Counter Culture Ep. 9
Join Grover Silcox as he talks with Edward Leskin, Photographer; Dennis Horan, Comedian; and Lauren Davidson, Entomologist.
Welcome the Counter Culture, a talk show normally in a diner.
Joining me tonight are photographer Edward Leskin.
- With black and white
there's less distractions.
It's much more efficient in portraying emotions
and portraying form.
- Comedian Dennis Horan.
- When people laugh at stuff that you think is unique to
you, you're sharing a common experience.
- And author of The Backyard
Bug Book For Kids, Lauren Davidson.
- All kids go through some sort of bug phase and I just never
grew out of mine.
- All right here on Counter Culture.
Welcome to Counter Culture.
We're coming to you from Lehigh Valley Public Media's Studio B
while we wait to return to our original home
at Daddy Pop's Diner in downtown Hatboro.
One of the great privileges of hosting Counter Culture
is that I get to speak with people I've long admired.
My first guest is one of those people.
He's among the very gifted photographers who capture a
moment in time in a way that only an artist can.
His photos of the old Bethlehem Steel plant and portraits
of the steel workers who once worked there are legendary,
but they are only the tip of the iceberg.
Please welcome photographer Ed Leskin to the counter.
Ed, how are you?
Good to see you again.
- I'm doing very well.
It's a pleasure being with you today.
I'm looking forward to this interview and I'm all
excited about this.
- I personally and my colleagues here at PBS39, we've
done a lot of stories on Bethlehem Steel.
Of course, our station is located on the site of the old
plant. Your black and white photographs of the old
buildings, the site itself and the steel workers really
capture a mood,
a feeling, the history almost simultaneously.
You work primarily in black and white.
What is it about black and white that draws you?
- We all see in color every day.
But I mean, in the way that I see everything like Ansel Adams
would point this out, previsualization.
How we see things in the mind before we present them
and with black and white, there's less distractions.
With color we have all these tones and hues and everything.
In black and white that seems more graphic to me.
And it is much more efficient
in portraying emotion, form, even abstraction
and very powerful.
And also the history of photography, the people that
influenced you the most, and in my opinion, it would be
and Robert Frank to name a few, all these examples are people
that we emulate and we strive
to achieve their level and beyond.
- The reason I say you're an artist
is because I think one of the definitions of an artist
is you can take something that everyone has seen
a million times. But when they see one of your photos, it's
like they've seen it for the first time.
- One of my favorites, I really love the shot of the blast
- furnace with the flame coming out.
You know, in your mind, you always have this picture.
Like, I have to get this picture.
I have it already composed in my mind.
And the idea is to try to capture that.
And it requires a lot of planning and in my case, I
had to go down to the shore line of Sand Island, set up a
tripod, wait right after sunset and just at the
right moment click the shutter
when this huge flame come blasting from the furnace.
And you know,
when you developed the film and you see the image appear
for the first time in the chemical, you're a little bit
scared at first. You know, maybe I didn't pull it off.
But when it first appears in that chemistry,
it's just unbelievable.
Today we're so spoiled with digital cameras.
So in that time and I still I still feel this way,
you really had to work to get the image.
You really had to get your hands into the process
and bring something out.
- Bethlehem Steel was more than just a subject for you. As you
had alluded, you grew up in Bethlehem and this was part
of everyday life.
- When I was very young, my father worked for a company
that sold big mainframe computers, and
Bethlehem Steel was the major customer for that.
And I would always hear stories about how big this place was.
And whenever they would get a new piece of equipment,
sometimes he would be invited to take a look at it.
And I was always fascinated by it.
I know throughout the years, boy, wouldn't it be great
if I could get in here to take some pictures. The process of
actually photographing that actually occurred in graduate
school when I started at Pratt Institute right
after Moravian College in 1989.
I remember the first photograph that I took was from the
cemetery overlooking blast furnaces.
- You have taken portraits of many of the steel workers
for the Steel Workers Archives, the organization that was
founded by the former steel workers.
