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July 22, 2010

Hey Kids,

Okay, the new site is up and running. Well, phase one is up and running, and so far, nothing but good reviews.

So from now on……you’ll find me at:

I hope you will follow me over, and stay tuned for the community feature in coming weeks.




July 16, 2010

Thought I would announce the next webinar, this one for Blurb, coming up next week. Take a click on the link below and see what you can see. This is a basic photography tip type webinar. Just the essentials folks, no off camera wizardry or eighteen light setup. Whether you are advanced, beginning, confused for confounded, might be something in there for you. And regardless, you can join the discussion, which in my experience is half the battle. Endeavor to persevere.

Museum of Modern Photography

July 16, 2010

Hey Kids,

Don’t know if you know about this, but the museum has listings for independent books and such. Just got this one posted.

New Website

July 12, 2010

Putting my feet up at Machu Picchu.

In the past few weeks, thanks to many others, my following on this site has grown by leaps and bounds. To those of you who linked out to me(Zack and many others), or wrote about me, I wanted to say “thank you.”

I needed to bring something to your attention. This site, in its current form, as you have probably noticed, is a bit wonky. That is because me NEW site is running in the background and will be released in the coming weeks.

I’ve also not been posting nearly as much due to this same situation. I have interviews, posts and stories coming up that I don’t really want to post until the new site is up and running.

Speaking of the new site…the goal was to create something that provided more of a community for us, us meaning you and me. I get many comments, emails, etc, which are great, but also time consuming and slightly wonky to reply to. The new site is a combination blog, image database and community center.

Looking at the future, my site will continue to be about photography, but I also know there is too much going on in the world to only write about photography(Politics, art, writing, bikes, etc). The current method of success with blogs, sites, etc, is to focus solely on ONE thing, topic, etc, but I just can’t do it. Perhaps is my journalism background, need to record everything or my active imagination, not sure. For those of you ONLY looking for photo related things…sorry. For me this intergoogle thing is about my life, not just my work.

I’ve also got a new magazine coming out(Get your work ready to submit), as well as a journal companion book to go with the magazine. I’m also planning on doing a little teaching in the future, not much, just a little, which is something I’ve been getting some requests for. But, much more detail about this stuff when the new baby has been hatched.

Situation Room Update

July 5, 2010

Camera, espresso, plenty of time to sit around and do nothing.

Photo: Napper

La Princesa

July 5, 2010
tags: , ,

There are many princesses in the world. Many. They are everywhere I look.

There are many princesses I like. Many.

But there is only one that can be top princess. Just one.

And this one is mine.

She doesn’t know who I am cause Uncle Dan only sees here from time to time, but he is working on changing that.

By the way, my sister shot this, and just emailed me this image, which was shot around………………………..CHRISTMAS time! Not a heavy shooter my sister.

Wait, the imprint…Thanksgiving time!! Even better.

Seven Tips for Improving the World Cup

June 30, 2010

This World Cup is cool and all, but I think I have a few simple things that might improve the overall event.


1-Change the name from FIFA to “Das Boot.”
This is far more menacing and the Germans will be thrilled.

2-Let North Korea win.
Did you see those poor fellas? They have probably already been “reassigned” or “reeducated” and probably hit the free buffet harder than the rest of the teams combined. Maybe Kim Jong will be cool if he is drinking his virgin blood from a World Cup trophy?

3-Search for Jimmy Hoffa in Diego Maradona’s mullet.

Have you seen his mullet? Have you? He is a total mangod. That thing must weigh forty pounds, and coupled with the double diamond ear stud setup should be good for at LEAST a semi-final appearance. Viva Diego!!!

4-Start half of the games with penalty kicks(10 mins max) and then show the Brazilian crowd for the remainder of the 90 minutes.
Have you seen the Brazilian crowd? Have you seen the Brazilian women in the crowd, wink, wink. FAR more interesting than their team putting a beatdown on some hapless dictatorship.

5-Make all Euro teams play in Speedos.

Look, you Euro dudes have been subjecting us to your Speedo habits on American beaches for decades. We want payback. This is not okay.

6-Any player caught faking injury must sit in the opposing team’s fan section for remainder of the game.

Macho and faking don’t go together. Get up, put your cup on and stop crying.

7-Track down and destroy the inventor of the vuvuzela.

This device is pure evil and someone has to pay. My mute button has been permanently crushed into my controller and I want damages.

Implementing these seven simple things would dramatically improve the event and the viewing experience. Good luck FIFA. Oh, and if you need a camera phone for your instant replay let me know. You can borrow mine.

Photography Book Now Deadline Approaches

June 30, 2010

Look, I’m not sure how to be diplomatic about this, but if you are a photographer and you make books I’m not sure how you avoid entering this contest.

Born from a simple love of the illustrated book, Blurb has ponied up with what I think is THE BEST contest in the modern photography arena. The cost to enter, the price of your book. The potential reward, $25,000, in addition to having your work in front of a bevy of publishing power players.

I don’t really know of another contest like this.

I’ve been lucky enough, due to my relationship with Blurb, to see many of the winning books, and the vast majority of these books were from folks I had never heard of. Don’t know about you, but I find that very exciting.

So if you are considering your options and you have the imagery, think about giving it a go. Remember, this is a book contest. Imagery, design and how they play together requires a certain type of focus. The ingredients must become something more than a sum of the parts.

Any questions, drop ole Smogranch a note and I’ll learn ya.


Shark Encounter Caught on Film

June 24, 2010

Not to blow my own horn here, but there are maybe THREE people in the world who could have made this shot. Me, this German shark expert and one Paraguayan special forces photographer. It was only my cat-like reflexes that allowed me respond to such a rare encounter.

But hey, I’m trained and specialize in getting in and out of danger zones. I’m a wedding photographer and that is just what we do. Thought I would share this with everyone.

I feel lucky to be alive.

Questions from a Reader: About Process

June 16, 2010

A reader wrote me a note and asked me to write about my projects. I was thrilled to get this request because doing projects is what I enjoy the most. Most of the time, these days, I get questions regarding primarily three things, three things which might surprise you.

I get questions about legal issues. I get questions about technology. And I get questions about business. But questions about actual photography, or process-hang on to this word-really don’t come around all that often. This might surprise you because it surely surprises me.

I find it very strange to speak to a class of college photo students and not get one question regarding process or the actual photography, but get bombarded with legal questions regarding model releases, property releases, usage and how to avoid legal matters when it comes to their imagery. I find it odd that young photographers are so enamored with technology, and in many cases feel like their education, or basic knowledge of photography, is in fact tied to this technology. I also find it rather odd that it APPEARS that young photographers are spending more time marketing and advertising their work then they are actually creating it.

At some point I want to discuss these things further, and the idea that once you make a decision to make your living with photography, in this day and age, everything changes.

But let me get back to that “P” word. Process.

In the past few days I’ve had no less than eight meetings with photographers, gallery folks, magazine folks, book folks and educator folks. I’m exploring, as usual, snooping around, gathering creative intel and trying to keep the learning process going. The idea of “process” has popped up several times, and each time it gave me a buzz.

As a young photographer, attending college, I would head to the stacks at the school and dig through every photo-related publication I could. This was pre everything electronic, so doing this required a bike ride or hike, of several miles, in 100-degree temps. I would arrive at the tidy office, soaked in sweat, then have to sit in the hallway until I stopped dripping. Upon further inspection the woman behind the desk would say, “Okay, you can go in now.” This was my escape, digging through these magazines. At the time, “News Photographer” was my favorite. It was very different than it is now, and I couldn’t get enough. The school I attended had years of this pub, each in it’s own plastic holder, sorted by year. I memorized those pages. If you asked about the feature regarding the Miami Herald photographer who did the project on street gangs, I could tell you which issue it was in. If you asked about the photographers getting shot at in El Salvador I could tell you that too. The school also had all the European magazines, which in my mind, were far superior to our editions. They did not have limits on what they could run, and the Euro’s knew how to design and lay out a real spread. French Photo was grand, really grand, at that time.

What drove me to these publications was the idea of learning how someone else went about their business(work). Where did the idea come from? How did you pull it off? What was your mindset? And most importantly, what was the experience like in the field?

My questions were about process, not about legal, technical or business aspects of the work. But, at that time, the business of photography was very different, and the industry today perhaps requires a different form of passion and direction. Photographers, working photographers, from around the world, would come to the school, speak and show their work. I remember asking one of these people, “What was the ultimate reason you felt you had to get into Haiti at that time?” And, “What was the feeling on the plane on the way in?” I remember my fellow students asking things like, “What was your typical day like in Haiti?” and “Was your skin color ever an issue?” The photographer spoke about her relationship with the Haitian people, and she showed images of specific people and how they had become close. She spoke about how long it took to make the images, sometimes years, and when things went so wrong during the fighting how she managed to get out, make her pictures and then get back again. She spoke about editing, about searching for those missing pictures that would help explain to the world what was really happening in this tiny, island nation.

I was hooked. I was enamored. I couldn’t sleep at night, thinking about what I was going to try to do. I wondered how I could make such an impact, impression or difference. I had yet to figure out my own process. That would not come until years down the line, long after I realized that process is a fluid situation, changing its colors, shedding its skin. Let me repeat this for all those young eyes out there. My process, really figuring out what I wanted and how I needed to do it didn’t come until YEARS down the road, long after I had begun making my living with photography. Sometimes today I see that photo-cart miles ahead of the photo-horse, and this folks will only get you so far.

