... Remember When?

Remember those days? Back in the day? There was this guy who started blogging, writing some stuff, then just suddenly dropped off?

Yea I remember that too.

It's coming back! Promise.

Discovering Colt In Hartford

Saturday was the 200th birthday of Samuel Colt, and Hartford threw him a huge birthday bash. Colt draws his history back to the city in the mid-late 19th century, a time when it was a manufacturing hub. Colt Firearms happened to be one of the pillars of industry not only in Connecticut, but the whole country.

I was photographing the day’s festivities for the Hartford Courant, so make sure to check out all the photos here.

There was no irony lost on me that the manufacturer of weapons like the Colt 45 and M16 was being celebrated in the state of Connecticut. But any political or societal concerns aside, Colt was and is a part of the history of our state and city. The old Colt armory remains one of the most visible and iconic symbols of Hartford, with hundreds of thousands of I-91 commuters driving under its blue onion dome daily.

There was a lot going on, with historic walking tours, memorabilia displays, and all kinds of festivities incorporating numerous venues around the city. I decided to narrow my scope somewhat, focusing on just the main festival in Colt Park and a gala later that night.

The festival had... shall we say… a lower than anticipated turnout. When I arrived at 3 p.m. most of the vendors had packed up, well before the official 6 p.m. end time.

An event organizer acknowledged the issue, but also noted that other venues had overflow capacities for their tours and events.

I snapped a few photos and sauntered to one corner of the park where things were still happening, just in time to catch a skateboarding competition hosted by the guys from 860 Custom Skate Shop. This area of the festival seemed to have the best turnout, hosting a fashion show and b-boy competition.

Sick ollie, dude

While taking a few photos of the Colt dome before leaving, I noticed there were people at the base of the dome. I had to find out- was it possible to head up into the building’s dome?

A big thanks goes to the person wearing the pink shirt. If not for you, I wouldn't have noticed!

It turned out tours of the Colt Building were being offered every half hour, and I was just in time. I would learn more than 800 people attended tours that day, proving that organizer correct. Maybe it just wasn’t a good day for a festival.

The building has been under construction for years, converting the empty industrial shell into dozens of loft-style apartments. The tour was partially historic but seemed mostly to show off the apartments, which was fine by me. Maybe it’s weird, but I love seeing the inside of beautiful and/or historic buildings.

Going through the "attic" of the Colt Building. The area is normally off limits. Stairs going to the dome at right.

We went past units still under construction, through what looked like an attic space, before going up into the dome. The view was what you would expect. Fantastic.

Looking north, toward downtown Hartford. I-91 is to the right.

Hartford seems to be filled with opulent buildings that no one seems to know exist. One of them is the parish house at the Church of the Good Shepherd, where that evening’s gala was held. An event organizer gave me a quick history of the building- it was commissioned by Samuel Colt’s widow in honor of her husband and three of their children who died as infants. The building is rarely used for events because of fire code compliance issues (no elevator, very expensive to install one), which is a damn shame. This place was magnificent.

Gorgeous stained glass around what appears to have once been a balcony.

A church with cannons. #Hartfordhasit

The four corners of the room had crests emblazoned with the continents. Africa, Europe, Asia, and Americas.

It had all the trappings of a building constructed with late 19th century robber-baron money. Intricate stonework. Symbolic details. Memorial passages inscribed in walls. Stained glass. Simply magnificent.

Beautiful light fixtures, marble pillars.

After taking photos I couldn’t help but creep around downstairs. Walking into a side room there was a man standing near displays of Colt memorabilia. We began talking, and he explained the technology and history of Colt Firearms in the twentieth century.

This guy really, really, really liked Colt.

It was a whole day’s worth of history lessons and discovery.

The Big Boom

Every night for the last two weeks I've heard pops and booms going late into the night. What am I doing up at 2 a.m. on a weeknight? None of your business. But what are people doing setting off FIREWORKS at 2 a.m. on a weeknight? That's the real question!

Fireworks are pretty tough to capture. Consumer cameras have all kinds of settings meant to make it easier, but those never seem to work. Cellphones? Same thing. This Saturday, July 12, will give you one of the last big chances this season to photograph fireworks when the city of Hartford makes their display at Riverfest. Here's a few things I've found to work.

