New boundaries

This has been a long time coming. As you may have figured out, I’m all about telling stories. I’m driven to find elements of other peoples experiences and find a visual way to connect the viewer to my subjects. Yet at the same time, I personally get to go interesting places and see interesting things that are not directly part of my assignment work. I began to feel that these experiences, especially my love for adventure motorcycle travel, would be in some way inspirational to people. I thought that maybe I should be sharing these trips using the skills that I have.

So after all this time being behind the lens I’m going to be in front of it. This is odd but I think that it will be cool. I spent quite a while pondering how to pull this off as a one man band, doing all my camera and audio work, while on the road documenting my travels in the manner that I almost could if I was telling the story of someone else. Then I had to practice because having the skill set and mind set to video a subject is different than when the subject is yourself. And I had to start somewhere!

Thus I put together the first piece of an ongoing set of observations based on where my motorcycle takes me both physically as well as internally.

Hot wheels

Well folks meet my 2005 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom.

Strom

I picked her up late last summer with the intent of using her, yes bikes are always female just as ships are, to help get me places that my trusty Honda simply won’t. For those of you not familiar with these things the Strom is what is referred to as an Adventure Touring bike. It’s essentially a street bike with the engine and suspension set up to be able to go off road. Some Adventure bikes are more dirt oriented in their set up and others are more street. The Strom is more street which is fine for me. Think of it as a hot Subaru with a lift kit, skid plates and sorta knobby tires: reliable as heck and rather comfy for long hauls on the interstate but if you need to go down a hundred miles of very rough, muddy, rutted and rocky roads it will also do just dandy. Not gonna take her on tight and highly technical trails though. That’s more “Jeep” territory whereby they are just the ticket for crawling along impossible terrain but are horrible on the highway.  Other bikes are more designed for the seriously rough stuff. The Strom is the right balance for me.

All that stuff on her? Well that’s my trial load out for my big trip up to Montana that I will be doing in a few weeks. The shot above was done about two weeks ago when I was finishing up two days on the bike doing some work in the lower part of the state around Pueblo. The big trip will be two weeks on the road following essentially the spine of the northern Rocky Mountains doing some work but mostly a set of portraits for a project of mine. I needed some way to get me up there into what could be sorta rough territory with ease. Thus the Adventure Bike.

Squashing all my necessary gear into the limited space that a bike gives has been and interesting challenge. I’ll have a whole post on just what I’m taking and how I’m making it all work.

Stay tuned!

7 hours to civilization

I'm having dinner at a little steakhouse near Omaha. It's the final leg of a long day of driving, 600+ miles, to a small Iowa town in order to do a story about the Iowa Caucus. I hate to even say the term but “flyover states” like Nebraska and Iowa get a bad rap. They have their own kind of beautiful and are filled with honest, hard working people with no pretense. But they are sparsely populated and essentially rural where except for a few places that my buddy who works on Wall Street would barely call cities. These states are filled with tiny and isolated towns that are little more than specks on the map. So as I left Denver this morning I really didn't come to anything that amounted to more than an oversized truckstop until I got here whereby I decided that I could get a brew and hot slab of bovine tastiness of actual quality. Luckily in this world of homogeneity there are always the usual suspects of fast food joints but unless I really have to I bypass those. Neither tasty nor cheap but if that is all you have …

My bag of snacks from home has kept my hunger at bay, some of my mothers left over holiday cookies are always a welcome addition, but this stop as they say hits the spot. The steak is quite good and Kacey my spunky waitress properly tempted me with their freshly ground horseradish. Yeah!

Ya see, I love traveling for pleasure and tolerate traveling for business. Being a “foodie”, craft brewing aficionado and over-all city boy, I tend to like the finer things that are hard to come by in small towns in say, South Dakota. Coming home is not just because my wife and familiar bed is waiting for me but I can often finally get, sorry for the tone of snobbery, a proper meal and pint.

