Author Archives: Liz Whittemore

About Liz Whittemore

I am a Central Michigan University student majoring in photojournalism. After graduation I would like to join the Peace Corps. When I'm not running around waiting tables working my way through school, I spend my spare time with a camera in my face or nose in a book.

Graduation, freelance, and puppy love

Hi all! Sorry for having been a ghost for the entirety of the summer. Here’s a summation of what I’ve been up to since May!

I finally graduated! I received my bachelor’s degree in photojournalism from Central Michigan University. It’s been a slow and steady process, but that’s allowed me to work on my side projects and chip away at costs so I won’t have so much debt accumulated.

Even after graduation, spare time has been few and far between! In February, during my last semester of school, my 2005 Monte Carlo, a car that I bought from my father 10 years ago finally died on me. 257,000 miles and rarely any problems, I have absolutely no complaints. Even though it had an overheating problem and the auto shop quoted me $1,500 to fix, my mechanically inclined father refused to let it die. He towed it 3 hours home where he fixed it up for $150 and is loving it.

Between work and school I couldn’t be without a car, so I got my first auto loan and got a 2017 Kia Soul. #adulting

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I wanted something that I would have for a long time and would be reliable. Though it looks small, I was really surprised with how spacious the vehicle’s inside is. I also got a great deal. I bought the car through Hertz Car Sales, as a former rental car, the car had just over 17,000 and I bought it for $14,000 with half of it up front and got a loan for the rest. Highly recommend!

My partner and I have also finally taken the jump to fulfill a dream of ours-becoming dog parents!

 

This snuggly young lady Corgi pup is Nori. While she has certainly been a handful, she has been incredibly well behaved and just a total love bug. If you follow CMU’s Instagram, then those tiny feet and huge ears may look a bit familiar.

Quite recently I’ve also began doing freelance work for the Epicenter of Mt. Pleasant. This has been a really exciting opportunity for me, to do keep doing the work that I love and meeting people in and around my community and documenting all the neat things that they do.

For my first story I met small business owner Matthew Bosko who owns and operates Masterpiece Custom Kitchens in Rosebush, Michigan.

While shadowing this father of five, I thought it was so neat that he had his business in a building just behind the house so he could work at any time, but still stay so close to home and his family. I was so charmed by the children, none of whom I ever saw wearing shoes, as the rode their bicycles in and around the shop and helping their dad vacuum up the ever-present saw dust. Though that might seem like a scary visual, I assure you the children were still always cautious and quite safe in their play.

Here are some photos and if you’re interested in reading the story click here to read the published story on Epicenter. As always thanks for your support!

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Drag Beginnings

Neal Austin Primm debuted his drag persona Lavender Hazze during her first show at the Broadway Theatre in Mount Pleasant, Michigan on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

The emerging drag queen from mid-Michigan said that drag has been interested in drag culture since he was in high school and discovered LOGOtv and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“There’s so much creativity and art behind drag if you put your mind to it, and that is something that captivates me,” Primm said. “This is my opportunity to show people that you can do anything you put your heart into.”

The show was hosted by PowerDiva Production,  a drag-focused community organization based out of west Michigan.

I first worked with Neal about two years ago when he was still new to the drag community. We did a drag themed fashion shoot, the first for Lavender Hazze, and to be able to come full circle and document her during her first performance was such a privilege. Lavender has come from being shy and new to make-up to this confident and outgoing drag queen.

For the video some of my biggest hurdles was the audio and lighting. I recently made the jump and purchased a MOVO wireless lavalier microphone system. I thought that I might need audio that Lavender could move with and I wouldn’t have to worry about the audio if she changed the direction she was talking, like I would have to if I used a shotgun microphone which is my go to. I ended up using the lavalier mic for only the interview and I’m quite pleased with the sound.

For lighting, I was nervous because I’d never been to the Broadway Theatre downtown and had intended to find a place in the front row I could film. I ended up finding a spot in the balcony that worked perfectly and used my telephoto lens. For the performance video I had to follow focus the subjects as they walked from the stage and through the audience because I wanted to avoid the stutter and clicking the autofocus makes during the video and ended up ignoring my wide angle lens entirely.

Committed to Care

1114 W. High Street in Mount Pleasant, Michigan is a building that has worn many hats over the years. From church to homeless shelter, the building is now home to a nonprofit center where multiple organizations operate under one roof- all with the purpose of helping those in need.