"Great American Boom" at Stanley Quarter Park in New Britain. I wanted to capture the park filled with thousands of spectators. I was leaving early to file photos on deadline, and stopped to capture this near the park entrance. July 5 2014. f/2.8, ISO 3200, 1/15s

The first thing you want to think about, like anything, is composition. Do you want these fireworks against the stark, black sky? What's in the foreground? What's in the background? Look for something to help them stand out.

Sure, this could have been nice. No tripod, and I tried to focus on the firework instead of the flag. FAIL. f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/15s exposure.

Fireworks are bright, move fast, then vanish. With a fast shutter speed you'll freeze the explosion, but may not recreate the vibe of a fireworks display. Too slow of a shutter and the light will streak. Which could be pretty cool, but fireworks also produce clouds of smoke, which you'll notice with a brighter image. Likewise a fireworks finale looks amazing to the human eye, but too slow of a shutter to capture it will just create a blob of light.

Even here the smoke cloud is evident, but at least wind was carrying it away. Here I tried to balance the luminosity of the Hartford cathedral with the fireworks. f/3.5, ISO 1600, 1/50s.

Cool streaks, light nicely balanced. At Provincetown, July 3, 2013. f/8, ISO 100, 4s exposure.

Notsomuch. Same display as above, but multiple shells around the same height in rapid succession got too bright. f/4, ISO 100, 2s exposure.

This past weekend I had the best success while photographing the "Great American Boom" at Stanley Quarter Park in New Britain for the Hartford Courant. I wanted to capture not only the fireworks, but their illumination on the crown watching them. Shooting at f/2.8, ISO 3200, and 1/15s to 1/40s seemed to be the sweet spot for catching both. At those speed it's highly, highly recommended to use a tripod.

Lying down on the ground, catching the right angle for these siblings watching the fireworks in silhouette. f/3.5, ISO 3200, 1/40s.

Have fun!

Headlining Act: Jim Koplik At The Meadows

A couple weeks ago I was asked to take a photograph of the man who runs Hartford's Xfinity Theater for an insert piece going in this week's CTNow [formerly the Advocate].

Jim Koplik worked in concert promotions for decades, and built The Meadows in Hartford. The venue is having its 20th season summer 2014.

The man, Jim Koplik, has been around the Hartford music scene for decades. Not only does he run the Xfinity Theater, he actually built the thing twenty years ago. It was later bought by one company, which was eventually bought by Live Nation.

The venue has famously changed names through the years- it was formerly the Comcast Theater, which was formerly the New England Dodge Music Center, which was formerly ctnow.com Meadows Music Theater. Before that, and the name that always seems to follow it, is simply "The Meadows"

How do you take a photo that captures the full expanse of a music venue? Especially one the size of the Meadows. The place has a capacity of more than 25,000, including the lawn. In the past few years I've been lucky enough to photograph a lot of shows at the Meadows, and an idea actually came pretty quick. I wanted a shot of Jim from the stage, with the vast expanse of the venue, including that lawn, spreading out behind him.

The problem was planning for the light difference between the lawn outside and the covered pavilion. The throw from the stage was at least a couple hundred feet, so I made a plan with all the firepower I had available.

My plan: expose for the lawn and background sky, use an Alien Bee B800 strobe on full power to bounce off the ceiling and brighten up the pavilion, and a speedlight off a highly reflective silver umbrella to light Jim, and an on-camera speedlight to help fill and trigger all the lights. Easy!

I brought extra to the shoot because it's better to be overprepared than missing something crucial. It also happened to be a day in mid-May so warm and humid it could have been August. But the extra fifteen or so pounds proved to be worth it.

Jim was shooting a few television promo segments, so I was told I would have only five minutes between takes to get the shot. From the stage the pavilion was even more cavernous than I thought. Trying to brush away panic, I thought and planned.

Shot at the same exposure as the final image. It was dark in there.

I was able to set up my stands offstage and prepared everything to max power. The day's haziness helped- the lawn wasn't as bright as it could have been, and some of the light diffused nicely to help light the back of the pavilion.

Jim finished his segment, and I rushed to set up a speedlight off the floor of the venue, a good 16 feet below Jim's eye level.

Camera geek talk: Both that rim strobe and the key light strobe were set to remote "SU-4" mode, meaning they would simply fire at whatever power they were set to when hit by the light of another flash, just like a studio strobe photocell. When shooting with photocell it's important to set everything to manual mode- the TTL pre-flashes will trip all the lights out of sync with the camera.

The ceiling was way too high to bounce the light, and one B800 clearly wouldn't cut it. This is why overpreparing is good- I had a second strobe with me. I set one up on each side, aimed for the horizon, and hoped for the best.

