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Today is National Poetry Day in the United Kingdom and in Ireland. To celebrate, I decided to read a little poetry when I went out to photograph nature today at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and brought along with me three poetry collections that were all published during the past two months in the United Kingdom by The Hedgehog Poetry Press (https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/).

I am most familiar with Eat the Storms by Damien B. Donnelly, an Irish poet whose blog I have followed for quite some time. One of the highlights of my stay in Paris last November was having a chance to meet Damien in person, shortly before his return to Ireland—check out my blog posting Paris Portraits: Damien. Damien is amazingly creative and has done video versions of a number of his poems that he has featured on YouTube and even on TikTok. The poems in this collection, his first, are full of references to colors that characterize both the physical and psychological landscape, including some steps of his personal journey. Be sure to check out his blog at deuxiemepeaupoetry.com and his newly-created Eat the Storms podcast that features Damien and a host of poets from around the world. The podcast can be found at https://anchor.fm/damieneatsthestorms as well as on Spotify.

The second collection here, Venus in pink marble, was written by Belfast-based Gaynor Kane. I was introduced to her when she did a joint poetry launch video with Damien that was published on YouTube and was entitled “Venus Eats the Storms, A Poetry Launch of two Poets, Gaynor Kane and Damien B. Donnelly.” Both of them are energetic, funny, and engaging as they talk about their individual stories and read selections of their poetry. They apparently had so much fun recording the video that they decided to post an outtake video that is hilarious and can be seen by clicking this link.

The final poetry collection is called Seasons and was written by Katie Proctor, a young poet from Yorkshire, England. I encountered Katie during a Zoom launch presentation in mid-September that presented a “Prickle of Hedgehogs,” with readings from poets, including Katie, whose collections had been published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press. You can learn more about her at her webpage or on Twitter.

You might have had bad experiences from being forced to read and analyze poetry when in school, but I encourage you to give it another shot. The poems by these three poets help me to see and experience the world in different ways, through different eyes. I encourage you to listen to a podcast or two or check out the websites for which I have provided links.

All of these poetry collections are available from Amazon, but I encourage you to order them directly from the poets for two reasons. First of all, it helps to support them more. Secondly, the quality of the books is not the same. I was so anxious to get a copy of Eat the Storms that I ordered one from Amazon and one from Damien. Not surprisingly the one from Amazon arrived first. It was printed in the USA and the paper is of lower quality and is off-white, rather than white like the “original.” The Amazon version also lacks the inner flap photo and biographic information that is found in the UK version.

Let me end with Damien’s standard closing, “Stay Bloody Poetic.”

Hedgehog poets

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Would you feel insecure and self-conscious if you sat down in a crowded public place and started to sketch? Most adults would feel that way. It would take a really good instructor to get them so excited about drawing that their inhibitions disappeared and they could lose themselves in a few blissful moments of creation—probably like a child feels when creating art. Romain, my instructor for two sketching tours in Paris, was that kind of instructor.

Romain Olivier Thieulot is an energetic and engaging 29 year old artist in Paris. He teaches art at the University of Paris and has his own art studio. As with most artists, though, money is tight, so he conducts sketching tours as a kind of “side hustle” to earn some additional money. Although he is quite young, he is devoted to a traditional style of art rather than digital art. That, he believes, is one of the reasons why he was chosen to teach at the University of Paris. He did not go into a lot of details about the curriculum at the university, but he described the style that is taught there as “academic,” and it sound like it is a regimented system with very specific rules.

Fortunately, that is not the approach that he used with us. He coached and encouraged us as we moved from place to place with our sketchbooks and collapsible stool, all the while providing us with instructions on the major principles of drawing like composition, perspective, and showing emphasis through detail and value (degree of lightness and darkness). Importantly, I think, he left a lot of room for individual expression. Before we started to draw our first building, I remember, he told us that we could choose to draw it any way that we wanted, sketching, for example, the entire building or only a part of it. What was important, he said was to have a clear idea of what we saw as the major area of interest, because the first lines we put on the paper would dictate important considerations like scale and composition.