So, a few weeks ago someone wrote with specific questions regarding process and I thought I would give it go in terms of explaining myself. These questions are copied straight out of an email. I’ll try to explain and show examples. But before I go any further, I need to preface this list, and this endeavor. This is MY process. It might be of interest to you, or not. It might work for you, or not. It might be a good process, or a crumby one. I don’t know. When I look at modern photography I always have more questions than answers.

– Once you come up with your subject matter do you just take time to go out and shoot with that in mind
or is it a more organized and planned effort?

Yes. All the above. Coming up with the subject matter is an art in itself. I keep a list, both in physical form and in my head, in regards to what I’m working on now and what I want to do in the future. I could work every day for the rest of my life and not get to all the ideas on the list. The list is growing on a daily basis. I try to keep multiple stories going at the same time, both close to home and those further away. I can’t go for long periods and not work on a project. I get depressed, unhappy, lost, etc, just doing “commercial” work. And when I say “commercial” I mean what makes me money. Commercial work is fine, but often times it is a compromise and it just doesn’t feed my inner fire. I wish I had more of a passion for money and for things, but my drug is experience.
Once I’ve settled on a project it typically becomes about time and money, or resources. How much time can I afford to spend on this story? This is why I keep several things going at once. I currently have a story done entirely at my house in California. I don’t have to go anywhere. I can literally shoot from where I’m sitting right now. This is simply about producing work, new work, which is CRITICAL for me. In today’s world it is easy to do a body of work, then spend years trying to find it a home. I used to think this way, or operate this way, but stopped doing this about five years ago. I think modern photography is very fickle, and in many cases, a waste of time trying to engage. So I take the time, energy and money required to sell work, and put it back into doing new projects. People can sort it out when I’m dead.
When I undertake a major project there is a lot of planning involved. When I go into the field, the research is basically giving me the best chance to produce. With limited time and resources you don’t want to waste time. However, from time to time, I’ll just go, with no research at all, just to see what happens. Did this last week. 2000 miles in the car, shot 2.5 rolls total. But, explored an area I had never been, and learned a lot. Later in the year I will work on this particular project again, and I’m researching specific events and locations where I KNOW I can make pictures. This is a very broad, wide ranging story based on a simple idea. So, when I’m there shooting one thing, I meet people, or see things that lead me in new directions and I just have to go with it.

Image from the series shot at my house. This book is almost near completion, titled “Homework” and will be an edition of 25 books total, each with a print included.

– Do you brainstorm by making specific shot lists [with the idea of remaining open to serendipity] or do you
shoot more once you get there and are reacting to your subject matter?

Well, I plan as much as I can, in SOME ways. Checking on a specific event, contacting specific people, but I never try to plan the images. I learned at the newspaper that visualizing imagery before you actually saw it was certain death. Nothing was as I thought it would be. And really, that is what is so great. I don’t know what I’m looking for exactly, I’m just reacting. The idea is to put yourself in the right place, at the right time, in the right LIGHT and react. Serendipity is everything. But here is a HUGELY important point. I’m shooting REAL moments. I’m not posing, staging, or doing a portrait series, most of the time. Images like this are so frickin rare I can’t tell you. Great images I mean. Think about it. Right place, right time, right light and good enough to capture something that is happening once, in a split second, and then is gone forever. It is the ultimate challenge and you have to be mentally prepared to NOT get it, and then have the drive to go back again and try again.

Working New York City and just stumbling upon this guy in a tunnel while walking to another shoot. Serendipity. Random image. By the way, I asked him to shoot this image. When I see a guy with a gun and wad of cash, I’m feeling him out before engaging. He just nodded.

– Before you shoot have you decided on the lenses you are going to use or wait for the subject matter to
dictate this? [I do realize since your direction is usually documentary in style that you do tend to shoot with
your 35mm & 50mm when shooting with your Leica.].

I decide on the look I want before I do the project. The content dictates what I will use. I have 6×6 projects and 35mm projects, and occasionally a 6×9 project. I also choose color or black and white. With the 6×6 I own two lenses, but I choose one for each project. With 35mm I own two lenses total, and with 6×9 I only own one lens. So, not many choices to make. Recently I taught a workshop in Peru and I broke my rule of working. I used both the 6×6 and 35mm, and I shot both color and black and black and white. I won’t do this again. Too many options. Too many choices. Not enough depth with either. For me, I need simplicity. To get the depth I need, I can’t use more than one style. Now the book I produce from Peru will look good, it really will, and it will be different from anything I have ever done. And, most importantly, I learned what NOT to do the next time around. In a nutshell, if you are thinking about your gear, you are failing. Period, end of story. I see so many young photographers completely at the mercy of their hyper-complex dslr. And then subsequently, at the mercy of their hyper-complex software. I actually feel kinda sorry. And now we are adding sound and motion. This is why most of what I see from the new media looks like one person doing three things at once. That is such an unfair burden to have to work under. I’ve used the same cameras for so long I don’t have to think about anything but what is front of me. This is a very liberating feeling.
Also, different gear provokes different reactions. You walk into a small town with a dslr and 70-200 and everyone in town knows “the photographer” has arrived. I can’t stand this happening. I walk in with my Leica and nobody pays me any attention. This is critical to making real photos and also being able to keep people at ease. Last week I walked into a small cafe, in a very small town, in an area of the country that is experiencing some difficulties. There were three men in the cafe, all local cowboys, all Latino, and all speaking Spanish. I sat five feet away and made pictures without ever saying a word. Everything was established with eye contact, head nods and a mutual understanding(and I speak Spanish well enough to work). I shot with the Leica and 50mm. Had I walked in with my Hasselblad, or a 5d Mark II, it would have been different.

My double down work from Peru. Don’t get me wrong, there are images I like from each style, but ultimately I’m looking for work that is above my head, beyond what I’ve done before, and to do that, I need to simplify and establish an understanding and a bond that goes far beyond the temporary and superficial.

– Do you shoot till you’ve exhausted your ideas or do you have in mind a rough estimate of the amount of
images it will take to cover your subject they way you want?

I never predict image count. My “Homework” book has twenty five images total and I’m done with the project. My ongoing, larger project will force me to shoot thousands of images over the next two years or so. I will edit down to say fifty images with the intention of doing a book. Remember, Robert Frank shot something like 27,000 images while he was making “The Americans” and edited 53 images total for the book. This is how it works.

An image from a six picture package from San Diego.

– After each shoot [I’m sure you look at what you have, edit etc..] do you then regroup and figure out what
holes exist in the work, with the intention of going back to get shots that fill in the holes.

Yes, exactly. I shoot, edit, make prints, add them to the overall take. Then, periodically I look at the entire project and try to find that theme, see what is missing. I work on an island, and don’t really show anyone my work. Recently, I made my first magazine, an 88-page issue with a certain theme. The issue has seven chapters, the last of which is my latest project, in it’s infancy. I’ve shown this magazine to about ten people, and each time that new project has prompted many questions and suggestions. It has been interesting for me because I’m normally not getting any feedback at all in regards to my documentary work. I’m not sure I’m going to do this in the future, but it has been interesting. I also have to figure out what text I need. How much help does the viewer need in putting this all together? Can I get away with just image titles, or captions or do I need an essay?
Also, it is critical to live with the work before you make major decisions. If you are shooting and looking at your work right away, personally, I think that is a huge mistake. It takes a while to figure out what you have and what it means. I was in Peru months ago, and I’m still editing and looking at those contact sheets. I recently found an image from a shoot I did back in 2000. I missed it all those years, and then suddenly there it was. Today everyone is in a rush. Instant gratification is the rule of the day, and then we wonder why the quality bar has fallen so low. We shouldn’t be so shocked. I had a curator tell me recently, “Art projects need to be produced very quickly these days.” Well, okay, but don’t complain about the quality of projects you are reviewing. There is NO substitute for time and access.

My long lost friend, first made in 2000, but not found until 2010. A lesson to anyone deleting images in the field, or on the computer once back at home base.

– What would you say are your common themes amongst your varied subject matter?
The only thing I can think of is people. The vast majority of my work is about people, which complicates things to a tremendous degree. I see a lot of the urban, abstract landscape style documentary projects that are popular right now, and I’m sometimes envious of the detachment. You just wander and shoot. No talk. No discussion. No working your way in. But that work just doesn’t do it for me. I find it cold, sterile and temporary. But again, I’m in the minority here. That work has dominated modern documentary photography for the past five years. This work is based on the work from the 1970’s and 1980’s, so it is not like this is original, it is just experiencing a second or third life. A lot of people like this work. I’ve seen countless shows over the past five years made in this way, so there must be something about it that hits home with folks. My work seems to be like pulling teeth, so much so I don’t really think about time anymore. I’ll finish when I finish. Not like there is anyone waiting for it!
I recently had a book publisher ask about my latest project and about seeing it. I thought to myself, “Well, okay, let’s talk in two years.”

Douglass Kirkland photographing me photographing him. Even when I’m not working, I’m photographing people.

– Do you work as a fly on the wall or are there times you set things up and direct your subjects: being animal,
vegetable or mineral..

This depends on the project. Most of the time, fly on the wall. But if I need to shoot a portrait, I’ll do it. Working in the classic documentary tradition is the most difficult, thus the most rewarding when I get something good. Like a chess board with pieces moving and you need to be five or ten moves ahead to anticipate what is possible. I’ve done portrait projects, but more as an experiment than anything else. Speaking of animals, I’ve done a bunch of projects regarding our great beasts. They can’t talk back or tell me, “Hey, you can’t shoot here.”