The two B800's are hooked into a Vagabond mini battery pack. The stick figure is Jim.

The two B800's are hooked into a Vagabond mini battery pack. The stick figure is Jim.

The best was good enough, as the image came out crisp. Koplik had a warm demeanor, clearly a pro at this sort of thing, and within two minutes it was done. We even had a chance to chat a little about music.

The Killers Slay At Mohegan Sun

Let's talk for a hot sec about The Killers.

The Killers are one of those bands that music nerds love to say they hate. They've spent the last decade all over the place, filling up arenas, constantly on the radio. Guys in frat houses like them. "Woo" girls think reading the lyrics will make them deep. Sure, all those things may be true but deep down every 20-something Brooklynite wannabe with a keyboard could likely trace their decision to start an electro-pop band back to hearing the intro riffs of "Somebody Told Me" on a ride home from the mall.

My For me it happened in 2004 with "Mr. Brightside." Not that I wanted to start a band, but the song really clicked. That year I spent a lot of time in the student union at University of Hartford, running around being general manager of the student news station. MTV U was running a loop on the televisions in every hall, and the "Brightside" video was on heavy rotation. It got a little annoying at the time, but looking back now there's a certain fondness to it.

A year and a half later, at a yard sale the weekend before officially moving from Providence back to Hartford for work, I bought Hot Fuss for a dollar. It wouldn't leave my car's rotation for a year, but I always skipped "Somebody Told Me." Honestly, the track seems a little weak and really doesn't fit the vibe of any other song they've done.

That's why when The Killers played it second at their Mohegan Sun show Wednesday night I was happy. No sense in keeping it until later in the set. Dump the track because it's commercially necessary, and move on.

Brandon Flowers leads the audience chants. With a simple stage setup consisting only of the Power Rangers-esque lightning bolt from "Battle Born," The Killers' performance was a pure rock show.

The entire set was basically a stream of singles, save for a few tracks from their latest, "Battle Born."  From Spaceman to Human to Reasons Unknown, Here On Out, and many others.

While it would have been nice to hear a deep cut or two, the singles did the trick. Frontman Brandon Flowers commanded the audience's attention at all times, with nary a soul in the arena missing a word while singing along. Rhythm fell behind from time to time but overall the band was tight, delivering a solid rock show behind Flowers's true-to-recording vocals.

In fact it struck me a few songs in just how committed this crowd was. The arena wasn't sold out, but still packed to the brim for a Wednesday night. The arena floor was a sea of hands in the air and throbbing along to every chorus.

The arena chants along to "All These Things That I've Done."

The arena chants along to "All These Things That I've Done."

During "Bad Moon Rising" [a surprising good and completely accurate-to-tone cover of the Creedence track] it would be clear just how fanatical some fans could get. That was when I noticed the five guys across the aisle. Most likely fueled by inordinate amounts of alcohol and caught up in the energy cycling off stage, to say these adult gentlemen were going nuts would be an understatement.

At several points one of them, unable and unknowing how to contain his boundless energy, would rip his shirt up and over his head like a toddler so excited for ice cream that he couldn't contain himself.

The band would also riff on Psychedelic Furs's Heartbreak Beat, with Flowers heaping praise on the band's Richard Butler. It bled into "Read My Mind," followed by "Runaways" before closing their regular set with "All These Things That I've Done." The sea of throbbing hands would open up in a chanting chorus of the song's hook.

Again it would be a surprise when the band left the stage, as barely anyone moved from their seats. They would stay in place throughout the four song encore and well after the set closer, my nostalgic "Mr. Brightside."

Sometimes we get so amped we don't know what to do with our shirts.

House lights went up for the final song and the sea of hands grew far around the arena. The man to my right flipped up his shirt for ice cream again before ripping it right off. For a moment I wished I was excited enough to do the same, then remembered it wasn't 2004 anymore and just kept singing along.

A Mother's Day of Lady Gaga at Mohegan Sun

It was a little more than a year ago that Lady Gaga had to cancel a big chunk of her "Born This Way Ball" tour because of a hip injury. One of those shows, just two weeks after her announcement, was supposed to be at Mohegan Sun. That made the Mother's Day eve performance at the casino sort of a make up show.