On Thursday, April 5 the center hosted an open house and presentation to announce their campaign launch and reveal the center’s new name: The William Strickler Nonprofit Center.

The center is named after Mount Pleasant community member William “Bill” Strickler, who died in February. His family made a leading donation of $200,000 toward the campaign to honor his memory.

“A few weeks before he died, I asked him how he would like to be remembered if he did pass away,” said Janet Strickler, Bill’s widow, who spoke at the presentation. “His answer came swiftly. He said he would like to be remembered for lifting people up and for his friendships. He spent his life giving a lift to people who were struggling and needed a hand. Bill would be so happy to have his name attached to this center that is lifting people up every day. It is also giving our family the opportunity to take a negative and turn it into something totally positive.”

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A picture of the nonprofit center hangs over the fireplace in the newly named William Strickler Nonprofit Center located at 1114 W. High Street in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

The $1 million campaign aims to purchase the building outright from Victory Church who owns the building and leases it under a lease-to purchase agreement to the United Way of Gratiot and Isabella Counties.

“We want to foster strong collaboration among key social service agencies by developing a shared physical space and cooperative interactions,” said Amanda Schafer, Executive Director of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation (MPACF) during her announcement at the open house. “First we want to address the most pressing needs of a large proportion of citizens in Isabella County living in or near poverty. Second we want to create synergies throughout the community so that we can reduce the poverty levels in Isabella County over time. We want to take it to that next level- how do we move people out of needing the services provided here at the center?  We need to continue our short-term support but also effectively implement programs to reduce poverty levels.”

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 report states that in Isabella County, 23.4% of the 71,282 residents are living in poverty.

According to Schafer, as of Tuesday, April 10, the campaign has raised over $647,000 toward this $1 million goal.

The William Strickler Nonprofit Center is home to the Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH), Community Compassion Network (CCN), Clothing INC, and The Care Store.

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Renee Benner, a guest at the Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH), greets visitors as they arrive for the open house at the William Strickler Nonprofit Center on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

The center offers access to groceries through CCN, clothing through Clothing, INC., home supplies and hygiene products through The Care Store, and day shelter services through the ICRH.

 

Ryan Griffus is the Executive Director for ICRH and has noticed a significant difference in efficiency since the organizations came together under one roof.

“Last year I’d come in at intake, ask everybody what they need for clothing, take down these lists, drive down to the clothing closet across town, fill bags and bags of clothes and deliver them,” said Griffus. “It was labor intensive and cumbersome. That’s one example of how the creation of the center we have is so efficient. You get somebody in who has multiple needs and we can start to chip away within minutes we are addressing very emergent needs. What’s good about that is that it takes that initial worry off of the person who’s coming in, which is the most important, it makes them feel comfortable and cared for immediately, but also frees up our staff to be able to do different things now.”

For information on how to donate visit the MPACF’s website here.

Student Circus Celestial Bodies perform charity show at The Eastern in Detroit

10 years ago former circus performer and yoga instructor Micha Adams Buss sought to create a place where people could come to learn circus arts in a friendly, supportive, and inclusive atmosphere. She and her partner opened the Detroit Flyhouse Circus School in Detroit, Michigan and today offers classes ranging from acrobatics to fire dancing, and contortion by highly trained instructors.

Recently the Flyhouse hosted the Celestial Bodies Circus Show at The Eastern in Detroit on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. The show had two performance sets beginning with a family friendly show at 6 p.m. and an adult-only performance at 8:15 p.m. The show aimed to raise money for the Cascades Humane Society’s Pet Pantry, a program that assists pet owners that are struggling financially to care for their pet. Micha’s husband and head coach at the flyhouse, Matt Buss, said the performances raised $400 of monetary, food, and toy donations for the Pet Pantry.

The Flyhouse hosts four shows per year. The next performance is scheduled for July 10 at The Eastern in Detroit. Check out their Facebook page closer to the performance date for updates.

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Tonya Ross stretches on a yoga mat before her performance on the straight silks at the Celestial Bodies Circus Show at The Eastern in Detroit on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Ross has been with the Detroit Flyhouse Circus School for six years. “It’s a great community of amazing people,” said Ross. “I only wish I lived closer because I want to be there everyday.” Ross joined the Flyhouse with no experience after going through a divorce. “I wanted to stay busy and try something new,” said Ross. “I really wanted to get back into gymnastics but I couldn’t find any place that offered adult gymnastic classes. I watched a movie that had a trapeze act in it, and wondered if there were any places that offer that. I found the Flyhouse and I’ve been going ever since.”