Romain had carefully chosen the locations and routes of these tours, one in Montmartre and one in the Left Bank area beginning at Notre Dame, in order to provide us with fascinating bits of information along the way on the history of the city of Paris and in particular on its rich artistic and architectural history. (Architecture is one of Romain’s areas of expertise and he was able to explain many aspects of the architecture that makes Paris so distinctive.)

One of the places that Romain highlighted was Le Consulat, a historic coffee house that was frequented by many of the artists, writers and painters that flocked to the Montmartre area in the 19th century, including Picasso, Sisley, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Monet. In the second photo below, Romain was showing us a postcard-sized copy of a drawing that he had done of the café. If you click on the photo you can get a real appreciation of the amount of detail in his drawing. I don’t recall long he spent on that particular drawing, but I remember him showing us similar ones on which he had spent forty or fifty hours of work.

One of the fun little bonuses of Romain’s sketching tours was the quick sketch he would do of the individuals in our little group as we were at work. The third photo shows the three members of our group in Montmartre—I think it is pretty obvious which one is me.

During one conversation that I had with Romain, he shared some insights into the world of a professional artist in Paris. As we we passing a series of galleries in the Left Bank area, he noted how difficult it was to get your work into a gallery. Even if you were fortunate enough to get your worked displayed, there were so many fees involved that the artist was often left with very little money when a piece of art was actually sold.

Romain seemed to be much more content to display his work at his own studio/workshop, Atelier Thieulot in the 15th arrondissement in Paris. You can check out his studio on his website and get a better idea of his workplace and of his work. The website is in French, but even if you can’t read the details, you can’t help but be impressed by the number of exhibitions in which he has participated and the awards he has received. If you click on the tab, “Mes Créations,” you can look at his work divided into categories such as architecture, oil painting, drawing, and design. One of my favorite ways to view his work, though, is to click on the “E-boutique” tab and if you do, you too will look with amazement at his detailed drawings.

I saw some wonderful art and architecture in Paris, but some of my favorite moments in the city were spent in creating my own art during the sketching tours with Romain as our guide, coach, and instructor. I was intrigued that the tour is titled “Être artiste à Montmartre,” which means “To be an artist in Montmartre.” We were not pretending to be artists as we toiled over our sketchbooks—Romain made us feel like we really were artists.

We have become friends on Facebook, have exchanged texts since concluding the course, and he is also now following this blog. Paris is wonderful, of course, but it really is the people you meet that make a trip memorable. Thanks, Romain.

Romain Thieulot

Romain Thieulot

Romain Thieulot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m normally very self-conscious about taking photos of people in public, but today I decided to throw caution to the wind and tried to capture images of a few of the guys who caught my attention.

The first image shows a young guy who was at the overlook area in front of Sacre Coeur and was trying to interest people in tours of the city in a bright orange vintage Citroën 2CV, the one that looks vaguely like the original Volkswagen Beetle.

I first heard the guy the second image playing the bongos (with a tambourine to his side) on a bench across the Seine from me, on a bank of Île de la Cité, the island on which Notre Dame de Paris is located. Although I was a long way away, he seemed to sense my presence and looked up at me for a moment before returning to his music.

During my final visit to Place de Tertre in Montmartre late this afternoon, I again watched Jean-Marc Lambert, my favorite watercolor artist at work. You may recognize him in the final photo from an earlier posting I did about him. Unlike the two previous times, I did not engage with him, but silently and wistfully watched from a distance.

Tour guide in Paris

Bongos player in Paris

Watercolor painter in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The police seemed very busy today in Paris. One of their boats came zooming down the Seine River so fast this morning that I thought it might come out of the water. Meanwhile a police officer on roller blades—a first for me—sped by me shortly there after, having checked some documents and/or written a ticket. (I have also seen police officers on bicycles and on horses during this trip but have not managed to get photos of them). I am waiting to see an officer on the electric scooters that are all over the city now.

I guess it is all in a busy day’s work for the police force in a city like Paris.

