All people are forced to deal with many strange dualities. Things that normally wouldn’t go together get crammed into coexistence and we all become the combined light of our preference as well as the shadow of our repulsion. Regular folks might have a crazy day and think it sane as they may not be aware of their random chaos and imminent entropy. Creative folks might have an ordinary day but interpret it as fertile with crazy potential.

Part of my time is spent in isolation by choice. Part of my time is spent swimming in a sea of others. When I’m alone I’m thinking about what I’m thinking. When I’m with others I’m thinking about what they’re thinking. I don’t know if everyone is like that but I think that they are, and are more or less aware of it at any given time.

This past weekend was different from other weekends. Other weekends I believe I’m lucky to get one or two goals accomplished and wonder why I’m so limited. This past weekend I experienced an impossible volume of events and interactions. First, I wondered why this weekend occurred the way it did and second, wondered what everyone and everything else was thinking out there.

It all started during a walk with my dog Page. An ordinary walk in our backyard, but then I realized my backyard is an aviary!

I had to hold Page back from chasing all these beautiful birds and wondered what Page was thinking. I wondered what the birds were thinking when they didn’t fly away as Page charged them. I wondered how other people’s minds are shaped and how they function.

Sometimes when I write and shoot I feel like my mind looks like the edge of a scalpel. Slicing off the most necessary layer of knowledge with sharp precision, in order to apply words to what I’m describing in the most deliberate way. Other times I feel like my mind is like a thick fog or a soft sponge with undefined fuzzy edges.

Regardless of how my mind looks and works, when I’m out in the world with camera in hand, I get lucky sometimes and am able to document and share the bizarre beauty that I see with others.

And if we’re really lucky, I get out when the sun is just right and we find ourselves in just the right place at the right time. It’s that place when everyone else is out there too, doing their thing, thinking their stuff, seeing the world the way they do.

To this gecko, we are not seeing it… he is seeing us. He looks out at us and wonders what we’re doing staring at him. At least that’s what I think it’s thinking.

Once Page the dog was taken out, I moved on to the events of the day. I just wanted to do one simple thing. Just one little place I was trying to get to.  It was some mecca oasis that sold smoked fish. I guess that’s how life happens. It’s not the place we’re trying to get to but all the places that occur to us before and after that define us and the ultimate destination we seek.

On the way to the fish place, there was an Antique Sale / Flea Market going on. I was compelled to stop, after all it was on the way. That’s where I disappeared and began capturing others. Others sitting, others talking, others shopping and others selling. Others dressed like cowboys, others who are the least athletic, dressed in warm up clothes.

Others in tight bright clothes who really should be wearing dark loose clothes. At least that’s what I thought. But what were they thinking? “Oh, I feel like purple today.” Or, “I freak’n love my straw hat and I’m gonna wear it today.” Or “This is going to be a great sale, I hope I sell all these big belly Florida tourist shirts!”

Sometimes in a crowd, a person literally blends into another person and becomes a hybrid of the two. If shot just right, one’s arm and one’s pony tail can look like it belongs to another and two hats going in different directions fit on one person’s head, as two people become one.

More importantly, what was this guy thinking? Why the little pony tail? Why the beard? Who is he trying to resemble or what does it stand for? Doesn’t it itch? In his world… the culture that surrounds him, is that how they all look? Is he looking at me wondering why I DON’T have a pony and a beard?

I wondered how creative the vendors actually got at the sale. Here, this one guy is selling a cheap plastic wine glass. But, he obviously is spinning a yarn that adds dollars and dollars to the perceived value of this article.

He might be inventing, “… before I retired I worked at the most exclusive hotel and resort and I served Jerry Seinfeld a Martini in this exact goblet while he sat on the veranda. When he was done with it I stole it and knew it would be valuable some day.” She might be thinking, “… I could sit out by my pool and drink a Cosmo out of the same plastic that Jerry Seinfeld drank from for only $4.”

Being a dog person and having been a part of a pack with another canine for as long as I can remember, we don’t take kindly to be treated like babies. Doggies are okay with companionship that might resemble marriage, brotherhood or sisterhood… but push them in a cart? Probably not how nature intended for the relative of a wolf.

