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.
"Chance favors only the prepared mind." – Louis Pasteur
Sometimes you stumble upon the most wonderful things when you least expect them. That is if you keep an open mind and are willing to take what comes your way as essentially a long string of opportunities. How you either capitalize upon them or pass them up is up to you. I do however believe that every day you can have an encounter that is in some way truly significant. I met my wife through a set of circumstances that are downright convoluted but when I did meet her I had my self in internal and external line to meet her and the rest is romantic history. I was prepared.
Late last year I through happenstance met a very nice fellow who had a great idea and was quote passionate about it. Now I meet people every so often who wants to get me excited about something that they are doing in such a way as to get me excited enough to be part of their project. Usually I am polite and nod in support and then quietly go my way. You know what I’m talking about. The guy/gal who thinks that we should pool our talents and do a feature length movie that explores the amazing world of toothpick sculpture. Yeah, right! That’s a great idea Edna …
So I’m continuing to work on my project “After Action Review”: a portrait series of extreme and endurance athletes after they have spent a goodly amount of time and effort wearing themselves out in competition. I’m very excited and happy with this as I’ve put the restriction on the project that all the athletes that I photograph be amateurs: they are doing it for the love and not the money. Which makes you wonder even more strongly “the why the heck do they do that to their selves?”
So I called up a local promoter of Mixed Martial Arts events and asked if I could make photos. He swung the doors wide and gave me full access. What a guy! It’s amazing what a camera and a press pass can do for you. You get to go through the doors that say “No admittance” and “Authorized Personnel Only”. Lawd but I love my job!
I’ve shot boxing before but never MMA although I’m a big fan. I decided to shoot some action for me and my agency but the real reason that I was there was to shoot the fighters. I have deep and intense respect for the men and women who devote their lives to becoming competitive fighters – especially MMA as it’s so complex and technical.
So I head to the part of the building that they are using for locker room/pre fight prep and in the corner set up my white seamless and lights. I’d prefer to use soft natural light but in this situation I had to use strobes. One nice benefit is that none of the fighters had met me before so the studio setup made me nicely conspicuous and that lead to some curious fighters wanting to know what I was up to. The gear helped break the ice because I didn’t want to be too up front initially.
If you aren’t familiar with what goes on behind the curtain at a fight it’s like this: each fighter and their trainer spend just about every moment getting physically and mentally ready. Except for the WHAP! of gloves hitting a practice pad or the THUNK! of a fighter working on their throws and pins on the wrestling mat it’s very quiet. The occasional low voice is heard as a trainer tapes up his fighters hands or the trainer massages his fighters arms/shoulders. There is a reverence there. The fighters don’t speak much as they are focusing their minds for the critical intensity necessary to enter the cage ready for anything that their opponent will throw their way. The Japanese word Dojo means “the place of the way” and were initially parts of temples. That carried over to the modern martial arts studio/Dojo and that temple like feeling is certainly there in the locker room and why I wasn’t my usual chatty self.
But it only took a few fighters to ask what I was up to and I had some volunteers for my project. Now unlike some of the events that I will be covering in After Action, the MMA fight could last a painful 3 rounds with each fighter totally exhausted and bloody, or it could end in 30 nearly sweatless seconds. No way to tell. A few of the fighters came back from the cage looking like they had done little more than jog to their car and back. That didn’t make for interesting photos. Then came Nick who went a very tough 3 rounds in the 185 pound match finally winning by knocking his opponent out via choke hold. This frame is the keeper of the evening!
Oh and I asked the winner of the 125 pound womens title match, tough as nails and rather cute too!, what she got out of all the pain and personal sacrifice that it takes to be a fighter and she said “the satisfaction of accomplishment”. True dat!