Police boat on the Seine

Police on roller blades

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Yesterday, 23 November, I stumbled upon a very large and vocal march through the streets of Paris that was directed against domestic violence towards women. What really struck me were the handmade signs carried by many men and women of all ages expressing anger and sorrow at the lack of action in this area by the French government, which many see as deliberately turning a blind eye to the problem.

These are images straight out of my camera, with no attempts made to make them pretty. I have done a loose translation in the captions of the main signs that you see in each photo. If you want more details about the march, check out this BBC report.

Male executioner (Note: In French this word combination sounds a lot like Marlboro). To be born a woman kills. (Note: the wording of this warning matches that on cigarette packaging.)

Sexism kills. Feminism saves.

 

We teach our boys about consent and what happens if the state does it? No is no!

 

Red smoke. (I am not sure of the symbolism here.)

My body belongs to me. In France 2019 there is a rape every 7 minutes. We are all concerned.

Not a single one more. The state is not protecting us.

 

Four out of five handicapped women are victims of violence. The state is complicit.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It seems like people are using cellphones more and more often when they are behind the wheel. Earlier during this trip to Paris I noticed this operator of an excavator along the banks of the Seine checking out his cell phone.

Was he watching a YouTube video on how to operate the machine? Was he stuck in the mud and searching in Google for a solution? Perhaps he was just taking a break. Whatever the case, I kept my distance just in case he started moving in my direction while distracted by his cellphone.

As I struggle to be “artistic” in my photography, I try not to lose sight of the fact that photography is about capturing the moment. Sometimes it is about art, but sometimes it is about simply capturing something that makes me smile.

Have a wonderful day.

excavator in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When it is pouring rain all day in Paris, what can you possibly photograph? Like wildflowers in the spring, colorful umbrellas have sprung up all over the city and they make cool subjects.

I captured the first little scene along the Seine River this morning. I envisioned the possibility of the photo and hung around the location as the group of three people approached. I took multiple photos as the moved toward and under the bridge. The biggest challenge I had was a distractingly bright orange bicycle parked in the middle of the pathway beyond the exit. Fortunately the green umbrella was large enough in this shot to hide the offending bicycle.

I semi-stalked the next group of three young ladies as they walked through the Tuileries Garden toward the pyramid entrance to the Louvre. It was a little frustration because they kept stopping for selfies, but I finally got a shot when they moved together for a moment. I love the way that the three subjects had complementary shades of umbrellas and stylishly distinctive backpacks.

The final photo highlights the umbrellas themselves and not the owners. Although it was still raining, the owners had carefully placed their umbrellas to the side so that they could take photos of themselves with the Louvre pyramid in the background. I like the angle at which the umbrellas are placed, which, along with their black color, emphasizes the form of the umbrellas. The shadows on the wet cobblestones add additional visual interest to the image.

It was cold throughout the day today, about 34 degrees right now (one degree C) and the possibility of snow is forecast for this evening. Yikes! Fortunately I have warm clothes with me and most importantly my camera bag has proven to be as waterproof as advertised. I don’t exclude the possibility of an after dark adventure a bit later.

Umbrellas along the Seine

Umbrellas in Paris

Umbrellas in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Place du Tertre, a small square in the center of Montmartre, is a special place where artists of all varieties set up their easels every day and work in the open air, surrounded by the milling public. Many of them are portrait artists, who gently try to convince you to sit for a portrait.

I watched several of those artists at work and they are amazing talented, creating true-to-life drawings over an extended period of time. This is in sharp contrast with the large number of quick sketch “artists” who aggressively pursue you in the streets, trying to convince you to stand for a “portrait,” which is often a mere caricature that barely resembles the subject.

A number of other artists worked on small canvases with oil paint using palette knives. I had the impression that some of them were working in almost assembly line fashion, cranking out the same limited number of scenes of Paris suitable for souvenirs.

