Any Excuse Will Serve A Tyrant: The Mayor of Harrisburg & The Censorship of PennLive

A close friend of mine once said, “Who ever told us it was easy to be good?” 


On Monday evening, PennLive’s Barbara Miller released an article titled, “Harrisburg mayor cuts off PennLive reporters.

Whelp, PennLive, you have my attention.

It begins, “Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse has ordered that his spokeswoman no longer talk with PennLive regarding city issues following two stories that looked at the mayor’s private business and real estate holdings.

PennLive also will no longer be invited to weekly city briefings, the spokeswoman said.

When asked what prompted the decision, city spokeswoman Joyce Davis issued this statement from Papenfuse: “The Mayor’s official statement is that he believes PennLive traffics in hate speech and cynicism. He has instructed me not to respond to inquiries from PennLive reporters.”

While I agree that PennLive’s comment section is a cesspool of bigotry and hate, believe many of their articles leave much to be desired as someone who loves this city with all her heart, and that, as an ad-based, corporate media, PennLive has incredulous shortcomings; the answers to addressing those issues do not exist in the Mayor of Harrisburg reducing transparency in his administration or “cutting off” PennLive.

Larry Binda put it best in an article he recently wrote for TheBurg in response to the mayor’s ban, “…like it or not, PennLive remains this area’s predominant source of news. Despite multiple rounds of layoffs in recent years, PennLive is still unmatched in terms of editorial budget and staff resources. No other media can compete. Not the TV news, not volunteer watchdogs and not TheBurg, which, for all of our progress, has a microscopic budget and staff compared to PennLive. You can argue with how PennLive deploys its resources, but it does dedicate a reporter to Harrisburg, the last jurisdiction it deems important enough to do so.”

Very plainly stated, censorship is not the answer.

But then again, I think he already knows that. Eric Papenfuse owns a bookstore. 

The larger issue, as I see it, is that Papenfuse acted out against PennLive after they released two very relevant articles ultimately questioning his character, his business, his real estate holdings, and whether or not his actions as mayor have been a conflict of interest as a business owner.

If you haven’t read the articles, you can read them here:
Overtime violations at Midtown Scholar warehouse illustrate national problem,” by Paul Barker
Harrisburg mayor owns 8 properties near bar he aims to close,” by Eric Veronikis

In these instances, PennLive did a damn good job exercising freedom of the press, freedom of information, access, advocating for their readers and for the public. Demanding transparency and morality from public officials is one of the most valuable things that the press can accomplish. It is those checks and balances that we so desperately need.

Moving Forward

I know this isn’t a revolutionary resolution, but I strongly believe that one of the best things we can do to better ourselves and to serve others is to admit when we’re wrong–from admitting that you’re the jerk who ate the last of the ice cream to universities admitting that sexual assaults occurred on their campuses to elected officials keeping themselves in check and every thing in between.

Instead of wanting to flip the closest table in a fit of outrage, maybe, hopefully, the better answer to is ask our mayor to do better… ask him to admit that he dropped the ball. We need him to do a better job right now representing Harrisburg.

To The Mayor:


Please, admit when you are wrong. I beg you to not be that thing you so vehemently despised during and after Reed’s tenure: a city official abusing power and circumventing transparency.

(Photos by Dani Fresh//Courtesy of Roxbury News)

Bare Bones Theatre Ensemble: The Graduate

THE GRADUATE will be presented at FEDLIVE (2nd level of Federal Taphouse, 234 N. 2nd Street, Harrisburg, Pa 17101) by Bare Bones Theatre Ensemble at 7pm (doors at 6pm) on Sunday, April 17, 24, & May 1. Tickets are $15 and will be available at The Federal Taphouse and at the door. ALL SEATING GENERAL ADMISSION. So get there early!

So, here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson, ya damn floozie…

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Bare Bones Theatre Ensemble: HAIR!