As I’ve said before I simply love to photograph things in motion and the emotion that comes from it. That has led me to as I like to say “shoot any sport but not really with anything longer than an 85mm lens” mostly because I want to take a personal approach to my subjects whenever possible. You just can’t be personal when using a 400mm lens. You get out of a persons comfortable “conversational distance” when you get beyond about 4 feet away. Try this: while having a serious conversation with someone notice that you are most likely within 4 or so feet away from the person. Now while continuing to chat slowly start stepping backwards and notice how it feels to be speaking from 5, 6, 8 or then 10 feet away. It feels like there is this emotional gap between you and the other person that is similar in size to the distance you physically are from each other. Funky huh? So when trying to show any kind of intimacy with the subject you have to often be in that conversational space. Thus the 85mm lens comment. Got it?
As in my work such as the documentaries on the wrestling team and the culture of the roller derby team I want the images to make the viewer feel like they are right next to the subject of my stories and that is because I am physically right there when I take the photos. But there are some special aspects of physical activities that aren’t about motion but the ripple effect it produces on the body and the emotions. It’s in the eyes and written on the face and body.
When I went to cover the Tough Mudder event that was happening in the mountains surrounding Beaver Creek, Colorado I had an idea. Ya see the Tough Mudder is kinda brutal. It’s a 9 mile course that is based on a British special forces training exercise whereby each participant simply needs to finish. In it you run from obstacle to gnarly obstacle and basically get beat to a pulp. Greased monkey bars anyone? Well I knew that it was going to be visually interesting but besides the photos of tired runners climbing walls and running through mud fields to hop over hay bales while being blasted with fire hoses, I knew that the most telling images would to me be at the end. Not them struggling to cross the finish line but what they looked like at the end of it all: exhausted, elated and filthy.
Therefore I set up the most basic of studios: white seamless paper on a north facing wall near the finish line and went to find interesting faces. To keep everything simple I shot all the portraits with my AF-D 50mm f/1.4 set to f/2.8. That was it. I got everything out of the way to quickly get a few frames of the dirty and often still gasping Mudders. Did I mention that the event took place at an elevation of over 8,000 feet?
This is going to be the beginning of a series that I plan on doing where I shoot portraits of the finishers of endurance races and other physically punishing events. I’ve done some research and hope to get long distance runners, cyclists and the like. No professionals, just (ab?)normal people who enjoy getting kicked in the shorts.
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!
There was a day when some hardcore B&W landscape
photographers would carry a filter in a frame that sucked all the color out to
render the view through it to be essentially black and white. This was to help
you visually edit out the color content of what you are looking at to get a
better idea of how the colors would be rendered as B&W tones. It wasn’t
perfect but it helped. You still had to learn how the film that you were using
actually rendered things but it was close.
When shooting color film you had to learn that and had no help
previsualizing your shot. Photogs would often find a film that they liked and
basically only use that one. Otherwise you might not realize how this scene or
skin tone would be either made lifeless or garish by the way that your film saw
Digital has changed that as you can to a large degree when
shooting RAW render the scene anyway you want it. For quite a while I wanted to
see my flat and boring looking RAW files to look like themselves when I was
doing an image review on my cameras LCD screen. But then I realized that once I
found a look in Photoshop that made me happy 95% of the time I could simulate
that by changing the color curve and saturation of the jpg processing my
cameras do. The deal is that even if you are shooting RAW the camera makes an
imbedded jpg into the RAW file for the preview. Thus the file isn’t processed
but the preview is so I can get the feel of how the image will most likely look
like when it comes out of Photoshop.
But when I started the Avery Brewing project I had in my
head the idea of doing it in B&W for three reasons. 1) it makes things more
timeless looking, 2) most of the brewing process takes place in white-ish rooms
with big stainless steel containers and tubes so there isn’t much color content
to begin with and 3) it puts the emphasis on form and lighting which I really
So I decided to use a warm tone B&W mode for the shoots
so that when I’m checking on my shots the tones “feel” right. I still will do
the toning in P-Shop but after taking a few shots with my normal straight color
preview preset and the warm tone, the B&W made me more inspired by a mile.
And isn’t that what we want – to be inspired to make photos?
Here’s another from the Avery barrel room. They use a
stainless steel nail as a simple plug for taking samples without introducing
air into the barrel. For some reason the silhouetted pliers reminds me of that
famously manipulated image by Gene Smith of Albert Schweitzer where he used
like 5 negatives with the handles of tools in the foreground. Hmmm?