From “Dogs Can’t Read” a project detailing dogs and graffiti in four cities around the world. This was from Tijuana, and I did not set it up. Sparky here was napping in the middle of this frame shop.

– What are you mostly trying to do or say? Make people think, see and/or feel or…all 3.

Good question. I’m selfish. I’m doing this work for me, not for anyone else. I’m doing it for the experience, and I’m not really trying to say anything, other than, “Hey, take a look at this,” or “What do you think about this?” Most people don’t really care about photography. If photography disappeared tomorrow the world would not skip a beat. We need to be aware of this as photographers and if you have an ego, do the public a favor and rid yourself of it. I think another point to make is I’m not making images for other photographers or editors. They are in the minority and are VERY unlike the general public in their view of imagery. I often ask younger photographers, “Who are you shooting for?” If you are shooting for an editor, or to win a contest, it will dictate what you do. There is a huge difference between shooting for the editor of a news magazine, and the person subscribing to the magazine. I’ve seen a huge disconnect on this front in the past ten years, and this disconnect is reflected in the number of publications going out of business. Sometime we get wrapped up in our own heads, our ego, and our goals of fame, fortune and perhaps acknowledgment. Misguided in my mind. Hey, I’ve been guilty of this many times. Trying to learn from it.

Heaven for me. In the midst of the mayhem, alone, one small camera and getting as close as I can without disturbing the scene. Who will see it? Who will publish it? I don’t really care.

– What parameters do you set up for yourself if any?

Learn. Have fun. Treat people with respect. Don’t quit. Don’t take the easy route. Don’t shoot the same images. Don’t settle. Don’t be content. Forget everything I know and just feel and experience what is front of me. Think. React. Predict. Prepare for success. Prepare for failure. Realize what I’m doing is mostly inconsequential. Realize how lucky I am. Don’t set things up. Don’t influence if possible. Lean forward not back. Keep my promises. Send work(don’t be an asshole and promise then not do it.) Write everything down. Don’t rush. Realize that having cheese puffs in the car when traveling is as essential as gasoline.
Realize I have a problem with cheese puffs. Realize there is nothing I can do about this problem. Wipe cheese puff residue off hands before grabbing camera.

Me putting an absolute beat down on my nephew while fishing, which is far more important than anything I’ll ever do with a camera. I have to do this now, while he is little, before he turns the table on me.

So what did we learn? I’m selfish. I love cheese puffs. I’m a loaner. I’ll probably never be a well-known photographer.

What else should you know?

I feel like I haven’t started yet. There is so much to learn, and so many images to make. I’m very, very happy being a STILL photographer and currently have ZERO interest in carrying sound gear or motion gear and joining the masses being told this is my future. I also think I can disappear. I do. I know, it sounds silly. But when you are in harmony with your surroundings, you can make yourself disappear and get those images you could only get if nobody knew you were there. Do this work long enough and you will know what I mean. I also think you can FEEL images coming on. There is an energy, sometimes good, sometimes bad, that hits like a roundhouse punch, alerting you to the fact something beyond your control is on the way. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you get run over.

I am never without my camera. I take flack, which I love, for carrying my “man bag.” I call it a purse. And if wearing a dress would help me get images, I’m a size medium, bring it on.

I wake up in the morning thinking about these projects, and I fall asleep at night with the same thoughts in my head. It is a curse, a real curse that takes over my life.

I could reduce my entire photographic life to ten images, something I try not to ever forget.

I find my inspiration in music and literature, not art and photography.

I can see someday in the near future, when I no longer work as a photographer. I can see this being an insanely liberating relief.

I feel like I’ve completed a major chapter in my life, with nothing but blank pages ahead of me, and the only way to find the words will be to walk out that door, close it behind me and never look back.


I left with 3 and came home with 5

June 9, 2010

So I recently did a wedding in Hawaii. Turns out, the wedding was great, the weather held up and everything went as planned. After it was over, we decided to spend a few days snooping around the island and visiting friends.

Hawaii is a very unique place in my experience, so any time I get a chance to explore or spend time I do. Staying with a friend we hadn’t seen in some time, it was great to wake up and feel the damp air, see the fruit trees growing outside the window and hear the falling of dense rain. The friend we were staying with is a photographer, big surprise, a really good photographer, and someone who has transitioned away from film, into digital, and now into motion. He is a wicked smart guy and has been at it for a long while. Stay tuned, an interview with him is on the way to this blog.
Anyway, my wife mentioned that I was going to drive to the lab the morning we returned to LA and our friend said, “No way, you are still shooting film, that is great.”

About an hour later, in the middle of a conversation, our friend says, “Oh hey, I’ve got something for you,” and out comes what you see in this photograph. Two Voigtlander cameras, two lenses, two finders and a custom underwater housing. Now it takes a lot to get me really excited. This got me really excited.

I don’t know the first thing about shooting underwater, but I love being underwater, so I’ll learn what I can. But what I’m excited about is the idea that these new cameras will allow me photographs I can’t make with my existing gear. I don’t have a 12mm. Let alone a rectilinear 12mm. I can mount this thing all over the place, including my bicycle. I’ve been dreaming of having something like this.

So as I packed up to fly home, my trusty Tenba bag, the Ultralight, was no longer as light as it was when I left. Inside were five cameras instead of three, and for this I am truly grateful to my friend.

I’ll try to use these things and make something worthy.

Finite Foto Feature

June 5, 2010

New Mexico has a long lineage of art and photography. This continues today in the form of book publishers, galleries, collectors, workshops, etc. We also have New Mexico based online photographic outlets like Finite Foto, formerly known as Flash Flood. I’ve written about these folks before, and even had a piece featured a while back.
A few weeks ago I ran into Melanie McWhorter, one of the masterminds of this organization, and she asked me if I was interested in writing something about photojournalism.
Now I don’t consider myself a photojournalist, but at past points in my life I had done work in this genre, so I thought I’d give it a go. At the same time I had received several requests from blog readers to write something regarding my projects, why I do them, how I do them, etc.
I had just penned this little story when I ran into Melanie. So, here we are.

Now I don’t think this is going to answer all the questions, and this is also rife with my opinion about several things related to the modern documentary world, but I think it will be relevant to many of you, and might surprise or confuse a few others.
Also, I’m just one feature of several in this particular issue, and if you are interested in the doc/pj world, then have a look and bookmark this site.
Any thoughts, notes, feedback, drop me a note and I’ll give you my two cents.

But I Can’t See His Face

June 2, 2010

What can I say, this little guy has style. So does his brother. Been photographing him since he was a little bugger. It feels like yesterday, but it has been many years now. This image came up on the monitor and my wife looked over and said, “What I like best about your work is being able to watch these kids grow up.”
I hope that I occupy a tiny part of their brains. I really do. I hope that when mom and dad tell them they are going to do another shoot they have good thoughts, specific thoughts, not just to the images but about me as well.
I think having a relationship with the people you work with is absolutely critical to making images that go beyond the standard portrait shoot.
My favorite thing is working with the same kids three or four times a year. I would much prefer this to a new client or working in the volume shooting game, where you are looking at new face after new face. Don’t get me wrong, I need new clients, but so much or so little can happen on that first shoot and RARELY do you get something magical the first time around. Be honest folks. “Magical” means different things to different people, and I’m referring to the “magical” that is photographer to photographer, not photographer to client. I think this point might need a little clarification. Say you are photographing kids. Say you don’t have your best day. Well, you are photographing someone’s kids! You are gonna get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the pictures because, after all, they LOVE their kids. So getting a passing grade from a client is very different than getting a passing grade from another photographer. At least I think so. Yesterday I had a surprise visit from a photographer I really admire. She showed me her new book and I showed her mine. My book had one image I KNEW I needed to get rid of, but had yet to cut those bounds of love. And then, .11111 seconds after viewing that image, my photographer friend said, “Ah, I don’t think so, get rid of it.” It’s done. Gone. I trust her and respect her opinion because of what she has accomplished and what she knows about imagery and editing, heck and making books for that matter. A few years ago I began to hear photographers say something very strange, “Well, my clients aren’t complaining,” when they referred to their work that might not have been up to THEIR, the photographer’s standard. Quality bars in this profession of ours have gone from fairly high to nonexistent in a few short years. This can be a real slippery slope for your work when you are allowing the client to dictate your quality bar. My advice…don’t do that.
Oh, and the easiest thing of all…photograph the kids in your own family! You can do anything! I don’t have any kids of my own, but my nephews and nieces are fair game!
Okay, back to my little story.
I think my desire to work with the same kids over and over comes from my working as a documentary photographer, or I should more accurately say, “Me spending time making documentary pictures,” cause I’m sure not working for anyone else when I’m doing this stuff. Just spent two days sleeping in my car in 100 degree temps. Yes, it sucked, at the time, but was well worth it in terms of exploration.
When I work with the same kids over and over I lose those initial moments of awkwardness, where the dancers move around one another but are yet to begin the routine. We start instantly.
Sometimes now, mom and dad are not even home. I get text messages. “Just go in and do whatever you want, we’ll be there in a little while.” Trust, confidence, earned from past results. You can’t beat that.