When the wife and I travel it's often to locations that we pick specifically for their food/drink options. We might swing by a monument or museum between eating stops so as to work up a good appetite for the next round of gustatory delights but that's about it. A bit ago the wife and I decided that for our ten year anniversary we are likely going to go to Vienna to celebrate. When we mention this people say things like.”Oh Vienna is lovely, very romantic and filled with history and culture!” But we reply “Yeah, a history of great cheese, sausage, schnitzel and beer. Oh and the architecture isn't bad either.”

So given that bit of background you can understand how my friends upon hearing that I was headed the hinterlands of rural Iowa, yes I know that's a bit redundant, gave me a sad look because they know that I would be in the land of meatloaf and boiled potatoes. Well certainly not MY meatloaf that is.

But let me say this: all of the people that I've spoken to in Iowa to set up appointments, access and subjects have been flat out the nicest people I may have ever spoken to. Friendly, open, accommodating and humble. I'm looking forward to meeting them and documenting their lives. Should be a hoot. However I know that I will be in the flat lands where there is no looming mountain range to give you a sense of direction. I hate that.

Much like when you spend time in a foreign country, and to many Iowa qualifies as such, it will be a wonderful experience but it will also be great to be home and back into my usual groove. After the story runs I'll do a post about that.

Where have you been you old goat?

First off, I have been remiss in keeping up with this here blog thing so I humbly beg your forgiveness. There has been lots going on in JC world and while some is exciting a lot is boring but the kind of boring that nicely pays the bills. The problem with being a working photographer is that you are in fact working. As in the kind that wears out shoes.

 

Second there are some big things brewing in JC land; some of which I’m not yet willing to divulge because as silly as it seems I don’t want to jinx it. But I will say that I am writing a grant proposal that could very well change the course of my career and the knowledge that I’m the only one applying for said grant makes me pretty giddy. I should have the ability to talk about that project in a few weeks and when it comes through I may not need to blog about it because I will be shrieking like a little girl and everyone will know far and wide. (Wow that was overly dramatic huh?)

 

So I’m currently having a cuppa-joe before heading out on a quick assignment for a regular client of mine and then once that is transmitted I’m packing my bags to head to Utah for a few days.

 

Utah? Yep.  I like Utah. It’s like another world and no that’s not a poke at the Mormons, they are nice people, I’m talking about the freakishly beautiful landscape. I fell in love with Utah when I was in high school because as I’ve said I kinda wanted to be a landscape photographer. Thus my father and I would roam about the 4 Corners district a lot on summer vacations. I would pretend that my Minolta 35mm SLR was the worlds smallest view camera. Seriously! If you take the time to squeek every bit of sharpness possible out of small format cameras it’s impressive what you can get out of them. That’s when I developed, no pun there, my love of using tripods and remote releases. That’s the only way to get usable big-ish prints out of the little bits of film which resides in 35mm cameras.

 

Side note, I’ve been using my tripod again for portraits because I can set up my composition to be exactly what I want and use the remote to trigger everything. Thus I can have both hands and eyes to engage my subject to elicit the mood or expression that I want from them. It doesn’t work for every assignment but I never leave home without a tripod. Ever.

 

Where was I? Oh yes Utah! (Thanks!) So I’m going to the Moab area to shoot a gathering of Jeep enthusiasts for a few days. Why? Because I can. I don’t often do “personal work” that requires travel simply because 75% of my work gives me less than 48 hours notice. Thus it’s the total suck to be 700 miles away from your home base only to find that you missed out on a nice assignment because you can’t get a quick and cheap enough flight back to make the assignment worth while. But in this case it’s a holiday weekend, not much is going down that I have to worry about, and I can drive home in about 6 hours. Huh, what’s that in the back? Yes you in the fedora … oh good question, why the heck am I going? Well to have an excuse to hve some fun and maybe even make some photos.

 

Ya see, a buddy of mine who lives near D.C. was the one who told me about the gathering and being the nosey photographer that I am I invited muh-self to come along. I mean come on! Dudes and dudettes in the glory of southern Utah camping in the spring with Jeeps!

 

Will post pix upon my return.

