2019 Mt. Holly Fire and Ice Festival

Having been born in New Jersey and living most of my life here, I feel a bit ashamed admitting that it wasn’t until this year that I found out about the Fire and Ice Festival, an event hosted annually in the historic town of Mount Holly, New Jersey. Its name is a clever bit of word play, as the festival combines a chili contest with the often overlooked art form (or is it a craft?) of ice sculpting. It’s an enjoyable, family-friendly event that draws a large crowd onto the streets of Mount Holly’s High street and Mill Race Village.

I attended this year’s Fire and Ice Festival, which occured on January 26th. Below are a few images I made while I was there.
(click on the images to view larger)


Many tools can be used to cut and shape ice. However, one of the fastest methods for removing large amounts of ice is the chainsaw.
It’s common to see large shards of ice scattered about on the ground where carvers are working.
A lone block of ice sits exposed to the sun prior to being carved. The blocks of ice used weigh three hundred pounds.
Often times you will see the ice carvers cut away significant pieces of the block to be used for later.
A small child admires the windmill design carved by Kirk Clemens of Bear, Delaware.
Ice Carver Kirk Clemens sprays both the ice as well as a piece paper which he has drawn his design onto. The water helps freeze the paper to the block of ice allowing the carver to focus better on the exactness of their actions.
Kirk Clemens using a rotary tool to cut details into the wings of his butterfly design.
One of the popular animal attractions was the Jersey Sands Sled Dog Racing Association dog sled team. [JSSDRA Facebook page]
Alpacas supplied by Scotia Acres Alpacas on display.
A red-tailed hawk being displayed by a handler from Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge.
Sometimes carvers must enlist the help of an assistant. Here, for example, Todd Dedman and his assistant place a large, carved mushroom top on its ice base.
Carver Todd Dedman uses a chainsaw to even out the newly joined mushroom top with its base.
With the paper design stencil applied to the ice, carver Todd Dedman begins to carve out the details.

From the Archives: Three Frames at My Grandmother’s Apartment

A scanned contact strip showing frames 3, 4, and 5.

I made the above images some time in 2017. They depict three scenes from the space just outside my grandmother’s old apartment. I’m not entirely sure on the date when they were made, but it would have to be some time before my grandmother fell, because farther along the film there is a portrait of her sitting in her glider chair with a mug of tea.

Ruth Gandek, 2017

After my grandmother fell the facility required her to transition into a smaller apartment in an area of the property where she could receive assistance should she need it. While I know that my grandmother certainly misses her larger apartment, I can tell you that I miss the walk up to the apartment. The carefully landscaped “pocket gardens” always provided such a wonderful little atmosphere.

Single Frame: Miry Run, NJ

Image: Miry Run
Canadian geese lined up on the ice crested Miry Run, a small manmade lake along the Assunpink Creek.

I’ve spent the past few days exploring Miry Run, which is a small, manmade lake along the Assunpink Creek close to where I live. It’s provided me with some beautiful moments of stunning light this winter season. Earlier today I even watched as two red-tailed hawks flew around and sounded their distinctive screeches.

This has become a favorite spot of mine and Shea, my recently adopted Pit/Hound mix.  I walk her along the water’s edge on a long leash. I’m training her to be patient with me, as I often stop to make pictures whenever we are out walking. So far she behaves well, but does always want to be on the move.

Bonus Frame:

Image: Shea, my Pit/Hound mix, sitting impatiently for her portrait.
Shea at Miry Run, January – 2019

Green and Yellow Pine Needles, 2018

Image: Light falling upon branches of green and yellow pine needles.

For those of you who follow my work on Instagram you’ll notice that my Instagram feed is largely monochromatic (of the gray variety). I am at heart a black and white photographer. Black and white photography allows for an incredibly delicate rendering of light. It can display all of its subtle nuances and characteristics.In an image lacking color you can really focus on the story in the frame. The story of the object or of the moment. 

However I love color. Color is like life. It unapologetically exists as it is, chaotic, or calm with it’s own subtleties.  It can be faint or intensely vibrant. When I see a color image I immediately focus on the colors. Only afterwards do I examine what else might be going on. It could be my background in painting (not very good) that trained me this way. Maybe it was through studying sculpting (again quite poor) that leads me to notice form and light in monochromatic images before examining the deeper content.

Color takes the wheel and does all sorts of exciting things to my mind. It’s like a symphony- instantly. That’s why I photographed these pine needles in Valley Forge National Park. They struck me as soon as I saw them. The horns blaring, the cymbals crashing, and the strings section playing some sustained chaos of vibrato. It’s a moment of such tension and vibrant intensity.

Were I to have made an additional frame of this scene I might have allowed time for the needles to shake in the wind. What an image that would be! Maybe I’ll happen upon a scene such as this again. I’ll be ready for it next time.