What this means is I don’t need the routine any longer. I don’t need the expected. I don’t need those safe images that we all feel we have to make when we meet someone new. Now I find myself leaning forward, or toward the edges of what I can dream of.
These two images I like, and I can see printing them, but in my mind are still a bit too safe and routine. A few years ago, because you could not see his face or all of his face, I would have thought, “Well, I better get something straight to appease everyone.”
WRONG. Sellout. Choker. Conformist.
I should have had my shooter card revoked. Small minded thinking folks. Really.
So now I see these images, which I believe say volumes about this kid at this particular time in his life, yet don’t go quite far enough into who he really is, AND, who I am as a photographer. They are in the right direction but I need to go further. This might take more time, a different attitude, luck or simple communication with the boy himself.
You can take this too far, lose the bridge to that client trust, and I’ve come close. Sometimes it takes a good sit down to explain what your intention was or your vision. Sometimes this is enough, sometimes you gotta do over!
This folks is why I keep doing this. I don’t know where I’m going. I know I’m only in control of fifty percent of the equation and I will never be in control of the other fifty percent, so I’m teaching myself to live with this fact.
It isn’t easy. But once it does become easy it means you are either not trying hard enough, or have fallen into the routine of accepting what is average or expected. I’ve found myself more than once framing something up and then saying to myself, “Don’t do that, you are just falling back on what you know will work here.”
Look at what our industry is about these days. Total control. Over control. Volume. Mass production. Perfection.
I just don’t feel it. I just don’t understand it.
I feel myself losing control and I really like it. I realize now that is where the best images happen. Fractured moments, impossible to predict, impossible to know or create until you see it forming in front of you. And, images that only exist in my world, my mind.
I compare this to a great book(Assuming my image ends up being great…rare.) We all probably have a favorite author who churns out book after book. These books we really like and find comfort in, but when asked about our favorite book of all time they don’t make the list. Because there was a book by someone else, someone who only did a few, a book so powerful it changed our life. A work like that is never mass produced. It takes too much pain, good and bad, to produce. It’s like the author left a part of themselves behind when the final pen stroke was made. This is what I’m looking for. But again folks, these images, these true portfolio breakthroughs, the handful of images you will take into the next world, they don’t come around very often.
It’s funny. Actually making the images should be the best and most fun part of what we do, and most of the time it is. But, I think sometimes we grip so hard during the time we are actually working we limit ourselves by the mental baggage we carry with us. We find ourselves running so many scenarios through our minds, thinking of all those we are trying to appease, thinking of all the techniques we have read about and we actually, in some ways, close ourselves off to what is possible. We should have a clear mind when we work. Don’t look at me. I’ve, at times, got the Samsonite of mental baggage. I’m no Grasshopper. If you have the answer put it on DVD and sell it for $99.99 and I’ll buy it.
So go forth my friends and search high and low for your edge of control. Don’t be afraid when your breath comes in short gasps, it just means you are living.

Imaging DNA Conference: Pasadena July 10-11

May 31, 2010

Somewhere out there is the conference…

Okay campers, time to saddle up and ride with the crew here at Smogranch(me).

Imaging DNA
conference will be in Pasadena in July of this year, and if all goes as planned yours truly will be on a panel titled “The Great Debate Traditional, Digital, Hybrid”

Now panels like this, as the title suggests, have been around for many years, or at least since the advent of digital. For the first few years it was always, “Film vs Digital,” and I never really dug that mentality. I’m not sure why we feel we have to draw that line in the electronic sand.

But with much deep breathing we have progressed, gotten wise and now realize that the smart, mentally-sober, thinking photographer uses whatever they want. Film and digital are just flavors and I like vanilla as much as the next guy, but sometimes I want that bubble gum variety.

So, I’ve been given the green light from command central to share with you, MY beloved and cherished Smogranch followers, a code of mythic proportion. Imagine if I said, “Hey, you want $100 off the price of a ticket?” And you would say, “Dan, quit kidding around, there is NO WAY you would be that cool.” And then I would say, “Yes, I would be that cool because like I said before you are beloved and cherished.”

So, if you are interested in going drop me a comment with your email and I’ll fire a code off to you.(if you leave a comment your email is already there)

It’s not too late to get in the hybrid, digital, analog game. Sign up, show up and throw some verbal leather.

In all seriousness, take a look at the lineup at this event and see if there is something that you find intriguing. Would love to see you there.

Get your tickets here:

What’s Old is New: Return to Weddings

May 28, 2010

My wedding technique in 1999 and again in 2010

I began to shoot weddings for real in 1999. I had recently left my job at Kodak, wanted to return to photography full-time, and at the suggestion of another wedding photographer, had decided to try my hand in this field.

This was before the wedding bubble, before the days of over the top marketing, advertising, websites, blogs, social media, etc. The wedding world, at least in my opinion, was more normal, real and frankly more fun.

I was a novice, and amazed that anyone would want me to shoot their wedding, let alone allow me to do it. I was not the normal wedding photographer.

My practice was to take one camera, one lens and a few rolls of black and white film. That’s it. Nothing else. I never even brought a strobe. It was as streamlined as you can get, completely unlike most “real” wedding photographers, but for me it was completely normal. I’d been doing documentary projects like this for years, so I wasn’t doing anything I wasn’t very comfortable with.

I didn’t have any “packages.” I didn’t have a great website. I didn’t belong to a single wedding anything. I got work through word of mouth, and also by showing work to vendors. I’d visit hotels, planners, etc, and show them documentary work. Nobody else it seems was doing this.

But as the years went by, and the industry began to grow, so did I. The idea of going to a wedding with one camera became lunacy. The thought of not taking a strobe became, “unprofessional,” and before long I too was being sucked in to the modern wedding mentality.

Two years later, armed with Canon 30D’s, I was fully digital and blasting my way through locations from Europe to the Caribbean and all across the United States. People were hiring me because I was “fully digital” or “high tech” and I thought I was a total wedding stud.

I still didn’t fit the modern mold in my vision. The maximum number of weddings I ever did in a year was 10, and I never had one tad of desire to become a factory, or triple the number of jobs I was doing. I never thought of training and hiring anyone else to work with me.

One day I came home after a large wedding shoot and sat down at the computer to begin the great download and post-production marathon that had become part of my life the minute I had gone digital, and I just hit the wall. It was sudden and dramatic.

I looked at my wife and said, “For the first time in my life, I don’t want to look at my own images.” It was a terrible feeling.

I knew why digital photographers hired out their post and design. I knew why some of the top shooters never ever saw their images after the wedding was over. I knew why photographers randomly converted half their images to black and white. It changed everything for me. Again, I never once thought of farming my life out. I felt, and still do, that if I’m farming out my post, I must be shooting the same images over and over, otherwise how could someone else do my edit? Editing was sacred, not something to turn over to an intern.

I realized I needed to return to film. And return to film is what I did. But this time I went to the medium format world, choosing to shoot the bulk of my weddings with a Hasselblad and 80mm lens.

For about four years I did just this, and became known for this style of work. Other photographers thought I was somewhat nuts because using the Blad is slow and provides a puny 12 images per roll of 120. By then the insanity of modern weddings had taken full effect. Suddenly photographers were shooting thousands of images during a wedding, and then selling the concept of quantity to unsuspecting clients. I attended a trade show and listened to a speaker claim to have shot 12,000 images by himself during a wedding, and the audience burst into applause. I was shooting 200 images at a wedding.

Times had really changed.

But about two years ago began to feel as if I had done enough weddings. Like I do every four or five years, I felt the need to change my life once again. So for the past year and a half I really didn’t do any weddings. I spoke with my favorite planners, locations, and said, “You know, I’m done for a while.”

It was just what I needed. During this time I instead focused more on my portraits, and had a great time doing this. Portraits are still a big part of my life, shooting again today actually, and I hope they will continue to be a part of my life in the future.

But a few months ago I began to think about weddings again. I ran into one of my original clients and was able to look at the work I produced for him. Looking at those prints took me right back to that day, those moments. It also reminded me how simple and clean what I did back then really was.

His entire wedding was shot with an Leica M6 and 35mm. There were no proofs, online hosting or book involved. I simply processed the film, by myself at that time, and then went into the darkroom and made 20, 11×14 prints. I then made an envelope, also by hand, added the prints, then sealed it with wax.

That’s it.

The client not only still had it, but said they viewed it on a regular basis. I was stunned.

Suddenly things made sense again. I realized that one of the reasons I needed a break from weddings was that the wedding industry had sucked me in a direction I didn’t want to go. Now, to defend myself a little bit, the wedding industry had exploded to a never before seen level. With the demise of many other photographic genres, the wedding world had become the refuge for many photographers, who a few short years before, would have NEVER stooped to shooting weddings. The industry, due to reality television, editorial explosion, had become a HUGE business. By the time many clients got to me their personal, boutique events had become super structures that were over the top in every way.

The industry was racing upward and I was sucked into the vortex.

But taking a year and a half off allowed me to fall back to Earth, and also allowed me a fresh look at who I had become, and what had become of the industry.

I realized that for me to return to this field, I had to make some changes.

So, the Hasselblad and digital bodies will remain in the locker, and once again, I will return to my original pursuit.

This weekend I will shoot a wedding, and my entire rig is highlighted in the attached photo. That’s it. Two bodies, two lenses, black and white film, and yes, this time around, a strobe. What can I say, I’m splurging.

My entire setup fits in one small bag which I will leave behind once I get to where I’m going. I don’t envision back pain. I don’t envision working with someone else, second shooter, and having to be aware of their needs and content.

