Reset Button Hit!

RESET! I just got back from Porcupine Freedom Festival in New Hampshire. At first I was worried that with such high expectations, with how amazing of an experience it was the last two years, that I would be setting myself up for a let down. Such was not the case. In three years, it has gotten better every year!

I didn’t use the internet from Monday through Saturday of last week–not at all! That is the first level of reset. In fact on the radio on my way home from the event I heard that we may all be constantly overstimulated by the internet, and can benefit from periodical internet fasts. Being surrounded by wonderful people in this little microcosm of freedom was all I needed.

This is like my yearly injection of positivity and energy, which I hope to replicate in the future to a year round lifetime of love and joy. It is a goal to strive for. It shows me how good things could be, and the power of individuals and voluntary groups to affect the type of change we want to see in the world. It starts with the individual.

That is the biggest thing I took away from this year’s event. Instead of focusing on everyone else–you should do this, they should do that, “we” should (when we really means you)–it is beneficial to first be the change you want to see in the world. That is sort of a cliche phrase, but for how often we may hear it, I am not sure people much think about what it means.

floats boat

At PorcFest, we all value freedom. But everyone has a different idea of freedom. The people who want marijuana to be legal are not always the same people who value gun ownership, or the same people who seek equality when it comes to gay marriage and such. At this event, everyone that I met and saw realized that their preferred freedoms are not the only ones that matter. Everyone should be free to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. So there were gays, stoners, gun lovers, Muslims, Jews, Christians, rednecks, executives, rich, poor, black, white, Asian, free range children, and on and on. This was true diversity. This was the live and let live philosophy brought to its logical conclusion for one week in a microcosm of New Hampshire.

Being the change we want to be for those of us at PorcFest meant tolerating things we are not necessarily comfortable with, because we realize those things do not affect us directly. I’m sure not everyone was comfortable with people doing mushrooms, and I am sure not everyone was comfortable with the guy driving around on his ATV flying a confederate flag. Some might have been less than excited about guns, and some might have never been around gay guys cuddling by the fire before. But it didn’t matter, because the people at PorcFest walk the walk: do whatever you want, until it starts to negatively affect me, then we’ll talk.
And I think that is why I feel so mentally refreshed after the weeks I spend at PorcFest. I see my philosophy on life working without contradictions. But we aren’t all as lucky as I am, to have a specific event tailored for my worldview; and one that actually is what it claims to be.

I also have my setbacks. Writing a book, Anarchy in New England, was a huge step towards being who I want to be. But there are many more. I am an amateur forager, but the next step is seeing how self sufficient I can be. At PorcFest I attended a talk on beekeeping, and also a talk on soap making. When I move down south before this winter these are two things I would like to try my hand at, as well as growing vegetables, and raising chickens for laying eggs.

I criticize the government a lot, and something I need to continue to strive for is setting up my life so that the government is unnecessary, as I often preach. I need to be the change I want to see: I need to set up a self sufficient town where everything from trade, to currency, to conflict resolution are handled privately, in order to practice what I preach.

And after seeing things work so well for one week without government at PorcFest, it is time to expand the microcosm, and attempt to set up a full time version. This seems like the natural progression; it has been tested for a week as best as we are allowed within the confines of current government. Now we need to test it more permanently, in order to move beyond theory.


Prime People Watching on Mount Chocorua

I felt like a scientist studying different sample groups of humans, as a dozen or so people stormed into Liberty Cabin where Eric and I were brewing some coffee. We had already been to the clear summit of Mount Chocorua, trudged through the snow, taken the wrong trail, fell a couple times, backtracked, and finally arrived at the cabin all by around 1pm. That meant we were happily inside the basic structure with wooden platforms as beds, sipping hot coffee, when the dark clouds rolled in.


Lightening streaked across the sky. First came the downpour, then came the hail, and the wind. It would have been quite scary to be on the peak in such weather, and we would soon hear first hand accounts. It was hard to distinguish who was with who as three different groups of people and a lone hiker came streaming in. With only 9 platform beds in the cabin, Eric and I were glancing at each other and thinking the same thing, “Are they all staying here tonight?”