- I was doing all the black and white photography for the first
steel bound production that was performed in the old Iron
Foundry building in 1999.
- That was a play that was written and produced based on
the steel and the life of a steel worker.
- And a lot of the performers in that production
were actual steel workers.
So what I had the opportunity to do is we had the opportunity
to photograph them on the side, and beautiful portraits.
And I remember carrying a tape recorder with me and recording
one of the workers named Dave Swartz, and he would talk about
the last piece of steel coming down, crying as he was telling
me the story. And I took this picture
with that frame of mind, talking to them,
bringing the emotion out and facial expression,
and you're really capturing them.
You're thinking about their experiences.
And when the production was over, I contacted the art
director at the time at the theater.
I said, I need to expand this and get more portraits.
And that's when I was introduced to a gentleman that
- you and I know, Bruce Ward. - Yeah.
- Who has a studio at the Banana Factory, rigger for
Bethlehem Steel for many years.
And he's a videographer and photographer and he was
involved with the interview process as well.
And I said to him, I'd love to collaborate with you.
And we got together with a group of people in the
community to form an organization in 2001 called
- the Steelworkers Archives. - Right.
- And that would be a place where people can access these
things, where we can set up a public event, where portraits
and people who work there
would be able to tell their stories.
It's really, really a tremendous gift to the
community. And it's been a privilege
to do something like that.
- You've also traveled abroad. You have some amazing photos
from Israel, a trip to Israel.
- Yeah, that was that was a very interesting trip for me.
I grew up being raised Jewish.
And when I was at college, I was a political science
and international relations major as well as a fine arts
major. I was a double major.
That part of the world fascinated me.
And I was very much interested
in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And the message that I got out of it, out of photographing
all this, is that people in that part of the world
raise their families.
They have businesses.
They all have the same aspirations and hopes.
And you can see the tension, even more depressing aspects of
that part of the world.
And you see people interacting with each other
as family and friends.
And that's something we miss in the headlines every day.
We don't see the human side of things.
- I loved your photos at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
in Washington, D.C.
- I was volunteering for the Democratic
Party at the time, and we were stuffing envelopes
in Washington, D.C. and what we did,
we went down to the memorial. Of course, I brought my camera
and there was this beautiful cloud formation.
And then a gentleman took his
hand and then I snapped like that.
I developed the film and I decided I said, hey, you know,
maybe I should send it somewhere where people could
appreciate it. I'd send it to
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C.
And in three days, I got a phone
call and they say, could we please use it? It was such an
honor to have to put my name on everything.
- Well, I want to thank you for sharing these moments
in time with us here at Counter Culture, thanks so much.
- Thank you, Grover. - You're welcome.
Edward Leskin, a photographer who uses light to artfully
illuminate our understanding
of the people and places around us.
If you think computer nerds are only focused on their screens,
you need to watch my next
guest, comedian Dennis Horan, perform.
He's hilarious, a button down standup comic who plies
his trade as a computer geek
while observing the world's hilarious
absurdities beyond his keyboard and webcam.
Please welcome an old friend, the comic Dennis Horan,
to the counter. Dennis, how are you?
- Thank you very much. Great to be here.
- How did a mild mannered computer guy
get into stand up comedy?
- Anybody who knows me knows me growing up finds it a big
surprise that I'm doing this.
So from the first time I saw a comedy show at the Comedy
Works in Philadelphia, I just fell in love with it.
I always thought how great it would be to do one day and even
bought a book on stand up comedy.
So approaching comedy in a very nerd way, kind of.
But what this book told me is what you can do day one is
start writing every idea you have, everything that happens
funny around you. Write it down.
And that's what I did for probably for like two years
before I ever went on stage.
Did a comedy contest, came to Drexel,
where I went to school my senior year.
- Drexel University,
- And my roommate had a flyer and said, you always said you
do this, now is your chance, and so
I had a three minute set to do, I spent
about seven hours that day in one of those cubicles in the
library practicing my three minutes.