Technicals: Nikon D700 and Nikon AF-D 35mm f/2.0. ISO 400, f/2.0 @ 1/30th.
This has kind of the feel of his longstanding ad campaign for
the Jack Daniels. I’m doing a photo project with my friends at Avery Brewing,
one of the top craft breweries in the country and luckily not that far from me.
I’m focusing on the hands on “craft” aspect of what they do. Unlike 99% of the
beer out there the brew that comes from a place like Avery is made by just a
few people and is very hands on. It’s much like when you go to that special
market and buy artesianal cheese or bread – it’s made by someone who has spent
years learning to get it right as opposed by a big machine or factory where they make serviceable
stuff but it doesn’t have that special thing that makes you swoon. Avery puts magic and love into 12oz bottles. It's that good.
So anyhoo this is 3 of their head brewers doing a taste sample for
one of their experimental barrel aged beer projects. The little where house has a wide
array of different barrels and each one brings its own flavor profile to the
same young beer that goes into it. Thus they have to learn what each barrel is
doing and keep meticulous notes on the contents of each barrel and then figure
out when each barrel is “done” and then they sit and blend the best barrels to
make their limited release beers. It's amazing how precise their palettes are. They can detect the most minor flaw in a warm flat beer often just by it's smell. They will find a beer that most craft beer drinkers will like to be actually horribly flawed.
This to me is artistry and I am delighted to spend time with
these guys who I admire. More to come as the project unfolds.
Technicals: Nikon D700 with AF-D 35mm f/2.0. ISO 400 f/4.0 @
1/15th. Shot RAW and toned in post.
Well the Derby project has been running along rather nicely. It's a butt numbingly long process but I'm just as enthused as then the idea hit me. The video thing is going to take a long while to edit and make it all flow nicely. The stills are total cake. No, make that "total pie" as I like pie much more than cake. Since I'm going stills and video at the same time, I'm dragging WAY too much gear around but it sure beats having another person working this project.
The big deal is that I have about 30 women I have to meet, form a relationship with and get to know as people. This project is not about the sport, which is very cool, not about the theatric personna's, although that's a hoot, but about the people and the relationships that bind them to this funky past time that they are so incredibly passionate about.
Just a random snap from the bus on the way back from a Derby bout. It doesn’t mean anything. Really. But then all photographs are Rorschach blots as we peer into our own souls for meaning. Wow. That’s way too deep for this. Oh well.
Since living in Colorado many aspects of western living has had me scratching my head. I’m a guy from Detroit and even wearing Cowboy hats seems like a kind of affectation on par to wearing a "pirate shirt". Still loads of people out here live and breathe the whole western way of life – bless ’em. I remember having lived here for not quite two months and being puzzled at why so many people were dressed like cowboys … Oh! I live in The West now. Duh! (Whap!) That has always left me feeling like I am visiting a far away land where people dress funny, speak oddly and do loads of strange things. Only that place was now my beloved home.
Still it’s interesting to me that in our modern digital and internet era people still fondly cling to traditions that are essentially anachronisms. As a very non-traditional fellow I find most traditions to be interesting. "That which I don’t understand fascinates me". I’ve been trying to delve into these western things to not only better understand my home but also these people who love their modern yet old style western world. The stories that I’ve done on ranches, rodeos, county fairs and the people in the small western towns have helped me prepare for the next venture: Rodeo Queens. I really didn’t get it but I will.
I’m starting a project focused on Rachel Klederman, a 23 year old Miss Rodeo Colorado finalist and favorite. I’ve made contact with her and the photos start Tuesday as she gives a presentation at a rodeo queen workshop. I’ll keep y’all posted on this thing as we go along. I’ll be doing a most likely 3 chapter multimedia story for my local paper that will follow her from prep to the big state pagent to a bit afterwards. I will be talking to a number of magazines about picking it up because this is more than big hair and shiny outfits. More about that as we go along.
Now I have to get a whole western outfit to fit in. I don’t want to be the only one not dressed western, ya know that whole "blend in" thing. Wow. I won’t recognize my city slicker self.
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