The answer was no, two groups were just out for a day hike, and had not anticipated how snowy it would be at 3,500 feet. Compared to them, I felt so very prepared for this camping trip, but I must admit that I had not expected the snow either, for some reason. It melted around my house, so snow was out of sight and out of mind; it is springtime!

I lucked out that my hiking partner Eric was much more prepared than I. He even brought extra hiking poles, which I don’t generally use, but proved invaluable on the snowy and icy trails. He also had a lighter, which I had forgot to pack. If I was alone, that could have been a disastrous mistake, being unable to light my camp stove to heat water. I still had enough other food, but it would have made the overnight uncomfortable.

I also lucked out with the temperatures. I brought many layers of clothing, but nothing extremely warm. This ended up being fine, but had it been ten degrees colder, which it easily could have been, I probably would have froze all day and night. So I am not trying to act like I was all set to hike Everest, but I at least brought plenty of extra socks, a map, flashlights, etc.

Party at Liberty Cabin!

As I stood in the cabin, trying to discern who was staying, a girl with booty shorts and a tank top walked in, bleeding from both shins. She was in good spirits, which could have been her disposition, or shock, or perhaps she had more than the two beers she admitted to earlier. See, it was her 21st birthday! And it was either hike a mountain, or go to clubs in Boston. Apparently she decided to dress for the clubs, but go hike the mountain.

I assumed the girl patching up her legs was in the same group as the bloody birthday girl, but I soon learned the healer was with another female friend. The bleeding girl’s two male friends (I use the term lightly) seemed more interested in getting back on the trail. One added that maybe they could stop at a liquor store on the way home. It seemed a hospital might be more appropriate, since the now patched up girl (no thanks to her hiking partners) had removed her wet socks, and put her unlaced Tims back on her numb red feet.

Since more important matters pressed, that group of three got back on the trail, at least taking a picture of my map with the phone that had 9% battery left. That is when we realized the other two girls were not with them, and only slightly more prepared. They seemed equally caught off guard by the conditions and weather, but at least possessed mental toughness.

They had pants on, but their thin canvass, flat bottom vans were not helping in the ice and, I kid you not, over 3 feet of snow in some places. Luckily their phones had more battery, and they took pictures of our maps. We offered them a map to take, but they declined. However when we heard at 3:30pm they didn’t have flashlights for the 4ish hour hike back over the summit, and down to their parking lot, I insisted they take an extra flashlight (I had two plus a headlamp), and the father of two from the third group also sent a flashlight with them. And they were off.

The Overnight Crew

Now the smoke cleared, and everyone who was left exhaled. We had a few jokes at the booty-short-wearing-birthday-girl’s expense, and situated ourselves in the cabin. It was me and Eric, the lone woman hiker, and Brian, his 11 and 13 year old sons, and an 18 year old girl he had adopted at some point in the last few years.

We really had such a good time, getting to know each other, laughing, joking, and commiserating. See, the family wasn’t super physically prepared either, but they were chalk full of mental preparedness. Not to criticize too much, but taking extra socks is like hiking 101. But Brian had only been hiking with his sons for a year, and it was great to see the enthusiasm. They had plenty of water, which was a lesson learned the previous year. Next camping trip, I am confident they will have plenty of socks.

So even though it was technically against the rules to start a camp fire that close to the cabin, we all looked the other way while Brian got one going to dry their socks and shoes. Rules are made to be broken, and this seemed to fall into the survival category. We certainly weren’t going to start a fire, but that didn’t mean we weren’t going to enjoy one that someone else lit.

Brian seemed like a really great, fun dad. They discovered hiking sort of by accident last year, and fell in love with it. There is a big learning curve with camping that I take for granted. My dad was a seasoned camper before I ever went with him, so from an early age I learned all the do’s and do nots of camping and hiking. And even then so much is unforeseen, and new experiences every trip teach you more.

I give Brian tons of credit for getting his family out for camping trips, and enthusiastically making the best of everything, even when they were a bit cold and unprepared. Plus, his kids enjoyed the whole experience, and didn’t complain at all, which is probably more than could be said of me at the same age.