And of course, by the end of
it, you're saying this isn't funny.
Of course not.
You've been repeating it to yourself for seven hours.
- Right. - But it went really well.
It went amazingly well.
Everyone has nightmare stories for the first time
they went on stage.
My first time on stage was a really good experience.
I thought, I considered this a comedy, a bucket
list thing, I was going to do it once and I did it.
And like skydiving, right, do it once and then never again.
Well, I received a phone call from someone at University
of Pennsylvania asking me to do a show for them.
They had a a cappella singing group called
Off the Beat, and they were doing
a concert, they asked me to do
between two groups.
They said, can you do 15, 20 minutes?
And I came up with something like 12
minutes of material.
It was during my spring break.
So I had all week to work on it.
- Right. - And that went great.
- Wow. - Some one else at Penn asked
me to do a... It was their spring.
They had an air band contest at Irvine Auditorium.
And so that time was the third time I'm on stage and I'm in
front of 2,000 people.
And I got booed off the stage, I was not ready
for that one at all.
But what's the lesson that you get from that is it's not the
end of the world, even when
you have something as bad as that.
Because that's your big terror going on.
What if nobody laughs?
- How do you come up with material?
I mean, what are the subjects that draw your attention?
- First subjects to draw my attention.
It's usually something that happens when you sit
and you write it down and then when you come back and
you get back home and
generate a bit from it.
A lot of stuff I do have to do with misunderstandings,
I do a lot of that.
A lot of
two people on different planes, I do that, you know, I talk,
I have a bit about walking my dog on a one lane path
because this is something that happened.
I was walking my dog and a woman is coming the other way.
I try to move out of the way and
the woman thinks I'm crazy. Maybe because the woman
didn't know that my dog's name is Lady because I'm standing
there, going, get out of the way, Lady.
And the bit goes on from there.
But it's actually something that happened.
I said, get out of the way, Lady.
And I looked up at this woman
and I just couldn't even explain.
usually whenever there's some kind of misunderstanding,
I usually am immediately going, that's going to be a bit.
But as far as where you come up with it.
Where you come up with any bit
is just something funny that happens.
You write it down as much as you can in the moment
and then build on it at home when you could make it material
and have people laugh at it.
It certainly makes the terrible thing not so terrible anymore.
It's kind of the neatest thing about comedy
is when people laugh at stuff
that you think is unique to you.
You know, if you're sharing a common experience,
sometimes people aren't laughing at the hilariousness
of the joke, but simply that they
identify with what you just told them.
- Have you done some virtual shows?
Normally you're in and around the Philly area, right?
- Yes. Well, I actually did a show last week, my first live
show, done some virtual shows, but we actually did a live show
with Joe Conklin and Vince Valentine in Northeast Philly.
- Mm hmm.
- And so it was it was a fund raiser for Archbishop Ryan High
School, and so it's definitely one thing I've done a lot with
Joe is he's booked me for these Catholic venues.
- Which, you know, it's certainly I've over the years
have really generated a lot of Catholic specific material.
- Right. Did you go to Catholic school yourself?
- I did, yeah, I went to Immaculate
Conception in Jenkintown, no longer a school, but that's
where I started.
I had 12 years of Catholic school.
And those it's fun to do some
pretty inside Catholic material.
- I know.
- So this one last week was, you know, in the parking lot
of Nick's roast beef in Franklin Mills Mall.
Not Franklin Mills anywhere. Philadelphia Mills.
So we're in the back of a flatbed with a traveling band,
and everybody was in their cars parked all over the place.
So a really weird dynamic, because everybody was far away.
And the laughter is dispersed all over the place.
And some people are actually in their cars.
And when you ask a question, they would honk their horns
to it instead of saying, hey.
So it was a really weird dynamic, but it was great to be
out in that show, even though in an odd circumstance.
- You know, a comedian will find a stage even in a
pandemic. And that example is proof positive.