Is it me or does this dog look completely humiliated? I’m guessing he is thinking he’d rather be hunting for rats in some dark alley like the thousands of generations of Schnauzer before him. And what are his people thinking? “Let’s take baby to the antique sale! It will be fun. Maybe we can get her a new dish?”

Today is election day. So, politics is a little more present in my mind. Florida is stereotyped often as a republican state. Not sure if the person selling these GOP Elephant mugs is catering to those that buy or is she, the vendor, changing parties and going Democrat?

And in the middle of it all, a woman puts on her cloak of invisibility and decides to primp herself. Maybe she sees someone she is trying to impress and wants to be sure that her eyebrows are shaped perfectly, that there is no broccoli in her teeth from the omelet she had for breakfast or dirt in her nose from the last stop light she settled an itch at.

It’s okay. No one can see her, but us and that pretty rock she’s standing next to.

And what exactly is this fascination with Marilyn Monroe? And who took such great care of this giant cardboard cut-out all these years and who will buy it and how much will they pay for it?

Anyway, I got back in the car and resumed the trip to the fish place. Coincidentally I arrived at the moment the place opened. Unplanned, the parking lot was empty one moment and after being seated the parking lot was packed at 11:30 am. And this is how this place has been for 50 years as folks flock to it for smoked Mullet, Mahi Mahi and Salmon.

My restaurant review would be that it’s a classic place to experience Florida fish and the food really was smokey and delicious. The coleslaw was made with pineapple juice instead of mayonnaise and the potato salad was warm and made with bacon. It was great!

This shot below, was taken as these two servers were having a cigarette out by the take-out shack. Something about all the signs offering smoked fish and those two ladies smoking a cigarette in front of the signs made me feel poetic somehow. In my mind I imagined them smoking long skinny fish instead of cigarettes.

This shot below in black and white could have been taken last weekend or 50 years ago. The same people at the same table wearing the same clothes having the same conversation. Obviously he was trying to explain to her which football teams were playing that Sunday or how a carburetor on a car works. She was just happy to be with him and had no idea what he was talking about.

On the way back I stopped at a bakery that looked amazing. There, I said it. Bakery. I love bakeries. I used to love them because they displayed all my friends, the carbohydrates, so beautifully. I still admire them for all the happiness they offer to all the lonely people filling themselves up on deliciousness rather than feel the hungry ache of their solitude.

These days I just go in to bake shops for nostalgia. And wouldn’t you know it, they had political cookies for sale there. I tried to figure out why there were so many Romney cookies in the case and so few Obama cookies. Is it because more people eat Obama cookies than Romney cookies or are so few people eating Obama and so many eating Romney that they just refilled the tray?

The next day I got up early to try to catch some shots in the fog. Such a cloudy day is rare in Florida and was looking to capture some of that overcast mood that runs so rampant in upstate New York. On this day too, I just had one destination in mind, to get to the legendary Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs.

I didn’t know what that meant or what it looked like but regardless, that was the goal of that day. I impulsively turned into an office park because I saw a big red-tailed hawk sitting on a stop light wire. I pulled the car over to get the camera out of the trunk so I could shoot that big juicy bird.

It turns out that the bird was just too far away to get a clear picture but had I not turned down that road to shoot that bird, I wouldn’t have discovered the secret car show going on at that office park. I guess that’s how the mystical path of our life works. When one looks for sponges, they get hawks. When one can’t get hawks they take car show.

Naturally there were hundreds of vehicles of every make and model. I thought this pair of old and new Chargers was classic both in their display as well as their significance. Then and now is now.

Sure, I love bakeries. But sometimes being with people of extraordinary character is far better than some moist cake dripping with chocolate icing. Well, maybe not better but different.

These two guys were like looking at desserts to me. Not that I wanted to consume them, but I just appreciated the character of them. I guess I love people who are their authentic self… or go to places where they can be who they really are. And at these shows, characters of like mind come together to relax in their common interest.

Obviously these two good fellas were talking about the good ole days.