Liberty Cabin with Mt. Chorua peak

Liberty Cabin with Mt. Chorua peak

Over the course of the night, we learned more about what transpired on the mountain in the hours and minutes leading up to the storming of the cabin. Brian was already feeling guilty that his family was on top of a mountain in a lightening storm, but weather is unpredictable, especially on mountains, and I don’t think it was negligence on his part.

His group, the group of two girls, and the birthday girl’s group all came together in the storm on the mountain, counting on strength in numbers to get them to safety. Birthday girl apparently panicked when lightening cracked nearby, and running in hysterics fell in some icy snow, lost a boot (but reclaimed it), and cut her shins on the ice when her feet punched through the top layer of snow.

The lone woman camper followed the trail of blood from the birthday girl’s shins, and arrived at the cabin minutes after the rest of them. She was a 31 year old seasoned camper who was the most prepared of anyone (and even she got her foot stuck in the snow at one point), except perhaps Eric who I was with, and probably made me look more prepared than I was. I have a habit of packing and planning last minute, which makes things harder when your phone dies, and you didn’t bring a charger. But that is when it actually helps that I don’t have a smart phone. I have a phone for texts and calls, a tablet for everything internet, and a GPS for the car. All these would have been on the same device if I had a smart phone. What is normally an inconvenience therefore proved to be an asset.

Brian’s sons were fine that night, since they shared a double sleeping bag that kept them warm. But Brian froze all night, with just a thin blanket, and the clothes he was wearing—sweatpants and a light jacket. He joined Eric and me for the sun rise, which was amazing. I decided not to take a picture of the sun rise since it would not have done the view justice. You’ll have to stay at Liberty Cabin for that image. But maybe wait a few more weeks if you don’t want to have to deal with the snow.


Exclusive Interview with Photographer Ben Mancino

I was thrilled when I got to participate as a gas-mask-wearing model for Ben Mancino’s photography project, Fears, Nightmares, and Dreams Collide. Now I am thrilled to present an interview with Ben Mancino! You won’t find this anywhere else, and you might just learn a thing or two about your new favorite photographer.


Award Winning “Shoot the Wild” Photograph by Ben Mancino

Ben Mancino is the 2014 winner of the Shoot the Wild International Wildlife Photography Award. Check out Ben’s website and like him on Facebook!

Joe: Tell me a little bit about your philosophy as an artist.

Ben: I believe that your fans should be able to afford your work, plain and simple.  They are the ones who turn your dream into a success. I treat customers the way that I would like to be treated by my favorite artists. My philosophy is to create art for myself and then share it for the world to see. I have always been my own favorite artist and I am a firm believer that there is nothing wrong with being your own favorite artist.

My friends constantly quote me saying “I don’t know… I thought it looked cool.” If I could drill one thing into people’s heads it is that you can capture an amazing picture with no underlying meaning, intent, or hidden message and it can still be AMAZING!


Joe: I agree that many have the drive to become an artist of one sort or another because they indeed are one of their own favorite artists. No one gets to the top thinking they suck. But what would you say to someone who thinks you are cocky or full of yourself when you say you are your favorite artist?

Ben: Well, I have only encountered this problem once in my life and it with one of my college professors.  He had us introduce ourselves one by one and share with the class who our favorite artist was.  When it was my turn I introduced myself shared that I was my own favorite artist.  He told me that it was an unacceptable answer and that I had to choose a different artist.  I saw two problems with this.  One, my professor wasn’t an artist so how could he understand the emotion and vision that goes into the artwork?  Two, he should be encouraging students to become their favorite artist by helping them hone their talents and skills to create artwork that they believe should exist in this world.  If Van Gogh has the right to be his own favorite artist, than I have every right to be my favorite artist. The same applies to every medium in the arts; in the music industry Beyonce has every right to be her favorite singer and performer because she controls every detail that goes into her work which is all a part of her artistic vision.  I just compared myself to Beyonce and Van Gogh but I think that you get my point?