Now, I realize something. This return to the past is not for most clients. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this ONLY fits one small niche of client. But that is what I’ve always been. That is what I’ve always looked for.

Weddings are in interesting event. There is so much tradition and history that many people do what they think they are supposed to do, and perhaps not what they actually want to do. I need those folks that say, “You know, we just want a core group of great images and the rest falls where it may.”

Because of this I have to work harder for my jobs. I really do. The way I look at it, if the industry gets to the client before me, I don’t stand a chance. The industry tells the client, digital only, quantity, teams of photographers, high-tech, slideshows, etc. Speaking of that, I was at a location once, staying for fun, and there was a wedding going on. The wedding photographer was times three, and all three were wearing black head to toe and were also wearing headsets. It was really over the top. I ended up talking to the bride who said she felt like she was surrounded by the mafia when the photogs were around, and even the location had to tell the photographers to “tone it down.”

So recently, I visited a location I used to shoot weddings at. When I mentioned to the manager I was thinking of shooting weddings again I really didn’t expect any reaction. This person said, “Oh, that is so great, you really understand this place and now I have someone I can refer that I really believe in.” It was surprising to hear but also made me feel like I was doing something genuine if you will.

My new/old style of working provides a certain type of image, and regardless of whether you like it or not, it stand outs from the modern wedding world. The 70-200mm 2.8 is the lens of choice it seems for modern folks, although it seems that one person finally discovered the fixed lens and now everyone is using fast 50’s and 85’s, but my longest lens will be a 50mm. This work stands out. Again, you might not like it, but it does, and my best selling point over the past few years has been to ask clients, “Can you choose the other photographers work out of a lineup?” Frankly, in most cases, with modern, digital shooters, you can’t. The bulk of the work looks exactly the same.

So, I’m not choosing this old route to be different, not at all. I’m doing it because I love it. It rekindles the relationship I had with my work all those years ago. And a happy photographer, in my book, typically is a good photographer.

The New Tri-X

May 18, 2010

The original TRI-X Profile.

Back in the late 1990’s I worked for the Eastman Kodak Company, otherwise known as The Great Yellow Father.

It was during this time period that the first real digital cameras landed and began to make their mark. Now these were far from being perfect machines, but they were good enough to actually run six columns in a newspaper or grace the pages of high-end catalogs.

I didn’t really sell these things, but I spent a lot of time speaking to photographers about these cameras and also teaching photographers how to use them. We all knew this was the future, or at least one version of the future.

At the same time that Kodak launched these babies they also launched their film profiles, meaning you could shoot your digital camera while using a profile for a film like TRI-X, Kodachrome, etc. The idea was that you could shoot digital and get the look of film.

Let me say this again, “You could shoot digital and get the look of film.”

Now this, at the time, struck me as rather odd. I mean here was the latest, greatest digital beast, capable of all things photographic, and yet we were programming it to look like a film that had been around for fifty years.

A few years later I quit Kodak, went back to being a photographer and lived through generation after generation of digital camera and software, and today I still find myself living through generation after generation of all things electronic, and yet I find what I love more than anything else is using that same old film that has been around for over fifty years.

So last year I did a traveling book tour with Jerry Courvoisier, a Santa Fe based Adobe Lightroom guru. Jerry knows more about this software than anyone I know, and in fact spends much of his time teaching 2-3 day intensive Lightroom workshops. If you are using this program, want to use this program, want to really learn this program, he is the guy you should be looking up. Now being a film shooter, Jerry busts my chops every chance he gets, and I try to do the same to him. We’re photographers, we’re guys, that’s just what we do. I know he secretly wants to shoot film.

So earlier today my phone rang with Jerry on the other end. It seems he was writing up a post about Adobe Lightroom 3, the latest version, and his method for using the software to mimic the holy and beloved TRI-X, and wanted to know if he could mention me before reducing me to digital fodder. I said “Heck yes,” cause I love reading about me, might even my favorite subject.

Now before I go any further I have to say something. When I first saw these profiles, as I mentioned above, I found this concept strange. But what I found even stranger was the number of these profile attempts that popped up over the past ten years. It seems that every year or so someone comes out with the final, be all, end all TRI-X simulation device. And when I mention profile, this was, and is, just one method of creating this look. Using a software like Lightroom is just another way of getting from point A to point B, and if you follow the link at the end of this post you will see that Jerry has gone far beyond a profile and actually provides a full working tutorial on this process.

In fact, this concept, converting digital files to the look of film is a HUGE part of digital photography conversations. Not only have I had this discussion twice this week, but with Adobe adding this ability to Lightroom 3, you know it was on the radar for some time.

My opinion? Good, I hope they finally nail it. I really do. Not only will I use it when I shoot digital, but if it make the masses happy, and allows them to realize their vision then more power to them.

But I have to say, I’m still really puzzled.

If there really is “No reason to ever use film again,”(When you hear this it is a sure sign the speaker is sponsored by technology company) then why are we still developing computer actions to simulate film? Why is every tragically hip wedding photographer developing, and then subsequently trying to sell, action set after action set that simulates film? Why are people scanning old Polaroid borders and slapping them on their 5D Mark II files? Why did that Impossible Project thingy happen and Polaroid return? Why do college students rebel when the schools threatens to close down the traditional darkroom? And this morning, an email in my inbox from a photographer who saw a TRI-X rebate on bad color digital images(redundant in many cases) while watching TV last night.

I think this little battle in the larger war of film vs digital can teach us all a lesson.

It doesn’t matter.

Regardless of your feelings, you should check out Jerry’s link because he can probably save you a lot of time and get your images looking like TRI-X in an efficient manner. And I’m lighting a candle for the Adobe Gods, hoping that this time around, digital TRI-X actually lives.

And for me, until they pry it from my cold, dead hands, I’ll be using the original.

Lightroom 3 TRI_X Tutorial from Jerry Courvoisier

iPad as Portfolio: The Barracuda Complex

May 15, 2010

After just reading yet another story about a photographer utilizing the new iPad as their portfolio, and selling this off as something revolutionary, I felt the need to address this lunacy before it goes any further.

The iPad is not inherently evil, not by any stretch. The iPad is just a new, shiny toy that was developed for entertainment purposes, purposes that have now become a major part of our lives. Movies, games, online streaming You Tube videos of women in bikinis shooting assault rifles, etc, you know the really important shit that we can’t live without.

But like all things tech, this nonessential piece of equipment is the latest fad to sucker in hordes of snappers who think they are now going to take over the world.

Look, there is absolutely no reason to use the iPad as a portfolio, other than you just thinking it might be cool. Hey, that’s fine. But don’t think having your portfolio on an iPad will make you a better photographer. Don’t think it will make you a more viable photographer. Don’t think it will make you a more “high tech” photographer.

You want to be a better photographer, get more jobs? Then take the time, money and energy you are putting out converting your photo-life to the iPad and go shoot some personal work.

Geeks get the majority of air time in the modern photography world, mostly because the tech companies are footing the bills, paying for advertising, etc, so it is no surprise, at least to me, that the iPad has become the flavor of the month.

Again, it is an interesting device, but if you have an iPhone, and a laptop, then why exactly do you need to have your portfolio on this thing? In short, you don’t. You just want it.

Do you really think a person in a position of power is going to say, “Well, this work is okay, but wow, the fact this person is mailing me an iPad over a print book is so cool we should give them the job?” My opinion, anyone thinking this, or doing this, really isn’t in position of all that much power.

On the rare occasions I show to work to power players I typically have two options, laptop or print. I’ve yet to have a SINGLE person choose laptop over print.

I know, I know, I can hear the masses screaming at me in the background, “But Danno, people don’t have time for print books, and the computer is just so much faster.” Or, “Danno, Danno, the iPad is so much smaller than my print book, it will be far easier to view and ship.” What? Are you sending 30×40’s? Get over yourself and modern feeling of bigger is better. The best portfolio I’ve ever seen was 8×10 vertical. And guess what, the images were really frickin good.
Ever wonder why the industry is in such sad shape? Ever wonder why the quality bar has dropped so low? Ever wonder why the value of imagery has fallen to current levels? Faster. Overworked. Stressed. Yep, it’s all connected. Personally, I think if you are meeting with someone who can’t take the time to look at a real book of prints, images, and feels SO rushed they have to punch a button on a keyboard as opposed to flipped a page…why are you working with this person in the first place? Is this a comfortable work environment? Do you want that same frantic relationship come shoot time?

Again, in the past few years, on those rare occasions when I met with a gaggle of editors, etc, I’ve always found the most beneficial meetings have been with folks who are in control. They didn’t have their Blackberry in their hand. They weren’t sitting next to a ringing phone. And they surely were not concerned about me having my portfolio in electronic form. The meetings were set up SLOWLY, over time, by proving to them I could provide UNIQUE CONTENT, not a power sucking portfolio.

And while I’m on this soapbox, and my voice seems singular in a forest of millions, if you are under the impression that the iPad is the future of photography I think you are in for a long and harsh future. I keep hearing this, that online content is the future, and that photographers, by the thousand, are all going to be creating stills and motion and their own content, and then selling this to the masses. You have to be kidding me. Again, if I’m doing it, and your doing it, and every single one of our friends are doing it, then where is the value? How on Earth will there be enough money to go around to support even ten percent of the photographer population? Can someone please tell me? What I see is a world that continues the trend of work for hire, work for free and photographers giving away every single position of power they ever had.

