – Pinkie Masters is a slice of what I remembered best about Savannah – local, friendly, quirky, and most definitely not corporate. We walked in, the guy at the jukebox immediately became our friend – that is, until the next round of bachelorette partiers came in – and, what was up with all the ladies in tiaras celebrating their final days of freedom? – we saw bachelorette party after bachelorette party everywhere we went. Cigarettes in vending machines, PBR and Bud Lights in a bucket of ice behind the bar, and people saying things like “If you’re gonna drink from 8 am til 2 am, you gotta stay hydrated …. That’s why I’m drinkin’ PBR.”

This was the vibe we came to Savannah to find.

Happy Holidays!



I’m thinking this might be an appropriate image to highlight this holiday season. It’s one of my favorite images from the Creatives series and I love it because El Vez saved the Christmas tree for several months specifically so we could set it on fire. We were definitely worried about burning down the neighborhood and I knew we’d only have one shot really at a great image. As we’re about to set the tree alight, El Vez says to me, very seriously, “If my hair catches on fire, KEEP SHOOTING!”

El Vez will do anything for his art!

Jane Abbott Lighty and Pete-e Petersen


In honor of the Supreme Court’s decision not to take on the gay marriage issue this year (and, in effect, making same-sex marriage legal in 30 states now), I want to show some of the first images from a new project I’ve been working on about gay and lesbian elders. Their stories are all fascinating and important to remember and document. These are incredibly brave people who made the decision to live their life on their terms and many never thought they’d see the acceptance and tolerance that is everywhere these days – and the beginning of celebrating their love in marriage.

Here are the very first couple to get a marriage license in Washington State when gay marriage became legal just after midnight on December 6, 2012 – Jane Abbott Lighty and Pete-e Petersen. They have been together for over 37 years now, raised a daughter together, migrated from California to the great state of Washington and have many tales to tell. I am inspired by their adventurous life and sense of humor, their bravery, and their warm friendly vibe. I had such a great afternoon hanging out with them and learning of their stories – I will definitely be sharing more on this project as I move along on it.

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Washington State Fair!

I love the Washington State Fair (though in my head, I still want to call it the Puyallup Fair!). We try and go every year and every year I bring my SLR camera. This year, I went without that and relied solely on my iPhone. At first, I felt like I was forgetting something but as soon as we

made our first stop at the Fisher Scone booth (always the first stop) and I took a picture of the nice woman handing me my scone, I completely forgot about the SLR and just had some fun with pictures.




And, one of my favorites:


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Client Work -The Not Its!


This week, ‘kindiependent’ band The Not-Its released their new record, Raise Your Hand. When they asked me to shoot some promo photos for them, of course I had to say yes – they’re only of my daughter’s favorites (she insisted I get paid in a new Not-Its T-shirt for her, which they graciously obliged for me). Plus, I was a huge fan of singer Sarah Shannon’s 90’s era band Velocity Girl (I still remember being at my parent’s house for Christmas and seeing this video for the first time and thinking I had to get that record!), bassist Jennie Helman’s old Seattle Band Micro Mini and drummer Michael Welke played for Harvey Danger.


Plus, did I mention they’re one of my daughter’s favorites?  Here she is wearing her shirt, plus a foam finger that was generously added for her!  You can check out one her favorites songs here.

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Costa Rica Adventure, Part III

Armed with delicious packed lunches from Bosque del Cabo (hummus sandwich for me and an amazingly delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Sam), we began a two and a half mile hike down to the beaches of Matapolo. The hike down was pretty slow going – we startled a small group of peccaries (which startled me in turn!), a giant tree had fallen on the trail and obscured most of it, the trail was slick from recent rains. Once we got down to Playa Matapalo, it was clear the trek was well worth it – the rainforest meeting the clear turquoise waters was amazing.