As I get ready to shoot for the next Bare Bones show, The Graduate, I’m reminded that I never shared the images from HAIR. Doing cast photos for Bare Bones helps feed the part of my soul that is still madly in love with theatre. 

Last fall, Bare Bones Theatre Ensemble made their debut at FedLive in Harrisburg with the musical, HAIR and I was tasked with cast photos again. It’s a moving, cathartic show. And I wanted to create images that were intimate and part of the tribe… something that could convey real closeness to this group of characters. Lucky for me, many of them already were my friends and I spent an evening doing what I already love… being close to them. I’m so pumped on the final images.

I am immeasurably proud of everyone that was involved in this production of HAIR. It was beautiful. Each night, they packed the house and seriously knocked socks off every one’s feet. Their voices brought tears to my eyes. We are surrounded by so many incredibly talented people in this community. It’s something to celebrate, for sure.


Viewpoint in Asbury Park: Big Brothers, Big Sisters

Last summer I was invited to be a photography advisor for a workshop called “Viewpoint” in Asbury Park at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monmouth County. The program, organized by Jill Bartlett, was designed to empower young people to express themselves through democratic image creation–using Fuji Instax and disposable cameras! Over the course of five weeks, they were able to explore Asbury Park’s downtown and boardwalk, the Stephen Crane House, and places they chose to represent Asbury Park. I had the opportunity to talk to them about content, color, intention, and create images with them. More importantly though, I listened and learned from them.


This is Nyasia. We were walking down Cookman Avenue during the workshop, photographing structures and elements that caught our attention while discussing the constantly evolving landscape of Asbury Park’s downtown area. I love the beautiful architecture; historical structures that I believe will always represent this place. She loves how it’s constantly changing; there’s always something new to see. Then, in stride, she said, “I think we need to go take photos on the west side… People talk bad about it because they’re scared of it and they don’t know anything about it, but it’s really cool over there. Everybody knows everybody and people really help each other out.” In that moment, I think my heart looked up at her from my chest. What a poignant statement.

FEAR and the negative action or inaction from it is the substance that fills up and expands the divide in our local and global communities. Because it has festered, it is no longer acceptable to ignore it or to put a proverbial band-aid on it. I challenge you to combat the fear in your own heart and love in a manner that encourages others to do the same.

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I loved this and I can’t wait to do it again.

THANK YOU to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monmouth County, Jill, Jan, Larry, and everyone else who had a hand in making this happen. I think the world of you!


Ole Punxsutawney Phil & Groundhog Day

It was like a weird wedding reception with a groundhog obsession… and I loved it. 

This may come as a surprise to you, but Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney is a big ole party. Most of the crowd may have been a little drunk and delirious… many pulled all-nighters. And I was one of thousands that celebrated the night before and gathered at Gobbler’s Knob before sunrise to see the famous 130 year old groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, awaken from his slumber.

As the story goes, Phil emerges from his hole, speaks “Groundhogese” to a group of old dudes in tuxedos and top hats called “The Inner Circle” to inform them, based on whether or not he casts a shadow, if we have six more weeks of winter or if Spring is arriving early. There were fireworks and flasks, lots of singing and dancing, groundhog hats and signs, and they even played the Star Wars theme for the groundhog. Yes, it’s bizarre. It’s absurd. It’s silly. And a lot of people like to speak ill of the holiday, ole Phil and his methods of prediction.

Well, I’m here to tell you that I love it. I think its incredibly endearing that this small town in Western PA gathers thousands of people on February 2nd to tell the story of the magical rodent who predicts the arrival of Spring. Whether he sees his shadow or not, Phil reminds us that there are so many small towns that have curious stories to tell… Traditions like these are the sweet bits of America.

Thanks to Nate, Annie, Joslyn, and Jory for all the hangs, beers, and delirious dancing. My first Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney was pretty rad.