Then my mind got a little twisted and I didn’t see the cars on display and the people sitting next to them… but the people on display and the cars sitting next to them.

All over the show were strange wanderers. Since I had gone invisible, no one could see me, but I could see them. This old dude came wandering into the show from deep into the mist. I saw him from the distance and waited till he came into focus. I watched and wondered what he was thinking.

When he got dressed this morning, did he not know all that stuff didn’t really fit into his shirt pocket? Or was he of the generation that just put everything in that pocket. I love this picture.

All over the show one could find lots of odd beauty. Sure, I’m as odd as anyone or anything as I wander around and take pictures. Sure, I spend hours and hours cleaning them and cropping them and writing words to go with them like a composer writes words to match the music or vice-versa.  But these guys spend hours and days and years… massaging their paint and chroming their blocks and scrubbing their tires.

To each his or her own. I couldn’t do what they do nor could I live in their life. I’m certain hunting for fish places and sponges would hold no interest for them either. I felt lucky to cross over into their world and be among those that are completely different from me.

On one side of the show were all the cars. Typically manly hobbies for manly men. On the other side of the show were booths selling stuff. Some stuff for the manly men to buy. Some stuff for the manly men’s women to sell and some stuff just for womanly women.

Of course there was an orchid booth there and I’m completely helpless when I’m around stupid flowers. I just can’t help but want to dive down their throats. Damn stupid orchids. Made me forget all about desserts, bakeries and shiny cars.

Fortunately I snapped out of it after I snapped a few of them. There was another booth in the row that offered the ability to wrap anything in anything. I believe it was intended for wrapping fancy car parts with unusual covers… like pictures of heads on a head gasket or something.

Below is a beautiful rendition of Benjamins on a nine.

On the next row over was the exclusive Mustang Club. More Mustangs than you could ever want or dream about were all lined up for your personal Mustangasm.

Not only were the outsides of these hard bodied beautiful forms adorned to accessory extremes, but under the hood one could find an obscene amount of chrome. Okay, I’ll admit it… I love shiny shit. There, I said it… shiny.

Below is what some Mustang owners look like.

Below is what some fans of Mustang owners look like.

And yes, all the muscle cars were there from every decade. Corvettes, Camaros and everything in between. They rumbled in through the distant fog like professional athletes jogging onto the field. Their headlights bouncing on shocks resembled the head nods of cocky fame.

I eventually left the car show and continued on my mission to find the sponge place. On the way there I passed another bakery. This one was even more astounding than the last. Can you imagine what it’s like to look into the cool case and dream about rubbing your face into buckets and buckets of sticky sweet frosting of every color and flavor?

No, I didn’t have any but empathized with all those that did. I know the delight of sliding something smooth and chocolaty into one’s mouth and have one’s eyes roll back in complete delight. I know what it’s like to exhale cocoa fumes as I swallow heaven. I have a very clear memory of licking silky icing with the discerning tip of my tongue.

I watched these two children drool over what they would someday crave.

Then one turned to me and said with her little girl eyes, “How do I get in there?”

I stood at the counter and watched every age group and every size person lean on the glass and buy happiness. I watched all those mortals submit to a perception of power and control that they had on the universe, so at that moment, they had the power to do exactly what they thought they wanted without any resistance or inhibition. And they wanted to shove that shiz in their face.

For the amount of time it takes to consume a slice of cake, they owned this world, and everything in it was within their control. And they would prove it to themselves with omnipotent buying and eating of Chocolate Dipped Cookiewich. Mmmmmm…. they’re. So good.

Meantime, it was time to leave. The sponge place was close at hand and back on the road I went. At the first stop light a biker and his babe pulled up beside me. She of course had to express herself and her unique taste in helmets. I had the camera on my lap and snapped her.

Almost to the docks I got distracted once again by another little public market going on in the village of Tarpon Springs, just before I’d get to the docks. I parked the car next to a Greek Orthodox Church and walked into the village. This young man was sitting there waiting for me to take his picture. I wasn’t sure if he was happy or sad, homeless or owned the largest house on the street.