We trekked on down to Backwash Beach where there were several surfers out in the waters. Seemed like a perfect place to stop for a lunch break and watch the surfers in the waves. As we ate, one of the surfers got out of the water and I waved at him. His motorcycle was on a pathway behind us and it seemed like the perfect picture to take here at Matapolo, a surfer’s paradise.

Rolando Munoz Contreras was a dentist practicing with his father in San Jose. After his father chose to retire, Rolando was faced with a decision to make: he could stay in San Jose or practice somewhere else in the country.


“The city lifestyle was something I don’t want for me for the rest of my life, being a boogie boarder since I was 14, I used to go to the beach every time I could to ride waves, camp and enjoy the beach life style,” he told me.

He used to come down to these southern beaches when he was a kid and had fond memories of being down there with his family. He came down to the area armed with his backpack to scope out locations and fell in love with Puerto Jimenez.

“Life here is so different than a city; no heavy traffic, here there is no people on a rush like in the city, simplicity is what I like from the people on this town. But Puerto Jimenez is a multicultural place where some people from other countries live here, too. (They used to have to go to) Golfito or San Isidro to get private dental services.”

He tries to get out and surf as much as possible, sometimes as many as five times a week. This picture sums up life in the Osa Peninsula nicely I think!
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Costa Rica Adventure, Part II

photo2At the airport, everyone was glued to the television – Costa Rica was playing England in the World Cup. I was a little nervous because I knew we’d be getting on a super small plane and I also could clearly see everyone was glued to the soccer game. I just hoped the air traffic controllers were on top of their game!

The pilot leaned out of the open cockpit and said, “Buckle your seat belts, we’re about to take off,” and that was it, we were off to the Osa Peninsula. Everyone we had talked to said pretty much the same thing when we said we were off to the Osa: ooooh, that’s a wild place. And, as we approached the runway, it was clear we were out there! There was no airport per se, just a small landing strip surrounded by a low fence with the town cemetery on the right. A handwritten sign announced we were indeed in Puerto Jimenez and a driver from where we were staying was there to pick us up in a white jeep-like vehicle. I don’t know how far we drove but it was down a bumpy dirt road and we occasionally splashed through fast running streams. Finally, we turned off the main dirt road onto another and we were at Bosque del Cabo. The property was amazing – encompassing over 750 acres of rainforest and overlooking the Golfo Dulce, it felt like we were in an episode of ‘Fantasy Island’ – complete with a woman offering us glasses of ginger lemonade as we entered to check in.

There’s not a lot of hustle and bustle going on here – no bars, no restaurants, no neon nightlife – just howler monkeys, spiders, snakes, and jungle. Every day was another hike through the jungle down to one of the several beaches or just walking through the jungle. We saw a ton of monkeys, hundreds of different kinds of ants, and I freaked out when we surprised a group of peccaries. In my defense, we were told that the only animal to be really afraid of in the jungle are the peccaries – especially when you see them in packs. We saw a group of maybe 4 or 5, which I would assume was a pack. However, the resident biologist Phil told us a pack of peccaries is something like 100 of them.

dogOn the last day there, we left the grounds of Bosque del Cabo and decided to rent a boat with Carlos down the Rio Esquinas. One of the owners, Kim, had told us a boat down the Esquinas was like the Jungle Cruise ride at Disney World – and she couldn’t have been more right. We crossed over the Golfo Dulce watching spinner dolphins dance in the boat’s wake, made it to the mouth of the river and cruised in. Carlos had an amazing ability to home in on the snakes and birds that lay in the mangroves – he would point and steer the boat in there and sometimes we still couldn’t see what he was pointing at! I have no idea how he managed to find all these creatures. Both he and the boat operator Ronnie were incredibly knowledgeable about the flora and fauna around us. We headed back to the mainland with the daily 4pm storm rapidly trailing us back to land.