Into the New Year with a Full Heart

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times in 2015 I stopped to think, “Holy shit, I can’t believe this is my job…”

I really love New Year’s… I think I love it more the older I get. Not because of the parties or the weird commercial holiday bullshit, but I love reflecting on the year–taking in all the good and bad experiences then pulling inspiration from all of it to carry into the next year. Oh, and I LOVE fireworks. Reflecting, I feel especially lucky. I kinda struggle with that word: lucky. I don’t mean the denotation of lucky, the definition that implies that everything is up to chance, but rather the connotation of feeling fortunate, fulfilled, loved, inspired, and immeasurably thankful. So in that way, yeah, I feel lucky.

Thank you to every last one of you who helped me grow this year, has given me opportunities and work that I was excited about, has helped me find ways to help others through my imagery, traveled with me, put up with me when I was frustrated, told me to take a nap when I was tired, welcomed me, gave me a bed or a couch to sleep on, gave me hugs, encouraged me, made me laugh, loved and inspired me… I am entering the new year with a full heart.

All the best to all of you in 2016. I can’t wait to photograph it.



Detroit: The Heidelberg Project

Andrew and I went to The Heidelberg Project on an overcast weekday with only a few people filtering through the landscape. Our experience was was quiet, at our own pace, but I’ve heard that on busy days the whole block can be bustling with people. The Heidelberg Project in Detroit is a massive art environment created by Tyree Guyton with a mission “to inspire people to appreciate and use artistic expression to enrich their lives and to improve the social and economic health of the greater community.” It’s a tremendous installation with a long timeline of how art can truly combat poverty and blight and heal communities. The whole block, which seems to be constantly evolving, was a visual adventure… joyous sensory overload. I was profoundly pleased to be surrounded by so much color, so much texture.

A woman in a car pulled up to where we were roaming around one of the lots… Her son was in the passenger seat. We had a friendly exchange and she asked if we were from the area–“No, we’re both from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania!” She glanced back at her son and said, “See! People travel from all over the place to come here!” She turned to us again, “I used to live in this neighborhood a long time ago and I just wanted to bring my son here. I want him to understand the power of art.”

Everything is awesome.



Detroit: Cold Weather, Warm Hearts

“Detroit is a place where we’ve had it pretty tough. But there is a generosity here and a well of kindness that goes deep.” (Mitch Albom)

It’s true that most of my favorite adventures have been born on a whim. Respectively, my recent trip to Detroit was amazing… At the last minute, without itinerary or expectation, I decided to tag along with Andrew and his close friend, Naim. Naim, who grew up in Harrisburg, now lives in Detroit and was a wonderful host. While we were there, he introduced us to some really beautiful people— we witnessed incredible community organizing, met sweet neighbors and passionate activists, went to church and heard Naim sing in the choir (shameless plug: he’s a really great singer!), learned about the history of Detroit and it’s current narrative, ate delicious food, volunteered, made new friends, and saw some art! I came back feeling inspired… it even felt a little like I had prepared my heart for the new year.


Thank you to Naim and his roomate, Rich, for having us at Hope House. I look forward to coming back in the spring when you’re planting to make more images… and, of course, take Rich up on his offer to teach me how to knit!




There are so many people in Harrisburg who inspire with their love, sacrifice, and intention. I witness all the beautiful things they do and as a result, I feel drawn to them and driven to work harder, create well, and love more. The Giving Keys collaboration with Koji is an opportunity to recognize a few of those people and I am so excited and honored to make images to celebrate them. This place has so much heart. And I love to give a little relief and recognition to tireless efforts. It’s important to lift each other up. The following is text by Jen Merrill inciting our little Harrisburg chapter of the Giving Keys story… We encourage you to do the same: buy the keys with purpose, open your heart and allow others to inspire you, pass the message on.


Text by Jen Merrill 

Most of us have a ring full of keys that jingle along as we carry on through our days, but do we think about the power that simple ring of keys might hold?