I finally made it to this little public market and got ready to shoot away, when I found my camera blinking FULL and I was unable to take another photo. It was like I was out of gas and my photo vehicle could no longer go. I thought it ironic how something so full resulted in the same outcome as something so empty.

Anyone who has had a little girl or knows a little girl, will have some thoughts about this photo below. Just speaking for myself, few things are more precious than a conversation between a father and his daughter. Especially when she is just trying to form words, wears lots of pink or magenta and dances as she speaks.

Little girls are a gift of inconceivable value.

Deep into the public market was a man following his passion. He wasn’t writing or shooting his silliness. Nor was he polishing it or driving it. This guy was folding it and flying it. It’s like we all walk around in a world that belongs to us and can’t understand why others don’t see things the way we do.

Same here. These folks were in the band that played music at the public market that afternoon. They chose the songs they want to play and wore the costume that they wanted to perform in. It seemed to me that wherever I went on this day, people were free to be who they are and do what they want as if the world belonged to them. Maybe to each of us it does.

It was time to return to the car and make the final leg of my journey to the sponges. As I walked, a couple in front of me exited the church they were attending and marched toward their car. I watched from behind, as this couple stayed in step with each other as the brightly colored woman heard every noise behind her, every car around her and every bird above her.

Bright, alert, responsive and vital, the world this couple lives in still belongs to them.

And with that, I had finally arrived. The sponge capital of the world… right up the road from me. I think sponges are hilarious. I mean really. We use them in the kitchen but how many of us ever think that sponge is just a synthetic knock off of what Greek divers have been bagging by the net load for generations.

As I studied the sponges and imagined how glorious it would feel to wash myself with them instead of a wash cloth or scrunge. Wait a second, Scrub + Sponge = Scrunge! Why not scrub with an actual sponge. Anyway, I’m staring at this thing and it occurs to me that it looks like a slice of cake.

Soft and cell-like, these sponges are such an understated miracle of nature. I bought the biggest softest one I could find and brought it home and jumped in the shower and rubbed it all over my body… and it was good.

What a weekend. What a journey. I guess the moral of the story is how sometimes when we just go fishing for one thing we could end up in an ocean of other things.

7 thoughts on “SPONGE CAKE

  1. I loved this post! I so often want to do just what you did here, walk people through the things I saw and thought in the course of a weekend, because so much of it is magically unplanned. Thank you for this trip through your life.

    • HI Maddie! Yeah, I like writing the stories that random pictures suggest, as much as the next guy… but sometimes the actual events of the day are far more interesting than any fiction. Happy to bring you along with me. 😉

  2. Hi Barry,

    Every time I come to your webpage my computer has a bit of a meltdown – it’s getting a bit old, I think – but I wonder if it’s because your images are so big.

    (I downloaded one to see if that’s the problem and I see they are 300 dpi – if you could resize them to 72 dpi for web viewing your blog would be much smoother to view) I hope you don’t mind me commenting on this but other people might be having a similar experience and it may keep people away from your lovely blog!

    A thoughtful, rich post. Enjoy your sponge! =)

    • Hi Karen, thanks for your comment and before I reply, just let me say I am a huge fan of your work… not small fan, huge. So here’s what I was thinking. Originally, the pics were formatted to 8×10 at 72 dpi. And when someone wanted to download them or purchase them, I would get their request and send them a higher resolution version. Perhaps I will go back to something like that. It’s just that I was using those prints for other things and wanted a larger richer format, I even thought the image actually looked better as a denser file… and I guess I just left that setting on in my Lightroom export. I’ll fix it right now. Meantime, when you get a chance, please email me or comment back on how you get your images to look so delicious, inviting, soft and dreamy. Thanks again for being bold, brave and innovative.

      • Hi Barry, thanks very much for your kind comments! =)
        A few people have asked me a similar question about how I go about making the macro photos in particular, so I did a little blog post here: http://drawandshoot.me/2012/09/24/shifting-light-and-form/ that discusses some of my techniques. It’s not a technical post but it gives the idea of how I back-light my work and photograph the little subjects. If you have any further questions let me know.
        Thanks again,

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