"Most of the people on this stage were on the 'Born This Way Ball tour and we wished so much we could have been here with you," Gaga said fairly early on in the show. It was one of her many gushes of love for the crowd, which would later also include cuddling stuffed animals, putting on a leather jacket tossed onstage, and pogo-ing with a tween fan.

Being Mother's Day it only made sense to bring Momma Caito. Not that mom owns neo-glam gear and spiked stiletto heels, but she'd probably enjoy it nonetheless. No way would she be the only parent at the show either.

Look, ma! A Lady Gaga ticket!

It just so happened that the guests of honor included Lady Gaga's own family. "My family is here tonight, because my sister is graduating from college. You filthy old bitch," she said from a keyboard perched among ice crystals on an elevated catwalk. The singer went on to extol her family and all their support before melting in to a piano ballad rendition of "Born This Way."

The first chunk of the show was dedicated to songs from ARTPOP, including 'Venus,' 'G.U.Y.,' and 'Fashion.' The songs came across strong live, with some tight live band collaboration with pre-produced tracks.

Of course Momma Caito loved the performance. "This is great!" she'd exclaim multiple times through the night, while clapping along with the crowd slightly behind the beat of "Bad Romance," or throwing her hands in the air for "Poker Face." "I think this is one of the best concerts I've ever been to!"

And it was pretty good. Gaga strutted around her multi-level stage flanked alternately by dancers with stegosaurus bronie costumes and sea cucumbers that bloomed in proximity to her seashell bikini.

It was the sort of garish stuff we'd expect out of a top notch pop performer. From the fairly innocuous leather crop top and green hair to the octopus tentacles, she would saunter and dance belt out her songs. That's right octopus tentacles. I mean, tentacles? Then there was the closing look of a 90's rave kid burned out on molly, preceded by an on-stage [and completely utilitarian] stripping session.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Mazur for WireImage, taken 5/9 in Pittsburgh, provided by the tour.

Speaking of drugs, there were plenty of periodic breaks full of psychedelic light shows and throbbing beats. I mean, the tour is branded "artRave." But this is Connecticut, and the crowd was pretty mixed between young and old, so there's wasn't a ton of dancing. Except, of course, for Mohegan Sun Dancing Guy. For this one he traded in the resort collection shirt for a garb of shimmering blue sequins.

[A little background on Mohegan Sun Dancing Guy: For nearly two years I've been attending and reviewing concerts at the casino, and have seen this guy nearly every time. MSDG is in his 50's, and no matter what the band dances incoherently around the arena to a slick groove that only he seems to hear. Green Day. Maroon 5. Eric Clapton. P!nk. Lady Gaga. The same dance. He usually wears some kind of Jimmy Buffet-esque hawaiian shirt.]

I digress.

The singer took a few breaks to interact with fans (apparently throwing stuffed unicorns on stage is something to do at a Lady Gaga concert?) and even read a teenager's letter to the audience. Momma Caito had to leave before the encore [g'night mom, love you, happy mother's day!] and missed Gaga's biggest expression of fan love of the night.

During the encore of "Gypsy," she brought a young girl up on stage to sing and dance along to close out the show. The two held hands and pranced off into the sunset, a very cute end to a very elaborate rave.

Behind The Scenes At The Players Shoots

I remember always picking up Hartford Magazine, and one of the first things I would do was flip to the "Players" segment. Even though the format was simple, it always just seemed so interesting. Five, maybe six people standing on a white background posing and looking cool with little factoids about what made them unique.

That made things that much cooler when, nearly a decade later, I found myself as the one taking the photographs.

My first "Players" shoot for New Haven Living Magazine. Taken May 2013, for the July 2013 issue.

These photos would be for New Haven Living Magazine, sister publication to Hartford Magazine. While that younger version of me envisioned a group of people all together posing for a photo, the real setup is a bit different. The subjects are photographed one at a time, and combined through the magic of post-processing.

Shoots take place in the basement of the magazine's New Haven office. A massive bank vault is still down there, which makes for an interesting conversation starter! The day begins with moving a giant conference table, setting up background stands, and raising a 9 foot wide roll of white paper.

Note the pipe in the ceiling- that was in case bank employees were locked downstairs by robbers. A little creepy, but cool!

Lighting consists of one strobe with a large soft box, and another off to the side with a silver umbrella to provide a little rimming highlight to the subject.

The real cool part comes with the actual subjects. Most times these people are complete strangers to me. Some are old, some are young. Sometimes they're holding props, other times we get creative with posing. Sometimes we'll click right away, but occasionally things feel a little awkward.