After circling the square, I returned to the only artist who was working in watercolor. He would sketch out his detailed paintings in India ink using a pointed fragment of bamboo as a drawing instrument. After the ink had dried, he would carefully apply multiple washes of color. Some of you know that I have dabbled with watercolor and I was absolutely enthralled as I watched this artist at work, mixing and applying the colors from a watercolor set not all that different than ones that I have.

Watercolor painting is time-consuming and unforgiving—you really cannot hide your mistakes. Supplies are relatively expensive, compared to oil and acrylic painting. Why would an artist choose this style of painting? It does not seem like an economically rational decision.

I did not want to interfere with the artist’s efforts, so I watched from a respectful distance and discreetly took a few photos. When he reached a certain stage when he needed to let a layer dry, he stopped for a smoke break. As he lit up an unfiltered, hand-rolled cigarette, I started to talk with him.

At first I asked him about the materials that he uses. He paints on high quality Arches 100% cotton paper, using a mix of artist quality paints from Winsor and Newton, Sennelier, and others. For brushes, he uses several rather large natural hair brushes. He pointed to one of them and noted that it had cost over 80 Euros (about $100), but he had used it for close to ten years.

He said that he had been painting from a young age and preferred painting in public like this and had done so for almost 40 years. Based on some comments he made about other painters, he seemed to reject the almost elitist idea of painting in seclusion in a studio, with works hanging in high-priced galleries.

He obviously loved what he was doing, but somewhat wistfully talked of eventually retiring to a place in the country. As he puffed on the final fragments of his cigarette, he announced that it was time to get back to work. I thanked him for talking with me—we spoke exclusively in French—and sharing his experience and perceptions. He graciously agreed to let me take a quick portrait shot and that photo, the last one below, is one of my favorite remembrances of this trip to Paris.

The first photo below gives you an overall sense of the environment at the Place du Tertre. Note the assemblage of easels and the passing tourists and compare that with the focus of the painter, who appears to be in his own little world.

The second image provides a slightly closer view of the work in progress. Note the large size of the brush that he is using and the initial delicate washes of color that he has applied.

The final shot, as noted above, is a quick portrait of the artist. It’s a candid pose from where he was standing. I really like the way that it turned out, capturing in part the unique personality of this awesome artist that I was happy to encounter, a man content with doing what he loves outdoors in all kinds of weather (except, he noted, in the rain, which obviously is bad for watercolor paintings).

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first spotted a police zodiac boat yesterday morning as I was walking along the Seine River, it was moving really slowly and seemed to be doubling back periodically. I wondered if someone had jumped off one of the many bridges over the Seine. Then I spotted a floating body, or at least I thought initially that it was floating.

As I zoomed in with my telephoto lens, I could see that the body was moving rhythmically and then I spotted an orange-tipped snorkel. It was a diver in a wet suit who appeared to be getting in his morning training—from what I could see he had flippers and was using a short blue board rather than performing swimming strokes.

The driver of the boat that was marked “Prefecture de Police” also appeared to be in a wet suit. I don’t know if he was bored, but from time to time he would speed ahead and make a sharp u-turn in order to zoom through the arches of a bridge, as you can see in the second image.

When the diver I was following neared what looked to be his destination, I suddenly realize that there were a total of three divers in the water—maybe the other two divers had been waiting for their slower colleague. In the third photo, the divers were getting ready to turn to the left, to an area where I believe the police/firefighting boats are docked. If you look closely at that final image, you can see a small flock of ducks in the background that did not appear to be surprised or disturbed to see humans swimming in the Seine River.

swimming in the Seine

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I bought a round trip ticket on the Laben Bergbahn, a small mountain cable car in Oberammergau, Germany that took us quickly from 900m to 1684 meters. Some folks, however, bought a one-way ticket up the mountain and used an alternative mode of transportation to come down.