Also, if someone can find a single human being under the age of 30 who will willingly pay for online ANYTHING I would love to meet them, and then sell them to a museum for future study.

If I’m not mistaken, the internet, globally, is associated with free. FREE, FREE, FREE, FREE. For crap sake, porn is free. If there is ONE thing in the WORLD I would guess people would pay top dollar for it is adult content, and now THAT is free.

So now I’m going to support myself on charging for my online imagery. Man, I really wish this was doable, but I just can’t see that working. Ask the New York Times how easy that is.

Recently, I’ve been informally surveying small groups of people in regards to their online habits, mostly workshop students and college photography students. So far, I have a grand total of ONE person who said they would be willing to pay for content. And every single person under 25 has just looked at me like my hair was on fire.

People when is the Coolaid going to wear off? I’m going to call this the “Barracuda Complex.” I’m not talking about the Heart song by the way. The barracuda is a fish that loves shiny objects, so when you are snorkeling you might want to take off that wrist watch. Photographers are like barracuda, we love that next piece of gear.

But folks, the ONLY thing that will save you as a photographer is your work, your imagery. And within that statement, the only thing that is going to really save you is making your PERSONAL WORK your COMMERCIAL WORK. If you can produce unique content, RETAIN THE COPYRIGHT, RETAIN THE RIGHTS TO THE WORK, AND THEN LICENSE THAT WORK AT A SUSTAINABLE and LEGITIMATE RATE, you MIGHT have a future in photography, a future that in my opinion will have little to do with an iPad.

My last thought on this mess. If you put your best image on a t-shirt, then attended Photo Plus in NYC, and then walked around that magaziny area of the city, you would probably be showing your work to a lot more people. Have fun, good luck.

Bike Commuting Update

May 10, 2010

Out with the old, in with the new.

I just switched from 700×32 tires on the right, to 700×25 tires on the left! Shake and bake!
I know that millions of you out there are wondering how my bike commuting days are going. Well, I have to admit, it is pretty exciting. Using a bike instead of a car, who would have thunk it. It’s not like the rest of the world does it or anything.
I’ve been enjoying my little commute, even though I’m not commuting. You see I work at home, so I have nowhere to commute to. BUT, I do use the bike for errands. Food, bank, beach, training, lab, clients, etc, I can do all from the bike.

My typical rear rack setup. Exciting right?

Sure, I get to the clients and I’m a total sweaty mess, but who cares, it adds excitement to our lives of routine. A lot of folks ask me about the reception to riding in these parts. Frankly, it’s fine. Most people are TOTALLY indifferent to someone on a bike, and those few who blow by you inches from your handlebar, or get close and blast their horn, they have always sucked and have always been lonely, scared, insignificant creatures anyway, and chances are they will never change.

Another photo here for no particular reason.

Last night a friend was able to debut his documentary film titled, “Riding Bikes with the Dutch,” at the Art Theater in Long Beach. A great, fun film which ultimately contrasts Amsterdam with Long Beach, “The most bike friendly city in America.”
I’m not sure why bikes have been so slow to catch on here, well, I take that back. I know why. But, I’m surprised we still haven’t put our egos and status aside and embraced our future. I think when gas hits $5 per gallon, and it will, I think the bike will suddenly become more appealing.
Forty percent of all trips taken in the United States are less than 2 MILES. Just think about that.

But, it has to begin with city planning. Without city planning we are DOOMED. Drive to Phoenix lately? From LA? NINETY miles from Phoenix someone is building track housing developments. People, people, people, this has to be stopped. Not only are they building out there, but there is NO public transport to the city. How in 2010 is that possible? Plus, these places are cracker jack construction which means repairs in ten years, required heating in winter, air conditioning in summer. People, how on Earth does this make sense? And yet…it continues at a record pace.

This country is fantastic, but we sure do settle for less much of the time. We squander our potential, and instead of being a leader in the world we are a distant, reluctant, often times belligerent follower. We have the means to LEAD the world in this area, and yet we lead in sprawl and energy consumption.

The bike for me, don’t get me wrong, was not a revolutionary tactic. I ride because I like to ride. It made sense to me. The VAST majority of my trips are within 10 miles of my house, so naturally, I can take a bike and be fine. I also think the bike gives me time to think. No cell phone, and I even quit listening to music. One, it is safer, but two my mind is more clear, uncluttered. The bike is the ultimate pace. I could never run ten miles a day, and don’t really need my car. A bike is that pace that forces you to be a part of the world, but also allows you to cover a fair amount of ground.

There are a hundred and one reasons NOT to bike around here, but most are lame and old and tired. Check out my friend’s movie. If the those pesky Dutch can do it then so can we.

My Peru Work

May 9, 2010

Okay folks, here it is. You asked for my Peru work, so I thought I would unveil it.

Actually, for some reason, I’m in no hurry to rush this stuff out. Someone asked me the other day, “What is the first thing you are going to do with the Peru work?” My response was, “Nothing.”

I think I’m in big trouble when it comes to my future because we all know we now live in the “real time” world. A lot of folks would have been blogging, Facebooking, Twittering the entire time they were in Peru, and by now would have showered the world with each and every frame.

Me, I looked at Peru as two plus weeks of ZERO computer, ZERO connected time and again, I’m in NO rush at all to shower the world with this work.

I have decided to begin making prints. “You are going to print HUGE right, I mean come Milnor this is 2010 don’t even think of printing less than 30×40.” Well, truth be told, I’m not even tempted. Not at this point.

My print size of choice? 4×6. Just bought the paper yesterday, and a small box to hold them. I know, I know, you can’t possibly showcase the work this way. Well, but I don’t feel the need. I can carry these prints with me, handle them, think about them, use them as my layout for when I eventually begin to make a book.

Speaking of the book. It will be 12×12. I have an cover idea. I have many ideas, but what I can pull off design wise will be the key. Any book designers out there want to collaborate? Probably not. Speaking of books, I’ve got at least a half dozen to make, three for clients, three for me. I’ve got so much work to do, and yet I find myself trying to avoid the computer as much as possible. It’s so nice outside. I have new tires on my bike, more later on that.

So for now, here’s Peru. A portion of the 6×6 anyway.

“Beyond the Snapshot” Santa Fe Workshops July 18-24

April 27, 2010

“From Peru in Book Form Workshop” Cusco Peru 2010

I’m still buzzing after returning from Peru and the “Peru in Book Form” workshop, and now I am happy to announce the upcoming “Beyond the Snapshot” workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico July 18-24th.

There are literally hundreds of workshops to choose from these days, and in the coming years, due to the current economic situation, my guess is there will be hundreds more, but Santa Fe is the real deal when it comes to the workshop experience.

I know this because I have personally taken two workshops in Santa Fe, and have personally taught two more. I also live part time in Santa Fe, and I know what the surrounding area has to offer in terms of subject matter, landscape and the best light of anywhere I have been in the entire world. It is THAT good.

Like a movie location that becomes a character in the film, WHERE you take a workshop can be incredibly important depending on what your goal is. I currently have a long-term project underway in New Mexico, something I have been working on for a year and have only begun to scratch the surface of what this place is really all about.

Being here, phone off(encouraged), email off(encouraged) and fully involved in your subject matter of choice is a wonderful way to shed the distractions of your natural habitat and actually learn to be a better photographer.

Much can happen in a full week of concentration.

My workshop experience in Santa Fe came during my time working at Eastman Kodak. Kodak, at that time, sponsored the workshop, in part, and were given a few free slots for employees. One day, out of the blue, I got an email saying, “By the way, anyone wanting to take a workshop in Santa fe, go ahead and sign up.” I thought it was a joke, but luckily for me, it wasn’t.

My first workshop was with Chris Rainer, a black and white documentary photographer who was a printer for Ansel Adams. We looked at tons of work, studied prints, talked about the thought process behind making great pictures, and spent much time in the field.

“Dar al Islam” shot during my time in the Robb Kendrick workshop at SFPW.

My second workshop experience was with Robb Kendrick, a Texas-based photographer who spends much of his time working for The National Geographic. Not only did we learn about making long-term projects, but we also got much one on one time with Robb(invaluable) and also picked up his favorite recipe for margaritas, which helps any long-term project reach maximum velocity. Robb and I remain friends, and still talk on a regular basis.

I am also still friends with several fellow students who are now working full-time as photographers.

So when I was asked to teach at the workshops, I came into the situation knowing full well what was required, but also what was possible during a week in Santa Fe.

“Beyond the Snapshot” came about for several reasons. First, modern photography is filled with complicated machinery, the cameras, and complicated post-production, the software. I noticed that many of my students were somewhat lost in the creative process because they were spending far too much time on everything except actually making great images.

Sometimes, based on the “ease” we can now make images, we are fooled into thinking that just because an image is made with the latest, greatest camera, and processed with the latest, greatest software, that our images are all the latest and the greatest.

Great images, for the most part, do not happen by accident, and have little to nothing to do with camera or software. Great images come from the right light, timing and composition, and from putting yourself in the position to make them. Doing this requires, thought, planning, vision and the ability to lose yourself in your work.

THIS is what “Beyond the Snapshot” is all about.

Like I said, I taught this class last year, so I have a track record with what I think we can accomplish, but also what I want to do differently. This year, my plan is to have the students dive into ONE project for the entire week. Last year, as many workshops do, we bounced from place to place, topic to topic, in a more random pattern. Doing this provides a certain type of image, and is a great learning experience because as a photographer you are thrown into new situations on a daily basis and forced to make images. This experience was similar to my first getting a job at a newspaper and being given a range of assignments on a daily basis, all different. I learned a TON in a short time. Trial by fire if you will.