After action report: New York

It’s been a long time since I was in Manhattan.
Well frankly I haven’t been there since I was a kid. Although the city has
changed considerably, as have I, it’s still the most important city in the
world where everything that you could want is unfortunately sandwiched between
things that you would like to avoid. In my case it is filled with potential
clients, read as: patrons for my art, and was unfortunately blisteringly hot.

Lots more after the jump.

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Heaven … I’m in heaven …

It’s been nearly 5 hours and I’m still sucking on my fingertips. Generally business travel, especially with this job, means: get there, get it done and get on to the next assignment. No time to hang out and fool around. No sight seeing and lolly gaging. Which is usually a shame as there is often interesting things at or near my destination that is not related to my subject. This time I got lucky.  Few business travelers  want to hear that their returning flight has been bumped. In my case it was a dream come true.

Ya see I’m in Kansas City – one of the greatest places on earth for Barbecue. The kind of "Cue" that makes a man weep. The kind of thing that everyone here has strong opinions about and if you ask any local you had better be ready for a twenty minute dissertation on what that person feels is the gospel of Cue.

You practically trip over BBQ places here.  That’s a good thing.  Whenever I travel I always research places to transmit from and places to eat. Going to Kansas City meant only one thing: a quest for Cue.  I hit a few highly regarded joints with my extra time and I may have found the holy grail of KC style cue if not my "Best of": Oklahoma Joe’s on 47th Street. Man-oh-man. It’s that good. The place is inside a gas station but don’t let that fool you. This is top notch in every way. I mean drop to your knees thank the lawd tears in your eyes momma I’m comin home goodness. The smokiness is perfect, the meat falls off the bone but still has texture, the "bark" is lovely and the sauce although scrumptious doesn’t get in the way of the the flavor of the meat. So I still have bits of the sauce and dry rub under my fingernails and I don’t want it to go away. Yeah!

This is also one of the great things about traveling, not touring mind you but being a traveler: diving into what the locals know is wonderful about where they live and the tourism board doesn’t recognize. As a photographer I’m supposed to go beyond the surface and find the hidden special things but what ideal shouldn’t stop at the end of the work day; it should be a way of life. For me it is.

(When I die I’ll know that there is a god if I can dine on this every day for eternity )

Ribs

This folks is a joint.  Yes those are rolls of paper towels on the tables. Anything fancy like cloth napkins would spoil the essence of it all.

Ok_joe

200 pounds of gear and a pair of socks

When packing your bags to go on an assignment you are always thinking, or at least I do, "ok what do I need for this job?" I’ve corroborated this with some other shooters and we seem to have the same thought process: "Cameras? Check. Lenses? Check. That cool lens/thing that I rarely use but could be super cool if I get a chance to use it? Check. (blah-blah-blah)" We think of the esoteric stuff, headlamps for after dark shooting, special medications, hip waders, that kind of thing. But what we often forget is what we are going to wear as, well clothes. It just seems so mundane. If it doesn’t have buttons, use batteries, have something that we have to keep polished … it’s just not at the top of our list.

So I finished packing my bags for 3 days in Kansas City for a job and the last thing that I thought about was packing a bag for me. If you’ve read my "Getting my junk there" post you will see that I tend to bring a lot of, uh, toys. This trip is similar. But what I found puzzling this time is that my personal bag weighed in at 7 pounds. Yeah, that’s it. Little more than a spare pair of undies. I guess you have to have priorities, huh?

Getting my junk there

I have traveled more for business in the last two years than all the years prior. This is a strange paradigm shift for me as I always thought of myself as a local shooter but hey if they want to ship me doG knows where – I’m cool with it. Traveling as a tourist is totally different than business travel and doing it on deadline makes a bad situation worse. If you have to fly into a city for the day for work you are usually just taking a briefcase/laptop and you are set. But for guys like me that turns into a minimum of 3 cases of gear most of which you have to check. Gad!