But what I enjoy is trying to quickly find those tidbits- through conversation or jokes or just listening- that will make the person relax and really bring out who they are for a photo. Ultimately each one is completely normal in their own way, but to me they are still those interesting people in a magazine with their own perspectives that make them unique.

Sriracha 2.0: Making Chogochujang

Korean food is fantastic. The cuisine hasn't quite caught on as crazily as Japanese or even Thai, but I've noticed it gaining popularity in the last few years. That could likely be credited to its constant influence on food trendsetters Momofuku. Or maybe it's just because I've started paying more attention to the cuisine.

There's a lot of garlic, a lot of sesame, occasionally a fishy flavor, but quite often things are spicy. Even if they're not, chili paste or a sauce made from it is usually close by to change that.

I've heard the stuff lovingly referred to as "Korean Ketchup," and set out to make my own. The sauce is called cho gochujang, and it has officially replaced sriracha in my fridge.

Gochujang, the thick Korean chili paste, comes in these square containers. You can find them in most Asian markets. Red containers are for chili paste, brown for soybean paste. The green containers are fantastic, they're like a mix of chili and soybean pastes, plus some onion and garlic flavors. There's usually pictures on the labels that give away the contents.

It comes in these square plastic containers, looking like they should be baby wipes or something. You also need a container to fill, like an old sriracha bottle.

It comes in these square plastic containers, looking like they should be baby wipes or something. You also need a container to fill, like an old sriracha bottle.

There's a few recipes out there, lots include minced garlic, but here's the base recipe I like to use:

3 T rice vinegar

2 T honey

1 T sugar

1 tsp sesame oil

I wanted to make enough to fill the old squirt bottle, so I tripled the recipe. I also ran out of sesame oil, so instead ground up 3T sesame seeds (1 T seeds per 1t oil) and added them. I also added about 1/2t ground szechuan peppercorn for an extra flavor pop. More on the peppercorns later- that ingredient deserves its own post.

Stir slowly, simmer on low. Your spicy reward awaits!

Stir slowly, simmer on low. Your spicy reward awaits!

Mix everything together and simmer on low. This will look real thick- add a tablespoon of water at a time to thin it out a little. You want a good consistency that is still squirtable from the bottle. When the thickness seems alright... add another tablespoon or two. The sauce will thicken when it cools.

Still too thick! Pours fine now, but thickens up when it cools down. Just don't get all watery off the bat, okay? You can always add water later.

Still too thick! Pours fine now, but thickens up when it cools down. Just don't get all watery off the bat, okay? You can always add water later.

Give it a taste, add more chili powder if you want. Pour it all into a rinsed out bottle of your most recent favorite condiment.

Dont. Waste. A drop.

Dont. Waste. A drop.

Now invite over your friends and family to try the new delicious sauce you made!

The Hartford area is lucky to have so many fantastic restaurants right at our fingertips. Find good Korean food at Goong in East Hartford, Seoul in New Britain by Westfarms Mall, and Pick & Mix in West Hartford. Get Gochujang in Hartford at Central Supermarket, Kien Market, Apple Tree, and Adong.


Welcome to the new NickCaito.com!

For quite some time now I've been hearing from friends and colleagues that I need to start blogging. For a while I did- for the Hartford Courant, as their primary music writer and blogger.

Here I'd like to continue writing about music, but adding in some other things I love, namely food and cameras.

Together these subjects make up about 80% of my waking hours. Why not make it 90%?

So we have Cameras, Cooking, and Chords.

Photographing The Flaming Lips and Spiritualized at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, CT 15 July, 2013

Cameras: I'll talk about the work I'm doing, the situations around a particular shoot, and even what went wrong or what could be changed next time. Everything is a learning experience, and that's something I'd love to share.

Cooking: Making food amounts to more than creating sustenance. It's a way to unwind, create a distraction from work, or treat others to something delicious. Though coming entirely from Italian ancestry, I primarily cook Indian and Asian foods. The cuisines can seem pretty intimidating, so I'll try to show a few experiments and give some tips. A big chunk of my work also involves writing about food, so I'll share some of those pieces too.

Chords: Like so many people, music has been a huge part of my life. I've been lucky enough to interview and photograph some fantastic acts over the years, and intend to keep doing so. I'll share concert reviews, live photos, and anything else music-related.

Using my carbon steel knife for the first time to make a favorite recipe, banana curry.

Thanks for reading!