Dennis, I want to thank you for coming on.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Dennis Horan, a self professed computer geek and comedian
who finds the funny between reality and virtual reality.
You can call my next guest an entomologist, but she calls
herself a bugsologist.
And just to prove it, she wrote The Backyard Bug Book For Kids.
So bring your six, eight or more appendages together
and welcome every kid's favorite bug nerd,
Lauren Davidson. How's that for a welcome?
- An intro? - That was great.
Thank you so much, Grover, and thank you for having me.
- You're a full fledged official entomologist, but I
love the word bugsologist. Yeah.
Kids probably love that.
- A friendlier term, bugsologist.
Most people don't know what an entomologist is by any means.
- You've also called yourself a bug nerd.
Have you been a bug nerd since you were a kid?
- I have to kind of paraphrase one of my heroes, E.O. Wilson,
all kids go through some sort of bug phase, and I just never
grew out of mine.
- It seems like all kids love bugs, but there are people,
mostly adults, I think, who are deathly afraid of bugs.
Why do you think that is?
- You know, things like cockroaches tell people
that they're in a dirty area. The cockroach isn't harmful,
but they tend to live in damp, dark
areas with lots of crumbs and things to feed on.
So when a person sees a cockroach,
they get a little scared.
And that's kind of an evolutionary response.
As for the other stuff, I really think as we get older,
we just, especially with news and TV and movies, we see
all of these horrific things
and we think, oh, God, that thing
is so terrible and deadly when it's really not.
Kids, however, they haven't learned those fears yet.
So they're like, oh, a thing that's crawling.
I want to touch it.
Which leads me to this next question, which is, why are
kids intrinsically interested in bugs?
And you kind of said it.
- I think they see it in all wildlife, but a lot of times
bugs are something that you can actually touch.
So, you know, if you're out on the playground and you see
a bunny, you're probably not
going be able to touch that bunny.
But if you see a roly-poly, you can touch that and pick
it up and play with it.
A lot of people think they're insects,
but they're actually crustaceans.
So they're more closely related to lobsters and shrimp
- and crabs. - Wow.
Well, bugs are frequently misunderstood.
And when you're not reading books about bugs for kids, you
work at a science museum in Houston, is that right?
- Correct. I work in natural science.
I'm an entomologist
at Cockrell Butterfly Center.
It's one of the tallest butterfly centers in the world.
It's a giant indoor rainforest with butterflies flying around.
And we also have an insect zoo.
- People love butterflies.
They might not like insects in general, but they always
- I get that all the time, yes, everybody loves butterflies,
but they hate every other bug.
Butterflies are not any different than any other
insect as far as grossness or even their morphology
or their metamorphosis.
A lot of people think that going from a caterpillar to a
butterfly is so inspiring.
But they're not the only insects that do that.
Some beetles do that, fleas do that, and even flies do that.
- Wow. I know in your wonderful little book, The Backyard Bug
Book For Kids, which is great little book, especially for
parents, if they want to really, you know, cultivate
that interest that their children have, the story is
kind of told by a caterpillar, right?
- It is. It's told by a little caterpillar.
And, you know, it's as he first hatches and he goes
through his growth and his metamorphosis, he meets a lot
of different insects along the way.
The thing that I really wanted to do with this book was to
make sure everything was scientifically accurate.
That is a frustration of mine. When I'm reading a children's
book, there is room to be cutesy, there's
room to be creative. But then there's also
no need to falsify information just to make something
- a little bit... - Right.
We hear a lot lately about the lantern fly.
- That's an invasive species.
It's not a great invasive. Actually here
recently, I've been getting more calls
about murder hornets
which a lot of people watching the show have heard of.
It's a horrible name for that insect.
- First of all, talk about profiling.
- They are bad news. They're not a great thing.
Yes, they're invasive.
No, there's not millions in the US yet.
It's been very small, isolated populations that entomologists
are trying to control. And they're doing a fairly good
job. Often confused with our native
cicada killers that are in the United States.