I am not sure if I am courageous or crazy enough to jump off a mountain like that and paraglide to the bottom.

parasailing

paragliding

paragliding

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I think that duck hunting season is finally over at Occoquan Bay. It has been somewhat jarring in recent weeks to have my photography expeditions to the wildlife refuge interrupted by volleys of shotgun fire, sometimes at rather close range. In addition to some fixed blinds in the water that look like tiny cabins on stilts, hunters also use small boats like the one featured in these two images. The two hunters in this boat were so close to the shore that I had to zoom out to about 250mm on my 150-600mm telephoto lens to be able to fit them into the frame.

duck hunting

duck hunting

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’ve seen crows harassing hawks and eagles, but I’d never seen a crow being chased off by another bird until this past Friday at Huntley Meadows Park, when I witnessed a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying after what appeared to be a crow. After the heron caught up and forced the crow to depart, the heron appeared to be squawking a few words of warning not to return.

heron and crow

heron and crow

heron and crow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Friday about 5:30 pm I was in the Georgetown area of Washington D.C. right at the time when a small group of protesters caused M Street to be closed by sitting in middle of the lane heading toward Key Bridge, one of only a few bridges linking the capital city with Virginia. Here are a few shots of the protesters and the police.

Readers who follow my blog know that I am not used to this kind of photography and I wasn’t really sure how to approach the subject. Roads and intersections were blocked off with yellow tape, preventing me from getting good angles for the shots. It was a small group of protesters and they looked to be of college age, prompting me to wonder if they were from nearby Georgetown University. All varieties of policemen were present to control the crowd and direct traffic onto side streets—there were bicycle cops and motorcycle cops in addition to the expected police squad cars.

I was happy that I happened to have my Canon SX50 superzoom with me, because the zoomed allowed me to frame some shots differently without having to move around a lot. In the end I chose three shots to post that captured different aspects of protest, mostly focusing on the human element.

Protest in Georgetown

Protest in Georgetown

Protest in Georgetown

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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So you  think you can dance? You might have trouble keeping up with my great nephew, who showed off some of his amazing moves at this past weekend’s wedding. It was such a joy to watch the uninhibited movements of this two year old in action.

Most adults, including me, have lost that innocent sense of spontaneity, which is a little sad.

brayden6_web

brayden3_web

brayden5_web

dance2_web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Over the last four years I have grown comfortable photographing birds, insects, and other creatures, primarily in the friendly confines of my favorite local marshland park. I am familiar with many of the best spots and I know how to use my gear to capture images when the opportunities arise.

This past weekend I stepped way out of my comfort zone when I took pictures at my brother’s wedding. It was indoors, required the use of flash, and, worst of all, involved people. I guess that it is fair to say that I am pretty insecure about my ability to photograph people. Unlike many others, I don’t routinely snap photos of people with my cell phone. In fact, I got my first “smart” phone over a year ago and have yet to take a single photo with it.

The bride asked me to take some photos, so I decided to see what I could do. One of the best pieces of advice came from my niece’s boyfriend who was seated next to me at the reception—he looked at my camera gear and told me I could afford to be bold with gear like that.

Well, things turned out better than I expected. I got some pretty good candid shots. I came away from the experience realizing that all of my hours in the field with wildlife had prepared me better for the wedding than I had realized. I’m not ready to become a wedding photographer, but I might start thinking about photographing people more often.

Here are a few shots from the reception, including a couple of my brother that I converted to black and white.

Carole1_web

 

kiss_web

charlie1_bw_web

charlie2_bw_web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I generally feel inhibited and self-conscious about photographing people, but somehow felt emboldened at my brother’s wedding this past weekend. One of my favorite images of the wedding reception was this shot of my great nephew, who decided to share his cake with his Dad.

I just love their individual expressions.

brayden4_web

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever tried to photograph a wedding reception? I now have a greater appreciation for those photographers who do this for a living.

Yesterday I was blessed to be able to attend the joining in marriage of my 57 year old brother and his new bride.  They met as teenagers at a summer camp more than 40 years ago and now their lives are joined together forever. The wedding was a joyous celebration of family and friends.  The food was great and there was live music too.

However, the ceremony and the reception took place in a private club that appears to be used most often for live music. It was crowed and cluttered and it is an understatement to say that the lighting was variable. The bride, who is a big fan of my wildlife photography, asked me to take some photos of the wedding. I agreed, but only after ascertaining that there would be an “official photographer.”

