Soon to be destroyed, the majestic St. Nicholas Breaker near Mahanoy City is shrouded in ominous clouds that almost choke out a glimmering sun in this enhanced digital image by Tom Applegate. The scene portends the loss of the historic building, where the first phase of dismantling began last year.
Some camera buffs speak through their photos.
Tom Applegate is just the opposite.
He lets photos speak to him.
Applegate is an artist, photographer, technician and digital illustrator in a field that, in many ways, is still in infancy.
The Lansford man snaps a shot and then uses it as a blank canvas to further cultivate a message.
"It starts out as photography," he says. "But it goes elsewhere. It's enhanced photography."
Actually, some might call it magic. Or fantasy. Or a form of expression without words.
Applegate's approach is eclectic and adaptable. And his work encompasses all genres. For instance, he can take the viewer on a trip through a rolling landscape. Or maybe he'll capture your thoughts and hold you in a trance with a profound still life.
He also knows how to challenge the imagination with Steampunk-themed images that transport the mind to an unexpected, alternate reality.
Applegate achieves the unusual because he doesn't rule out possibilities. He starts by taking pictures of something that catches his fancy. Then he utilizes lenses, filters, and, ultimately, software, to achieve special effects.
He doesn't sit in judgement. Instead, he approaches each raw image with an open mind. His goal is to extract a message and almost every photo has a message.
"There's no such thing as a bad picture," Applegate says. "It just needs composing."
Applegate is self-taught and isn't one to follow rules.
For example, he doesn't rely in the "rule of thirds," a basic composition guideline in photography. Instead, Applegate enjoys being a renegade.
"If everyone followed the rule of thirds, everyone's photos would start looking alike," he says.
Applegate feels that photography should be based on principles of inspiration and creativity, not confined to standards of set patterns or established approaches.
His style is all his own and his creative work has been acclaimed at home and internationally. His images on Facebook have drawn praise from Germany, France and other places around the globe.
The reason he's so successful is that he's learned to combine talents of art, photography and technology, starting with quality equipment.
"I shoot with a Canon T3i DSLR for studio work, and also a Canon SX40 HS which I call my road camera. I like it because of its 35X optical zoom. Out on the road I tend to mostly use the Canon SX40 because of its incredible zoom capabilities. Its one lens covers everything from wide angle at 24mm to super-telephoto at 840mm."
Applegate also happens to be a computer geek.
But it didn't start that way, says the Tamaqua native.
"Back in high school, I was a video guy."
In the mid-70s, Applegate enrolled in an innovative program at Tamaqua Area High School called the communication arts curriculum, an experimental course of study which allowed gifted students an opportunity to immerse themselves in art, culture and writing.
It was a perfect fit. It allowed him to pursue his interests in art and fiction.
"I'd done a lot of writing. I wrote stories and wanted to make them into movies," says Applegate, who'll turn 58 in March.
In his spare time, he tried to pursue his movie making passion but soon realized "it's impossible to get people together to create a movie."
After graduation in 1975, Applegate entered the computer field, working for General Computer, South Tamaqua, where he advanced to assistant engineer. In 1992, he was hired at Northeast Micro, which led him to open his own business in Lansford in 1997. He called it CompuTechnology. However, the dynamics of technology prompted him to shift gears. Specifically, a steady drop in the price of computers and materials made it difficult to make a living in the field.
"Computers back then sold for $2,500. But now you can get one as cheap at $300. They became disposable."
Applegate now works in the security field for John Vanak Detective Agency and Whelan's Security.
He decided to immerse himself in photography because, unlike moviemaking, it's a field in which he relies only on himself.
"It was one-on-one. Plus I already had all of the equipment," says Applegate, married to the former AuraLee Zellner, Summit Hill. The couple has three children, Jason, Jamie and Lea, and all share a passion for art.
Applegate produces work under the name of Foto Bella Studios and prides himself in a unique look.
"If you have six photos in a row, you can pick mine out."
Starting October 24, a portion of his work will be featured at the Tamaqua Community Arts Center for a three-week show.
In the meantime, he'll continue to take new photos and dabble with thousands of others in his archives.
Each time he looks at a picture he sees something new, possibilities for innovation. Or maybe opportunities to create a visual representation of things exciting, dramatic, sad or whimsical.
It's simply a matter of letting the picture speak to you.
"The photo tells me what to do with it," he says. It's a simple answer, really.
Yet, in the essence of that response, Applegate reveals his artistic secret.
Each image has a story to tell.
It's not necessarily a lengthy story.
There's no need for that. There's beauty in simplicity
And it's not something contrived, either. It's there in the picture.
It's been there all along. You simply need to let the picture talk to you, and you'll see it.
There's lots of talking that goes on in the colorful, enchanted world of Applegate's art.
Enhanced photography is all about messages.
But the first and most important step is to use your eyes to learn how to listen.
Pictures have much they want to say.