But, much of the work that was lasting in my life came from returning to the same people, place or story, again and again, and building a more in-depth body of work.

Often times, when I’m showing work, I get questions about making certain images. How I got into a certain place, or how I got someone to let me into their life at a very personal level. Well, it comes from trust and from spending the time. There is no substitute for time and access.

So this year, in Santa Fe, students will be given the chance to find something they relate to and spend the entire week getting to know the story. Personally, I can’t wait.

So as an example of what you can expect, I thought I would include a few images I made during last year’s take on “Beyond the Snapshot.” We stumbled upon this man, James, and he was kind enough to allow myself, and several workshop students, to photograph him.

Setting the scene, “Beyond the Snapshot” Galisteo, New Mexico 2009

James is a well driller and sometimes uses equipment from the 1950’s. Mud, water, noise, drill bits, a little dog and a daring guy makes for great images.

James, well-driller, “Beyond the Snapshot” Galisteo, New Mexico 2009

All of these images were made within about a thirty minute shoot, perhaps less. So imagine what you can do, as a student, with an entire week to dive into a project.

But Dan, what am I going to shoot? Well, funny you should ask. Both times I took workshops in Santa Fe I had researched the area prior to coming, and had a story ready to go once I hit town. This was a HUGE advantage when it came to producing work. The way I viewed it was that I had near private access to a major photographer for an entire week, so the more work I could produce, the more work I could show this photographer, and the class, and get as much feedback as possible.

So I have a list of ideas for this area, but I highly encourage students to do their own research. One bit of advice I got early on in my career was, “Focus on stories you are interested in.” Sounds simple, makes a huge difference.

So, you know more about you than I do, so if you can make some inquires, study the area and find a few possible stories, I think you will be ahead of the game. And remember, a story does not have to be as specific as one person. A story can be broad, such as color as mood, or as narrow as you want to be, such as the intersection of two country roads, or a local painter.

This workshop is designed to challenge you, and to help you find your voice, your vision and your style. The idea is to explore and expand your mind and your photography skill, all the while having fun, eating chili and looking down the dirt roads of the unknown.


Interview with Foliopodcast

April 25, 2010

Hey Campers,

Just completed an interview, 78 minutes, with Scott Anderson at Foliopodcast. I had never met Scott before, but immediately felt at ease with him, and I thought he did a masterful job of asking questions, doing research, etc.

If you have some time, give it a whirl.

Poem from Mom: Hummingbird Chili

April 23, 2010

“Hummingbird Chili”

the dreaded tap on the cabin window
just above the bench where the cats sleep
they leap for the birds that fly into that window
I run for the door leaving my pot of chili simmering
HELP ME LORD! get to that bird before the cats do
TOO LATE! there stands my beautiful bobtail cat
with a yummy dead looking hummingbird
clenched firmly in her mouth
BUT WAIT! is it REALLY dead
or is there a miracle nearby waiting to happen
I left the grocery bags from yesterdays shopping
hanging on the inside of the porch door
I grab them and throw them fast and hard at bobtail
who is giving me a dirty watch your step mama look
PRAISE BE! she drops the tiny destressed bird
I carefully quickly pick it up
the hummingbird sits in my hand recovering
blinking its eyes and changing its footing frequently
for the rest of its handmade hospital stay
as we sit in the morning sun pondering
this tiny beautiful trusting creature
makes me realize how fragile we are
how much we need to look out for each other
how much we need to trust and love
as I return to the chili to give it a stir
a hummingbird feather
slowly falls off my flannel shirt sleeve

and drifts into the pot

New Blurb Widget

April 21, 2010

Hey Kids,

You know my well documented love affair with Blurb. Now I have something new to love. The new widget.

Just getting to say the word “widget” is fun, but when you can actually use it in a sentence, even better.

Check out an example.

Back from Peru

April 15, 2010

Amy at Tipon Ruins, shot by workshop student and supreme photo-editor Joann Morsch.

Well, I’m back.

But now I have a real problem.

I’ve, once again, tasted the forbidden fruit of the outside world.

Running a photography business is a full time job, and then some. So, after several months of going back to back to back to back to back with shoots, marketing, advertising, follow up, book making, etc, you get lost in this world and begin to think of the planet as a small place.

Sitting in front of a monitor for hours, days, weeks at a time, and suddenly you can find yourself in a time warp. Add in social media, random online surfing and your life takes you down a path of business isolation.

And then suddenly, there was Peru.

So now I’m ruined.

I’ve been home for four days, and JUST NOW turned on my computer. I walk into the office and can’t really stand the idea of sitting down at the desk and digging back in to the clutter of a my photographer’s life. My life should be about the field, not about being in the tent.

My film, many rolls, is being processed and contacted as we speak. Until that film comes back, I’m somewhat lost in the anticipation of what I will find on those contact sheets. I’m sure there will be disappointment, surprise, happiness and confusion. Even though I had never been to Peru, all of my shoots tend to have these characteristics.

The goal of the trip was to teach a workshop, and luckily, the class went exceptionally well. We made photos. We edited photos. We sequenced photos. We learned book software and we created books. A LOT to do in such a short time, but the students were all game to take on as much as possible.

Peru was enticing in so many ways. Culture, color, landscape, cuisine, textures and of course the people. The weather was also a key component, everything from burn-inducing sun to marble size hail. For me, this was the feather in the cap. When the weather changes, so does the mood of the shoot. I think we often times think that wonderful sunlight is the best light, but for me, the darker, the wetter, the better.

I lost weight which is always a good sign. Losing weight signifies movement, lots of movement, meaning we were on the go for much of the time. And we ate like kings.

Me at Tipon Ruins, shot by workshop student and master photo-editor Joann Morsch

Another aspect I’m very, very happy about was the opportunity for Amy to get back into the field and make some images. It had been several years since we both worked together in the field. Her job is not a shooting job, so her chances to make work are few and far between. Seeing as the class was about making books, and seeing that I shot film and could not make a book of my own work while in Peru, I used her images to mock up and design a book to show the class. She did really well, and I’ve only seen a small percentage of the overall take. She has a great book in there somewhere, we just have to sort through the layers and find the core.

This was also my first time working with Adam Weintraub at and had a great time learning more about he and his Peruvian life. Adam has been in Peru for many years, and knows his way around both the city and countryside. He also likes good food and consistently presented us with some of the best food I’ve ever had while traveling. I don’t consider myself a foodie, and when I’m traveling have always prepared myself to exist, work, on a minimum of niceties and calories, so I was truly amazed at how well we ate and how much this wonderful food added to the experience of being in Peru. I was also able to procure a steady stream of cookies to hole away in my backpack, another constant of mine when I’m on the road. Don’t know why I do this, I just do.

So now I sit here scheming. All I can think about is finding a way to get back to Peru. This happens to me every time I take a trip. The outside world is the perfect example of the grass is always greener. I always think this, or say this, and then suddenly years have gone by and I haven’t made another voyage. Well, this time I can’t allow that to happen. I have to go again. And again.

So if you find yourself staring at the map, spinning the global or Google searching “wanderlust,” then look South and think about Peru. And if you are photo-inclined a workshop might be a good way to go.


March 24, 2010

Arizona’s Grand Canyon with only half sun above the horizon

I spend a fair amount of time around today’s photography industry. I travel to the trade shows, most of them, and I keep up on what is new, what is phasing out and what is rumored to be on the way. I also go to many openings, gatherings and lectures, encompassing a wide range of people and topics.

The further we go into this modern electronic game of photography, I’m always amazed at how much I hear about technology, both on the front end with digital capture devices, or cameras to normal people, and the back end, meaning workflow solutions, or software and computer stuff to normal people.

But what I rarely hear anything about is actual photography, the actual basics of making imagery. I guess that this information just isn’t flashy enough for the modern crowd, or the younger generation who have spent very little time learning photographic basics and have spent far more time on equipment, software, branding, websites and marketing. In some ways I can see the thought behind this. The business of professional photography is really in trouble, a reality that seems to get lost on many people, so creating a brand, marketing the brand, and trying to survive are important steps in being a photographer.

However, I also see the insanity in approaching the business in this direction. You can market and brand all you want, but in the end if you don’t understand the basics of photography you won’t produce a recognizable and unique product. My evidence of this is all around us, look at most publicly viewable imagery.

I recently went to a trade show and walked the entire floor, looking and listening to every speaker I could find. Without exception, every featured speaker spoke about what new piece of equipment had taken them to a level they could have never reached with last year’s version. Now I know this is bunk, and they know this is bunk, but many of those in attendance don’t, and that is one reason why we have the issues we have today.

Yes, you can buy the latest widget, and the latest software to go with it, but if you don’t have a basic understanding of light, timing and composition, it won’t matter what you have in your hand unless you are only trying to provide generic content……….

Well, a lot of people today are only trying to provide generic content, but for the REST of us, basic photography is what we must understand.

Backlit bliss in Sicily. Wings. White wings. Frontlit it doesn’t work people.

I would LOVE to go to a trade show and hear the truth from the speakers. I would love to hear the backstory of the work they are showing, or their real work, where they got up before sunrise or waited for the last feeble, fire-red rays of the day. But for some reason, this isn’t what sells today.

But for me, this is where it all begins and ends. Light. This post is simply about light.