The relatively dim lighting in the club meant that flash would be required for virtually all shots, and I did have an external flash with me, but I was using it for the first time. Throughout the reception, I ended up doing a lot of experimentation as I twisted and pointed the head in different directions to bounce the light.

As I was getting seated at my table, I decided to take some test shots of the little white bucket that served as my seating card. I was initially confused when I saw that all of my shots had a purple tinge to them.  What was I doing wrong? One of my brothers helpfully pointed out that there was a purple light shining down on us from right behind where I was sitting.

name1_blog

I quickly learned that uncluttered backgrounds were almost impossible to get and that composing shots of moving people in confined spaces is near impossible (and it’s even harder to get shots with decent expressions on their faces).  There was a live band and I managed  to get some decent shots of some of the band members, who were relatively stationary, though the constantly changing lighting made it a challenge.

singer1_web

singer2_web

The groom has more than forty tattoos, including many of the characters of the Wizard of Oz, and the wedding cake featured numerous scenes from that wonderful movie.

cake1_web

I did eventually manage to get some candid shots of people during the reception, but I haven’t yet decided if I will share them on this blog—I’ll  probably check with the bride and groom to see what they think.

What did I learn? Most of the “official” wedding shots probably need to be staged, preferably in an outdoor setting or a place where you can control lighting and background. The candid shots from the reception that  look spontaneous and fun are really, really difficult to get and there are no guarantees that you will get good ones—you really do need a second shooter to increase the odds. Finally, it takes a lot of energy and stamina to take photos at a reception—I got a good workout doing all kinds of stretches and deep knee bends trying to get shots.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am usually averse to photographing unknown people in public, but the drivers of the fiakers, the two-horse carriages that offer short tours in Vienna, are such a colorful group of characters that I couldn’t resist grabbing a few shots from a distance.

fiaker driver

fiaker driver

fiaker driver

driver4_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When taking photos, do you ever just point and shoot? Now I realize that there is an entire class of consumer cameras with mostly automatic settings that are referred to as “point and shoot cameras,” but that’s not what I am talking about here. What I am asking is whether you ever just point your camera in the general direction of a subject and engage the shutter without actually framing the shot with the viewfinder or even the LCD on the back of the camera.

Why would you do that? I have a fascination with street photography. Conceptually I like the idea of taking photos of strangers, often at close range, in interesting urban settings. However, I have not been able to overcome my inhibitions and fears about capturing these kinds of images.

As I was returning by Metro back to my Northern Virginia suburb from a trip to the District of Columbia, I noticed  a guy with a bicycle standing in front of me. He had a racing-style bike and was carrying what appeared to be a fully inflated spare tube in his hand. It was an intriguing scene and I decided to try to capture it. With my camera balanced on my camera bag on my lap, I pointed the camera in his direction and took a number of shoots, zooming in and out with my 24-105mm lens. A few times, I peeked at my results and adjusted the angle and direction of my camera. I slightly adjusted the angle of a couple of the shots you see below, but kept the one that was really skewed just like it came out of the camera—I just like the different look that it has.

I felt safe and secure in taking these shots, because the sounds of the moving train more than covered any noise coming from my shutter. I even felt emboldened to take some shots of a young lady sitting across the aisle from me. She had assumed what I consider to be the classic Metro pose. She had headphones on and was sitting upright, absorbed in her own world. There seems to be an unwritten Metro code that strangers do not interact with each other, and usually go to pains not to look each other in the eye.

I think I will try my experiment again to try to get used to the idea of taking photos of strangers, albeit surreptitiously. I am not ready to become the next Cartier-Bresson, but it’s a start.

rider3_blog

rider1_blog

rider4_blog

rider2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I conclude another brief trip to Brussels, I thought I’d include a number of the photos that I managed to snap while walking in the streets of the central part of the city. As is typical of this time of the year, the weather was often gray with intermittent light rain, but I did manage to see some interesting sights.

balloons_blog

bums_blog

buns_blog

tower_blog

towers_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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