One might unlock the door to your home, offering a safe refuge from the world outside. One might unlock the door to your place of work, where you hopefully feel inspired by what you do as you toil away and, at the very least, earn a livable wage to help feed, house and clothe yourself and your family. One might be for your car – or bike lock! – allowing you to get here, there, and just about everywhere with ease.

And with these keys comes a sense of vulnerability, as they act as a map of our lifestyle, a way to access the parts of our lives that mean most to us.


The Giving Keys is an organization that understands the power of these tiny pieces of shaped metal.  On the surface, they make jewelry, but their purpose is so much more than that. The Giving Keys employs individuals looking to transition out of homelessness to create jewelry out of repurposed keys, each engraved with a unique message like “hope,” “strength,” or “courage.” When the wearer of the keys meets someone else in need of the message, they’re encouraged to pay it forward and pass the key on to its next owner, spreading its message out into the world.

The Giving Keys recently approached Koji about creating his own key, and after much thought, he decided to use the word “Peacemaker,” which shares its name with a track on his recent split with La Dispute, Never Come Undone. The song was written for his friend and fellow activist, Nate Henn, who was killed by an al-Shabaab suicide bombing in Kampala, Uganda during the 2010 final World Cup match. Nate, as part of the organization Invisible Children, raised money and advocated for children forced into warfare.


“I think it’s important to show the link between art and activism as forms of expression that give people agency. Our mission with Colormake is to get people to engage with ideas, their sense of self, and sense of community,” says Koji.

Colormake is giving keys to three very deserving Harrisburg individuals: Ashlee Dugan, Loretta Barbee-Dare, and Stephen Michael Haas. These leaders are much like keys themselves, unlocking the goodness, the potential, the beauty of their communities and allowing us into the places that we need most. We admire how they use their voices, passion and leadership to continually uplift those around them.


Ashlee Dugan and Loretta Barbee-Dare have had a rich history together of activism and community work in the Harrisburg, Pa. area, ranging from their time with Food Not Bombs, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), and Pennsylvanians Against the Death Penalty. In the current moment, Ashlee works as the interim market manager at the Broad Street Market and is the co-founder of The Greenhouse, a Harrisburg-based community organization that recovers healthy food that would have otherwise been wasted and preserves it in healthy and creative ways before distributing it to the community. Loretta has worked hard to receive her real estate license and continues to work to get members of the community into homes they can love and afford. Both of these women work tirelessly to give new opportunity and resources to those that need it most.


Stephen Michael Haas is a multi media artist based in Harrisburg, Pa., known for his colorful, multi-dimensional work that’s filled with honest, positive messages that encourage self-discovery and display the creative process in its sincerest form. When looking at a piece of Stephen’s work, one feels immersed in the artist’s brain as his off-kilter characters and sentiments jump off the page – or wall, or screen, or installation – and into the viewer’s heart. Stephen recently created a zine entitled “You Can Try, But You Can Also Not Try,” and he’s worked alongside Wayne White. His dedication to his craft is admirable to all as he inspires those around him to do what they love, take risks, and not be afraid to grow and evolve their work in the public eye.


We’re so pleased to honor these individuals by offering them each a Giving Key and encouraging them to pay it forward when the right time comes, helping to unlock their own power as well as the power of the communities they know and love.


This past week, SHEILA FRANK, a fashion designer and friend from Central PA, asked if Elena Jasic and I would create a few images to help launch her new campaign, #BUYateeGIVEonefree. When you buy a SHEILA FRANK tee, they will donate a plain tee to someone in need at a local shelter. Purchase one here: BUYateeGIVEonefree

I’m a sucker for art and activism all in one neat little package, especially when involves a friend. It’s exciting to see them weave bits of service into their growing businesses… It reminds me why I became friends with them in the first place and that I’m surrounded by warm hearts.

These are portraits we created for the campaign during our sweet little impromptu lady photo date and a few of Elena’s product shots.

Two things are very apparent: Elena is a mega-babe and I look like a little kid.

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