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Britt Webb performs on the straight silks during the Celestial Bodies Circus Show at The Eastern in Detroit on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Webb has been a student at the Detroit Flyhouse Circus School for nearly four years and has been an instructor for the last two. “My full-time day job is as a social worker specializing in substance abuse and mental health,” said Webb. “I have a pretty emotionally demanding job and aerial has helped me find balance in my life. It’s really easy to get burnt out working in the field that I do so I needed something that brought that balance to my life while also being meaningful at the same time.”

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Iris Schuster (left) paints an audience member’s face at the Student Celestial Bodies performance at The Eastern in Detroit on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.  “I gave one beautiful girl a reminder not to forget that space is not the limit,” said Schuster. Schuster, who is a originally from Germany, does face painting for the Detroit Circus and has been a student at the Detroit Flyhouse Circus School for three years. She takes aerial and acrobatic classes. “You can’t find this kind of school in Germany,” said Schuster. “If there were I would probably would have run away with the circus a long time ago.”

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Willow Bigham chats with audience members before her performance on the aerial silks during the Celestial Bodies Circus Show at The Eastern in Detroit on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Bigham has been a student at the Detroit Flyhouse Circus School for almost two years. The freshman in high school lives in Lansing, Michigan, and drives to Detroit for classes (an hour and a half drive one way) up to three times a week. Bigham was inspired to learn after seeing a circus show during a vacation in the Dominican Republic and by her cousin who does aerial acrobatics. Bigham’s dream is to join the Cirque du Soleil. “I love seeing how the audience reacts and the adrenaline that comes with it,” said Bigham. “I was always shy when I was little so when I put my makeup on I feel like a completely different and free person!”

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Courtney Wilcox performs on the straight silks during the Celestial Bodies Circus Show at The Eastern in Detroit on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Wilcox has been a student at the Detroit Flyhouse Circus School for four years. Wilcox said she’s always loved dance, gymnastics, and the circus. “My dad used to ride a unicycle and juggle,” said Wilcox. ” He hand-made my sister and me stilts when we were kids that we walked around on like it was no big thing!” Following a Cirque Du Soleil performance during a trip to Disney World, Wilcox’s 10-year-old daughter voiced interest in the activity so they began taking classes at the Flyhouse upon returning home. “We both fell in love,” said Wilcox. “Not only with aerial, but with the community Micha’s built. Besides being ridiculously talented and dedicated to what they do, Micha and every single instructor I’ve met at Flyhouse are the most supportive, patient and genuinely encouraging people I’ve ever met. I continue to do aerial because it’s such a perfect combination of artistry and athleticism. Class is always fun and a guaranteed stress reliever and I’m 43 and it’s the best way for me to stay in shape.”

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Jason Melko high fives his performance partner after their routine in the Celestial Bodies Circus Show at The Eastern in Detroit on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Melko’s routine included partner acrobatics, straight silk, aerial hammock, and the aerial hoop (also referred to as the lyra). Melko has been a student at the Detroit Flyhouse Circus School for five years. “I really enjoy it and the people there are the best,” said Melko. “I just love life when I’m able to get a reaction out of the people watching.”

For this assignment, we were to tell a story through a series of images. For the Detroit Flyhouse’s performance I aimed to capture not just the show but the camaraderie and the passion the students have for the performance art.

My biggest challenge for this assignment was lighting. The performance, at The Eastern in Detroit, had beautiful lighting in person but it wasn’t conducive to photography. I tried dropping my shutter speed as low as I could at 1/60th of a second to allow for more light but even paired with a f-stop of 5.6 or lower, the images were still too dark. I compensated that with a speedlite that I was able to bounce off of either the ceiling, which was metallic, or a wall. I was incredibly hesitant to do this because I was nervous of exposing the performers to the danger of them accidentally being blinded by a flash aimed at a ceiling, near where they are, but no one said that it was an issue. Some of the performers routines were quite fast and that shutter speed wasn’t sufficient to capturing sharp images so for the first time I put my ISO up to 12,000 so that I could bump up my shutter speed. There is noise in the images but I feel adamant that it is a suitable compromise for having a moderate flash. Turning my flash up on full power was too risky for the performers. It was a learning curve trying to find that happy medium on my camera settings and the flash power and instead of shooting a ton I waited for moments to conserve my flash battery and minimize the amount of times the flash fired. Something that helped a lot was my telephoto lens. I had my wide angle and that helped with more light in images but it was too distant and I’d have to get in incredibly close to get strong images so in using my long lens I could get stronger images and by keeping it zoomed out still allow for the most amount of light in the photographs.