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely have favorite artists whose work I love and respect (Martin Stranka, Martin Stavars, Alex Creo) I’m just my own #1 fan. I love to let my images speak for themselves but I am working on striking the balance between advocating my talent and avoiding overstepping my boundaries and appearing like a pompous prick.  I think that my pricing philosophy speaks wonders about who I am as an artist.  I cannot afford my favorite artists photography because their work is sold in limited quantities at a hefty price.  I like to treat my fans how I wish to be treated which is why I create affordable options (treat others how you would like to be treated, thanks Mom & Dad).  I also allow my fans to customize orders so if they want a specific photo on a t-shirt or greeting card, I can do that for them.  It makes my job fun and it makes my clients satisfied.

Whenever I meet new people I typically ask, “what is your name and who is your favorite photographer?”  The answer almost 99% of the time is, “I don’t have one” and the remaining 1% says, “Ansel Adams.”  To which I then respond, “It is nice to meet you.  My name is Ben Mancino, your new favorite photographer.”  It works just about every time.

In my opinion it has been way overdue since we have had an iconic photographer that is widely recognized by the general public.  I would like to earn that spot.  You do not need to be considered the “best” in order to be the favorite.  My slogan is, “If I am not already your favorite photographer, you have not seen enough of my pictures yet” which always gets a reaction out of people.

Joe: Can you expand on your “It looked cool” philosophy?

Ben: I sell my art to everyday folks instead of only focusing on elite art collectors because I am a no-bullshit kind of guy when it comes to art.  If I cannot look at a piece of art and enjoy it for aesthetic purposes, then I am not going to buy it regardless of the story behind it.  If there is a good story behind the art; good job, you’re a story teller, not a fine artist.

My high school had an art and literary magazine called, “The Labyrinth” which held annual meetings where student members would critique and vote on anonymous artwork/poetry to be selected for the publication.  One year I submitted a photo of my cat that I casually thought looked “cool.”  As the students surrounding me tried to dig deep into the photograph one of the students said, “The artist was going for the Mona Lisa in cat form.”

That was the moment that I realized that nobody in the world (not even an art historian) can interpret a piece of art from the thoughts of the artist.  Since it was anonymous, I couldn’t just speak up and say, “Well actually, I thought that it was just a cool picture of my cat.”  I felt like I was the deceased artist and the student was the art historian formulating her own interpretation which was then adopted by everyone else in the room.  Despite the interpretation being completely off, I now call the photograph, “Mona Lisa Cat.”


Joe: I was lucky enough to appear in your last series, “Fears, Nightmares, & Dreams Collide” which included a gas mask, red balloons, and levitation.  It seems to have provoked quite a response, what made you choose to do this series?

Ben: Where to begin? I was always fascinated by photography involving balloons, levitation, and gas masks.  I came up with the idea for the series one day when there was a power outage. I closed my eyes and let inspiration from the past create visual scenes using all three themes.  I sketched out about eighteen ideas that I wanted to re-create in photographic form.  I ordered an air soft gas mask that day and made a status on my facebook asking if anyone would like to model for a new series that I was planning.  I received over 11 responses within a few hours which was amazing.

A few times my friends and I had to climb a mountain, including the shot where one of my models (little brother), Greg Garvey, is “levitating” with a plane in the background that looked like a shooting star. He said the funniest thing to me one time, “I always thought that photography was really planned out, with fancy lights, and models, and not like, “GO GO GO, GET IN THE CAR! WE NEED TO CHASE THE SUNSET,” give a few instructions, and manage to capture the perfect shot with a plane in the background on the third try.  And yes, I did really get the shot on the third try, it was incredible.


Joe: Why the red balloon?

Ben: People always ask why the red balloon? So here I am to clear that up for all of those curious folks out there.  Imagine the series with any other color balloon… I don’t think that the “fear” factor would be present.  Sometimes I even get freaked out a little by the pictures and it makes me extremely proud to know that I can provoke that reaction within myself by looking at my artwork.  So the red balloon decision was based on artistic aesthetics rather than a deeper psychological message which may make a few people sleep a bit easier tonight.