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Costa Rica Adventure, Part I

blog3aIt took over three hours to go the 75 kilometers from San Jose to Arenal Volcano.  It wasn’t that the roads were bad (though the last 10 kilometers were on a bumpy but fairly well maintained dirt road).  It was that every five minutes our GPS unit would loudly DING and announce that we were approaching a “dangerous bridge.”  The bridges weren’t necessarily dangerous but they did necessitate that we slow down, they were often one-lane bridges, and there were a lot of them to slow us down.  That and the constant curves and winding roads that led us up from the valley to the tropical mountains.

We arrived in the dark and couldn’t see anything – but the sounds coming from the animals and insects in the rainforest surrounding us was pretty deafening.  When we woke, the sounds were still there but we couldn’t see the famous Arenal Volcano – clouds obscured it and the rain was pretty intense.  We squinted to see if we could see lava or a hint of steam from the volcano but we could not see even an outline of the mountain.  We later learned that the pool of lava that seeped from the top of Arenal for years had stopped flowing three years ago or so and that it would probably be another three hundred years before tourists could see red lava spilling down its slopes.

We’re from Seattle, so we’re not afraid of any rain.  Out into the rain we went, covered with our cheap $5 parkas purchased from the Arenal Observatory Lodge where we were staying. The volcano was sooooo close to us but we couldn’t’ see it so why not go into the forest to see what was lurking in there.  Hanging bridges, heliconias, and strange beetles with headlights on their heads that looked like glowing LED lights.  And, aside from these things, the rainforests here looked remarkably like the rainforests up here in the Pacific Northwest – wet, very green, tightly compacted.  The hike was wet but not too bad – though we heard some fellow hikers at dinner say their hike up to Cerro Chato was horribly chilly, wet, and “tortuous.”


blog5The next day, the clouds parted and the volcano showed herself.  It was stunning – I had no idea that the volcano was lurking THAT close to us behind the clouds – it was amazing.  The story behind the lodge where we were staying is that, because of a valley hidden in the depths of the rainforest it was determined that the lodge was a safe place to observe the goings-on of the volcano – even though we were super close to the mountain.  This was where Smithsonian researchers stayed to watch over the mountain and monitor its seismic activity – close enough to have an amazing viewpoint but safe from the lava flow and spewing rocks.

It was not sunny by any means but we opted to go for a horseback tour to La Fortuna waterfall.  Our guides, Joel and Harrison (though they insisted their names were actually Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas), didn’t make too much fun of me since I was a novice and pretty petrified of my horse, Miel.  Miel was a little feisty and not really that interested in letting me have a slow and easy ride.  It’s not that she was running or anything, but in my nervous state of mind, her little gallops grew in my mind to be out of control stampeding or something.  There were lots of steep climbs down into creeks and streams and Miel would speed up the opposite bank to a fast trot that made my heart race a little bit.  After about an hour or so, we arrived at the top of La Fortuna waterfall – and it was a steep 500+ steps down.  The sun was peeking in and out of the clouds and swimming at the base of the falls was amazing…the water was cool, the current not too fast where I was a bit downstream from the falls themselves, everything felt so clean and cool after a humid horse ride and steep trek down to the falls. Getting back up to the top, of course, was another story – heart pumping fast up the steep and slippery steps. 



The next day, we explored a little down in the town of La Fortuna. I had spotted this abandoned water park next to a steak house.  I was intrigued of course and went into the steak house, greeted by a smiling woman.  I asked about getting into the water park – she responded yes of course and opened a chain link fence for me, and let me in.  It was quiet and the perfect place for a horror movie to be set. I swear I heard a shower running in the empty bathrooms.  As I was leaving, I was talking with the woman in my broken Spanish and her in her broken English. I think we may have misunderstood one another, but I swear she said to come back later as the park was going to be open that night at 6. 



Then, it was back down those treacherous roads – this time, in addition to the dangerous bridges and curving roads, we ended up behind a rickety truck hauling a giant cow in the back, the truck listing from side to side threatening to capsize at any moment.  Finally, they pulled over to the side of the road, the driver getting out to chat to someone on his cell phone. I was hoping he was calling for a bigger truck.  We would never know – we were on to the wilds of the Osa Peninsula.

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