Smart, Sexy, and SASSy

Allie Baster, of SASS Burlesque, is a burlesque dancer and now burlesque teacher.

Allie Baster, who requested only her stage name be used, is a member of SASS Burlesque Revue, a burlesque troupe in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

Recently she taught her first ever workshop on the sultry attitude and choreography of burlesque. Workshop participants learned the history of burlesque, common moves, choreography, and even how to chair dance.

BTP Fitness and Health Club in Lake Isabella, Michigan, hosted the workshop on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

“The point of doing it is to empower women to feel comfortable with themselves, their own body,” said Allie. “Some of them do that with ballet, some of them do that with Zumba, and some of them want to do it in a bolder way- and burlesque fits that bill. It’s a confidence booster. It’s sexy and it makes you feel okay with being sexy, with being powerful, with being sensual. It’s really something that gets you in touch with your own body and builds confidence. Confidence is the sexiest thing around.”

Allie didn’t start her dancing career with burlesque.

“I’ve been a dancer since I was a kid in more traditional ways,” said Allie. “I had planned after I graduated high school to go into dance. I had a knee injury in my junior year of high school and had to make a completely different life plan, because I was going to be a dancer.”

Years later she started taking belly dance classes and one of her instructors was a member of a former burlesque troupe in Mount Pleasant called The Pleasant Ladies.

“That was my first real introduction to burlesque. I saw some of her shows and thought it looked like a lot of fun,” said Allie. “I was at a place with myself where I wasn’t feeling as confident about myself. I had put on some weight, I’d been out of dancing for a long time, I didn’t feel like me. Belly dancing helped a lot. And then I took that next step and I auditioned for The Pleasant Ladies and I made it in. That troupe has since dissolved but some of the former members of that troupe got together and made SASS And we’re still going strong.”

“We didn’t want to be The Pleasant Ladies because we didn’t feel like we could own that name,” said Allie. “Others had established it and they weren’t part of it anymore. We came up with the Smart and Sexy Sirens- SASS burlesque. The more we thought of that name the more we loved it. We are smart and sexy. Smart comes first. Sexy comes after smart. Sexy comes because of smart.”

Allie said that burlesque has had a positive impact on her life and has increased her confidence.

“Dancing burlesque and hearing the audience love what you’re doing it’s a little bit of a rush, it makes you feel good,” said Allie. “You’re like I still got it. I’m not as young as I used to be, I’m not as thin as I used to be, but I still go it. And that carries over in my life. Having that self-confidence on stage lets me be a little more confident in, say, a professional meeting.”

The troupe’s next scheduled show will be Saturday, April 28, 2018 at Rubble’s Bar on W. Michigan Street in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. SASS is hosting “Smash the Patriarchy Variety Show” and proceeds will go to Women’s Aid Service and SAPA (Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates).

Student and Business Owner Serving Uncommon Coffee

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When Joshua Agardy and his wife Rachael opened their business in downtown Mount Pleasant, Michigan in Sept. 2014 they wanted to contribute something to downtown that wasn’t already there- a coffee shop.

“Growing up in Mount Pleasant there was not a single coffee shop in the downtown area,” said Agardy. “I figured a good way to start my experience in business was to open a coffee shop where there was a need for one.”

Pleasant City Coffee (PCC), located on Broadway Street in Mount Pleasant, serves coffee roasted by Uncommon Coffee, a coffeehouse and roaster located in Saugatuck, Michigan.

“I learned everything as I’ve gone throughout the process,” said Agardy. “I didn’t know how to do anything more than make a cup of coffee before I opened.

Inspired by opening the business, Agardy is pursuing a finance degree at Central Michigan University (CMU) and is taking one course each semester. His wife is a full-time geology professor at CMU and the couple has four children all under the age of 10.