Joe: It makes me think of the song 99 Red Balloons, which I believe had something to do with panic starting a nuclear war. The red balloon had nothing to do with that song?

Ben: Nope, not at all.


Joe: What is one of your pet peeves?

Ben: There is something about idolizing an artist whose work you will never be able to afford due to their pricing that leaves you feeling unsatisfied.  I never want people who appreciate my art to feel that way. The way I see it, the Mona Lisa has thousands if not millions of replications in the form of postcards, t-shirts, posters, etc.  If anything, the Mona Lisa has increased in value.  I like to think of my photographs in the same way.  The photograph is a masterpiece in itself, and therefore it should be made accessible to anyone who appreciates it enough to purchase it.

Joe: How do you go about pricing your prints?

Ben: Whenever I ask my friends how much they think a product of mine costs, they usually begin with, “I don’t really buy art so I have no idea where to start”. My friend unintentionally nailed the problem on the head.  It isn’t rare for someone not to know the price of art.  It is sold everywhere, by different artists, at different prices, and how can you really keep track of all the various factors that add up to the total price?

Typically fine artists believe that lower prices reduces the value of their work.  I believe that low prices will mean that more fans can enjoy my work.

Joe: You talk a lot about individual “consumption” of your art, but I know that you have also been featured in magazines, and won at least one photo contest. Do you have a vision for how your art might be distributed in terms of more commercial methods, for instance to be used in advertisements, or magazines? Would this fit with your idea of offering affordable art work, or would you feel like you were “selling out” in some ways?

Ben: I personally don’t see making commercial negotiations as “selling out.”  I just tried to imagine what “selling out” would look like and I imagined my prints being sold at WalMart.  I wouldn’t mind selling my books there… but fine art prints being sold at WalMart isn’t my style. I want people to come to my shop to get an exclusive product that they can’t find anywhere else.

If Nikon asked me to use one of my photos for an advertisement, you can bet that I would say yes under the right agreements; meaning that I would retain full ownership of my photograph. Since I shoot with a Nikon and love the brand, that deal would align with my values. If Olympus asked me to use a photo, no offense to them, but I wouldn’t let them use a photo that I took with a Nikon camera, it just wouldn’t make sense.  As long as I negotiate offers that align with my values, I will be able to sleep at night.  Since I am trying to reach new fans and build a wider audience, I think that increasing the use of my photography in advertisements and magazines would be extremely beneficial towards my goals.

Joe: Photography seems to be ever more competitive as practically everyone has a camera everywhere they go.  How do you try to differentiate from your competition?

Ben: To be honest, I do not view the photography industry as competition.  I have been taking pictures since I was in seventh grade which equates to over a decade now.  I have always picked the camera up for myself, so regardless of the industry trends; I will still be here taking pictures.  I see the world in terms of photographs waiting to be captured and that is what drew me into photography in the first place.  I remember browsing on Getty Images, PhotoBucket, and Myspace searching for photographic inspiration in my early teens.  I finally reached a point where I decided, “I want to be able to take a picture of anything I want, and have it look exactly the way I want it.”  I ended up getting my first camera, a Kodak Z740 on December 25th, 2004 A.D. and the journey began from there.

Joe: Have you ever had a vision that you wanted to create through photography, but simply could not get right? In other words, can you talk a bit about coming up short when you were not able to capture something to your standards, or the way you envisioned it in your head?

Ben: Yes, of course! There are always limitations to each idea; the fun part is working around these limitations and letting the idea evolve.  For example, one of the images that I had envisioned from my last series involves the mask emerging from the water with fog in the foreground.  Every time I waited for the local lake to produce steam, it wasn’t enough to create the effect that I was looking to capture.  I looked into buying dry ice for the shoot but I want to make the photo look as authentic as possible.  Whenever I cannot re-create a vision I store the ideas away for a later time in my career when I will have the flexibility and resources to create them.  So in a way, I deal with it by extending the deadline for certain visions and in the meantime I come up with new projects and ideas so that I’m not stuck on the same idea for too long.