They're about as long, but the Asian hornets are
just really beefy.
They're just really thick and beefy.
And I know one of the big concerns is their sting.
And honestly, more people die from regular European honey bee
stings compared to Asian hornets.
These are some of the things in your book
about a bumblebee's waggle, I think it's
fascinating that they actually give directions
to where the flowers are up to the other bees
by doing a little dance, a little waggle.
- Honeybees that are living in a colony together, they will
talk to each other doing like little dances.
And everybody knows what that little dance means.
That means you go this way, this far and then this way,
this far. And that's where you find all the nectar.
- Wow. It's like Bumble Bee GPS.
- Something like that. Yes.
- First of all, I should ask, how are the bees?
Because we worry about the bee population.
- Colony collapse disorder with honey bees is obviously
a very serious thing for agriculture.
As for our environment, it's not as much. What we really
need to worry about for our
environment are our native bees.
So a lot of people don't know that honeybees are not native
to the United States.
They were actually brought over here.
They were introduced a couple of hundred years ago primarily
for agriculture, because they are so efficient at
- pollinating. - Right.
- However, our native bees are
also fairly proficient at pollinating.
They're just not as well known.
A lot of people, if they see a flying insect that's not
a butterfly or a honey bee, they automatically think
it's something that's going to sting them.
And in some cases, that is true.
A lot of insects can sting, but most are not aggressive.
They're not going to come
after you because they want to sting you.
It's always a last ditch effort to protect themselves.
So if you catch one in your hand and try to pet it,
that would be the time that it would sting you.
- What's your favorite bug? Do you have a favorite bug?
- I have a couple of favorite insects.
I would say I really like large beetles.
So like a Hercules beetle from Central America.
And then there's a really large species of katydid that I work
with called a giant long legged katydid.
They come from Asia and it's
kind of hard to tell, but they're probably
about six inches in length with their wings.
They're really massive, they're very slow, but they're also
very loud. The males, whenever they sing at night, if I'm
staying at work late, I can actually hear them through
three sets of doors. They're really loud.
I have always heard that a spider is always within six
feet of you.
- There are spiders everywhere.
Some of them are very small and you can't see them.
I don't think anybody can actually say you're never more
than six feet away from a spider.
Chances are, though, if you are in a room, there's probably at
least one or two.
There's always somebody hanging around.
- Right. I know I got bit by a brown spider, which is really
- tiny, but it packs a wallop. - Yeah.
So we have a couple of types of spiders in the US especially
that we do have to watch out for.
That would be the Brown Recluse and the Black Widow.
Those are our two most venomous spiders.
Deaths are extremely rare.
In fact, none have really been
proven in the last several decades.
But Brown recluses especially, they do have a necrotic venom
that does kind of break down the tissue and create
an open sore. One thing to note, though,
a lot of times doctors actually see a skin
infection and think that it's a brown recluse bite
when it actually may be the person got bitten in an area
the brown recluses aren't even found.
So that is one thing to keep in mind.
They're not necessarily as
frequent as people think they are.
They're actually fairly rare.
And like I said, just like the stinging insects
that I talked about, they don't want to bite you.
They want to be very, very far away from you.
When somebody gets bit, it's usually because they
actually put their hand on it or it was in a blanket or
something like that. It's always on accident.
- Got it. Well, thank you so much, Lauren, for enlightening
us about lightning bugs and every other bug.
And we really appreciate it.
I know all parents everywhere
The Backyard Bug book For Kids.
- Thanks so much. - Thank you.
Thanks for having me. It was great.
- You're welcome.
Bugsologist Lauren Davidson, a woman who always has her
antenna out to detect our fascinating, creepy crawly
friends in the bug world.
Well, that's all for this episode. I want to thank my
guests, photographer Edward Leskin, comedian and computer
nerd Dennis Horan
and bugsologist and author
of The Backyard Bug Book For Kids, Lauren Davidson.
And thank you for joining us. Stop by next week for more
amazing guests and conversation right here at the counter.