Tomorrow afternoon I am flying to Omaha to get ready for a shoot there the following morning. I have to photograph a guy and gall who fell in love on the reality TV show "Greatest Loser" where they lost a combined 250 pounds and now run a fitness company. It will be a bunch of location portraits so I gotta take a fair amount of lighting gear.  However I don’t have an assistant for this gig and need to keep my kit as simple as possible. I like simple but that tends not to happen.

A friend of points out that if I had my way I’d shoot everything on chromes and a Leica M6. He’s just about nailed me on that. Despite my love of technology and tools I try to not have all that stuff get in my way. Yet nothing is worse than getting on location and realizing that you should have packed one particular item that you figured you wouldn’t need.

So for this trip I’ll be taking 3 cases with what I’ll call my essentials:

In a Pelican 1600 case my main lights:
(4) Alien Bees AB800 mono-lights
(3) standard reflectors
(2) 20 degree grid spots
(2) 10 degree grid spots
(4) Pocket Wizard receivers and cords
(2) Bogen SuperClamps with mounting studs
Lowell sissor clamp
Roll of 2" black gaff tape
Roll of yellow spike tape
Assortment of color correcting and effect gels

In an SKB golf bag case (no really it’s a great case for stands a such!):
Gitzo 1320 tripod with Graf Studioball head
(3) Bogen 8′ stands
(1) Bogen 6′ stand
(1) Bogen 13′ stand
(1) 8 foot boom with counter weight and clamp
(2) Chimera speed rings
(1) Chimera Medium Super Pro soft box
(1) Chimera Small Super Pro soft box
(1) Photoflex 60" convertible umbrella
(2) 25′ extension cords
(1) 6 way breakout box
10 x 20 foot black muslin

In a Pelican 1520 carry on case my cameras and speedlights:
(2) Nikon D200 bodies with MD-D200 grips
Nikon AF-S 14mm f/2.8
Nikon AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8
Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.4
Nikon AF-D 105mm micro
Nikon AF-S 80-200 f/2.8
(2) Nikon SB-800 speedlights
(4) Nikon SB-26 speedlights
Nikon SD-8a battery pack
(6) batteries for D200’s
Minolta Autometer IV light meter
(8) Kingston Ultimate 2GB compact flash cards

In my carry on luggage packpack I have my Dell XPS M140 laptop and card reader.

See! Light and simple. (Cough-gag-snort!) This reminds me of a story that I read about a guy on a train in the early 1900’s going from Boston to St. Louis in order to photograph a new building that had just gone up. On his lap was his 5×7 view camera and in his luggage were two sheets of film. That’s it – two frames. The second was a backup. I can’t imagine the pressure but also the freedom that must have gone with that job. If the light wasn’t right he would wait a few days. When it came together he’d make THE exposure and then head back to Boston. Wow. It almost makes you pine for the really old days when business travel was really different, huh?

Down time

Well a strange thing is about to happen starting tomorrow: I’m taking time off. Not for the most usual reason which seems to be "I gotta get out of here!". Or even the often popular reason "I need to get a way from work". No the fact is that I love what I do day in a day out. I frankly have more fun doing what I do than I should be allowed to. (Hmm I should check into local laws against that sort of thing…) Nah! The deal is I’m taking a few days so that I can let my wife see me for a while without the fear that at any time I’ll get a call and dash out the door. Truthfully we have not had, in the last 5 years, a solid 3 days together without "the Biz" getting in the way of us enjoying, well, us. Heck we didn’t even take a "honeymoon" after our wedding. Nope the day afterwards I went back to work and she had a ton of things to do back at her office.

So despite being in a pretty busy time of year we are going to spend a very trickily scheduled 4 days without interruption together. Just a simple road trip up to Jackson Wyoming and the Tetons for our second anniversary. Not much but for us it’s heaven. Yeah I’m taking all kinds of cameras and such but heck – that’s what I do!

So I’ll post some photos from the trip when I get back.  It will be like the "old days" for me – back when I didn’t photograph people all the time. Lots of purely "pretty" photos with no context or newspeg.

After that I hit the grindstone pretty hard with a few new projects and a promotional campaign.

Cheers!