In addition to school, Agardy invests 60 to 80 hours each week into PCC and owns and maintains rental properties in town.

“Any time that I’m sitting here looking out the door waiting for customers to come in is time I can be forwarding my momentum toward my degree, so it’s not wasted time,” said Agardy.

Linda Weiss is a familiar face at Pleasant City Coffee and visits the shop nearly every day.

“The coffee is the best in central Michigan, the atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable, and the customer service is superior,” said Weiss. “I’m glad to be supporting a local small business in our downtown, and thus helping support our city’s economy.”

Through the month of February, the coffee shop partnered with Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH) a rotational homeless shelter located in Mount Pleasant. For each bag of coffee sold at Pleasant City, $1 will go to ICRH.

PCC frequently hosts live musical performances from local artists and pop-up boutiques. For business hours and a list of upcoming events, visit their Facebook.

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Joshua Agardy poses behind the counter of Pleasant City Coffee which he co-owns with his wife Rachael. Agardy holds a bag of Zalmari Estate coffee beans roasted by Uncommon Coffee Roasters which provides the coffee for Agardy’s shop.

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Customers of Pleasant City Coffee enjoy their beverages inside and take advantage of the spacious tables in the coffee shop on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.

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Pleasant City Coffee, located at 205 W. Broadway St. in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, was opened in Sept. 2014 by Joshua Agardy and his wife Rachael.

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A customer pays for a honey cinnamon latte at Pleasant City Coffee on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.

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Joshua Agardy, a finance major at Central Michigan University, studies in between taking care of customers at Pleasant City Coffee on Feb. 21, 2018.

This post is the culmination of a picture package project for my JRN 320 class. The project needed photos, a layout, and a short story. This project was difficult for me in the way that I needed to think of a story that I could do that was close to home (due to car issues) and was still worth telling.  I wanted to capture the relaxed nature of the coffee shop and how Josh does time management yet still balances all his responsibilities of operating the coffee shop, taking classes, and being a father of four.

Lighting for this assignment was really important and I knew I needed to capture the light and open feel of the coffee shop. Additionally, my dominant image is a portrait photo which needed to be well lit but I also wanted to show a bit more of behind the counter and a bit of the coffee shop so I just used put the speedlites I had brought aside and used the existing lights overhead which cast a nice backlight and left the window light to light the front. That was the largest challenge because I wanted a strong portrait to set a tone for the story but I was hesitant to bring in my own lighting because I didn’t want to disrupt the customers in the shop and I wanted the image to be strong yet natural. Luckily I didn’t need the additional light!

Freshmeat February

Each year Central Michigan Mayhem (CMM), a roller derby team in mid-Michigan, hosts a recruitment event throughout the month of February called Freshmeat February where those interested in trying roller derby can come to practice without the regular drop in fee of $5 for up to five drop-ins.

Kate Hewitt known also by her derby name Sly Vixen, is a blocker for CMM and is also the team’s head trainer.

“We host Freshmeat February as a way to recruit new skaters and teach them the basics in a setting that is a lot less intimidating because you got buddies,” said Hewitt. “We go through all of the basics like teaching you how to skate, teaching you how to fall, and teaching you how to stop.”

Though CMM accepts skaters all year, February is right after the team’s winter break so February is the ideal time for the team to recruit new skaters.

“We are not yet as super focused on our bigger tournaments such as Mitten Kitten where it takes a lot of energy to get our team to be cohesive,” said Hewitt. “We have that extra time to help bring new people in and teach them skills and give them our 100 percent, one on one individual attention.”

Hewitt said recruiting new skaters is crucial for the team because not everyone stays with the team.

“Sometimes it’s just not that time of life for people and they have to stop,” said Hewitt. “We’re constantly rotating in fresh faces, or we wouldn’t have a team. It’s a way to keep derby going. If we train 10 people when they come in and we only retain two that’s two more people out of 14 or 15 on a team that we can roster and it makes a huge difference to have two more people.”

“The hardest thing about it is just showing up and having the guts to just be here,” said Hewitt. “And after that, we get you all ready and there’s really no pressure to join the team. You gotta get used to it. You have to find out if it’s for you.”

CMM practices are on Monday and Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at The Hardwoods located at 1091 E. Center St. in Ithaca, Michigan.

Skaters must be 18 or older. For addional questions visit their Facebook or email at centralmichiganmayhem@gmail.com.