Take megapixels, capture rate, color space, file format, lens magnification, file converters, actions, tweaks, the clone tool, layer masks, workflow, tagging, rating and watermarks and just toss them out the window. Take your machine with forty buttons and just put it on the floor and walk outside. Now look up. Look right. Look left.

Find the light. Be the light Danny. (If you don’t know this reference I can’t ever talk to you again.)

I’m AMAZED at the number of photo students who have never done this. AMAZED.

I’ve seen students work images on a laptop like a shuttle captain under pressure of a hull breach. Images shot at 12 noon on a cloudless day. I’ve seen portrait photographers, on the beach at sunset, in the most beautiful light you can imagine, shooting every single frame with direct, on-camera flash.

I just want to say, “Stop, please, let’s go back to the beginning.”

Up at 3am, drive two hours, on the floor waiting for this image. Light comes through like this for five minutes each day. Could have shot at noon and got JUNK

Figuring out and exploring light is one of the most entertaining aspects of photography, at least in my opinion. You know that feeling you get when you think you left your wallet or cell phone on the counter at the airport? THAT is how I feel when I’m out and the light is great and I’m not shooting. I feel freaked out because I know how important light is to the bulk of what I do as a photographer.

Patented “Rainbow Dream Life” filter from my “Too Good to Be True” filter set available for $29.99 at selective sites and roadside park dispensaries.

And when you are in the right place, at the right time, in the right light, there is no better feeling.

Light makes everything AFTER the photograph easier, like making prints. When the light is great, and you expose that piece of paper, it just comes up in the developer like it was meant to be. It seems that most of my best prints, and somewhat easiest prints, were done in great light.

Look, we all know that sometimes we can’t control the light. When you can’t you just do what you can do and live with the results. But many times we CAN control when we work, and that, for me, is critical.

And let’s not think we need vacation sunsets to have great light. Great light can be flat, diffused, dark, etc, It is the quality of light we are looking for.

Early and late light give us what?

Come on? What?

Color and direction. But flat light can also give us great things.

What it takes is practice seeing and being able to recognize what light we need or want to make the pictures we want.

So, the next time you are thinking upgrading your Zupperflex 5000 Doppler SLR, and the software that goes with it, just remember in one year you will probably have to upgrade again. But neither basic photography knowledge, nor light, needs an upgrade. Learn it once, use it forever.

Poem from Mom: Rules

March 22, 2010


there are many rules
new ones and old
we have to choose
what we are told

you can’t do this
you can’t do that
you must be thin
you can’t be fat

where am I to look
for me myself and I
up in the sky
or in apple-pie

chance filled choices
creating whats new
hearing your voices
what you will do

do not fret get
live life well
the best is yet
time will tell

Random Snap

March 18, 2010

Mexico circa 1994

South of Nogales. A community living in old train cars. We stopped, got out, started walking about and shooting. People were great, fun, interested and living a tough existence. Leica, Kodachrome.

At the time, I totally took these moments for granted, heck, these trips for granted. Now, it seems like I never have the time to do any of this. So rare.

I’ve seen people living in train cars all over the world, Sicily, Mexico and in the Western United States.

In Sicily they have been living in government provided rail cars since the earthquake in the 1970’s. In the Western United States these things are considered art forms. Odd how this works.

This picture bugs me because I’m too far back and it’s tilted for no reason. Well, it’s tilted cause I’m walking fast and trying to bridge the distance to make another shot. I like how the one boy is framed in the window but the others are not right.

When I teach I often talk of the “picture within the picture” and this is a great example of a not quite there photograph. But, inside this, sure, there is a better image. Did I get it? Don’t know, have to look at my chromes.

What I do like is the memory, the color of the image, and the light, which for being overcast, still has a nice punch to it. Normally this light is “black and white light,” but I think color also looks great in flat light.

Kodachrome was unique in its pallet, which is partly to blame.

I don’t take these trips for granted any longer. They are far too precious. Heck, time to shoot is far too precious.

Kodak Ektar 100

March 15, 2010


Birds doing what they do, Corona del Mar, California.

I don’t think I’m a great film tester. In fact, I know I’m not a great film tester. Thank God for serious photographers and the work they do because I could never do it. Running a film through its paces is difficult work, and frankly, I’m not sure I’m man enough for it. So, when I test a film, I grab a few rolls, take a quick look at the speed then head into the void. Today’s void was the beach in CDM, or Corona del Mar for those of you from any backwater that isn’t The OC. It might have been Newport. I don’t really know anymore. If I was guessing, and trying to get a permit for this place, I’d probably….go….with…..CDM? Who knows?
Kodak Ektar 100 speed film, in 35mm. In short, it looks good. Thanks for reading.

Pretty yellow things growing from the Earth near a beach where lots of people go and where there are security cameras, Corona del Mar/Newport Beach, California.

I like the color. I like the contrast. I like the grain, or lack there of, and I like the texture in the non-critical focus areas, or for the average citizen, the blurry areas. Might be a little warm for skintone, but you know, with Photoshop 1.0 we kinda solved that. I use Portra for skin, and most things, but I have a plan for this film, one type of image that it will be perfect for.
So, when I head to Peru, there will be Ektar, 120 in my bag. In fact, it’s already there.

So dust off the old jalopy and head out to your nearest film peddler, if you still have any around, and get ready to endure the painfully tired question from the counter guy as you ask for your twelve exposure roll of Ektar, “Film, they still make that?” Hahahahahaha, never get tired of that one.

On a side note. Most of the time, when someone slaps one of those lame film statements on me like “Film, oh ya, I remember that stuff, heh, heh,” it is a sure sign that their work really sucks. Like really sucks. Like it has unicorns in it and the painter tool and shots of their kids with purple fog around the edges.

The Border: Three Pictures

March 11, 2010

Am I long winded? Short answer. Yes. But relax, take a minute, chill, put your headphones on and brace yourself for my high pitched voice.

You know how when you hear yourself it sounds kinda strange. Well, that is me right now. Good luck.

le box

March 10, 2010

MP_Breakfast Box 2010

So there are these photographers in Los Angeles. And there is this box. And the box has images. And the images come from the photographers. And I’m in it. Believe it or not.

I have a friend to thank for this, so I say, “Thank you.”

This is my image for this year. Democratic National Convention from the year 2000. Los Angeles. The downtown lockdown. I have a post coming about this event, a post I really like, but I’m saving it for a rainy day.

Ground Zero

March 8, 2010

All of these images were made within a ten minute time span. I’ve never specifically made a trip to Ground Zero. I was just passing by. The sky was for me uncommon, but I live in Southern California so cloud cover is a rarity. Walking within a block of this place and you could feel a palpable sense of unease. There were lookers and onlookers and watchers and viewers, all trying to make peace with the place, the event, etc. I also noticed there were a few eyes on me, wondering eyes, which I see far more of these days, so I made myself quiet.

There was a majesty to the cranes operating and this place holds a sense of power. Perhaps it always did, but in another way. Everyone it seemed needed to catch a peak, to see a little more, even those you would least expect to climb a fence or peak through a hole.

About a half an hour ago I wrote something that I think does justice to this place, and before I could save it, my internet connect went out and I didn’t notice. So when I went to save the post, it was gone. Completely gone. Normally I can remember exactly what I wrote, but this stuff just came pouring out and I can’t remember a single line of it. Not a single line. Maybe it was my internal purge? I sat here and tried to reboot my brain but it just didn’t work. It was as if the thoughts I had put down were not even mine.

Looking back, what I find remarkable is the invisible wall surrounding this place. Sure there are screens, and gates, and fences, and barriers and warning signs, etc, but there is also an invisible line you cross when you even get close to this place. I’m not well versed in Manhattan at all. I’ve been there many times, but always for business and I come and go to the places I need and then depart. I’ve never really explored. Rounding a street corner, making my way back uptown I just felt something. I would imagine it is a combination of ingredients. The physical structure yes, but also the feelings of other people around me. You can feel their experience and their reaction. I honestly didn’t know where I was. And then suddenly I did.

Cashio Street. Los Angeles. Where I was that day. Three hours behind in the global clock, but just happened to turn on my television. “Hey honey, you should come take a look at this.” My first response was not the attack, the buildings coming down or the death toll. I found myself looking into the future, our collective future, and having a vision of a new world. I saw a chain of events. I saw armies and desolate places. Just brief flashes and blips, incoherent pulses trying to paint a picture.
When I return to New York I’m going to return to this place once again. I don’t know if I’ll shoot more images, but I just want to feel it again.

Aint’ Nothing Like It

March 6, 2010

Tiny humans are magical. I don’t mean that in a unicorn way, but rather in a fresh, new way. I really, really enjoy tiny humans. You can see in their eyes the new world gleaming. It always makes me wonder what they must be thinking. I learn from them. I get really close and study them like a new species. They reach out, grab my hair or try to put their tiny fingers in my eye. I learn from them about seeing the world for the first time.

You might be thinking, “Okay wait, you are shooting a nine-month-old human with a Hasselblad?” Yes. I know, this is NOT the easy road. While wonderful, the 503CW film Hasselblad is not my fastest option. The easy road would have been 5D Mark II, autofocus and zoom lens. Me no likey.
For me this is the ultimate challenge and is in part what keeps me interested. I can’t talk to this little one. I mean I did, but it just bounced off. I sang to her which had slightly more impact, but she was on tiny human autopilot and you just have to roll with it. I’m not looking for 300 images, just looking for a few that count.

Throw in the tiny dog and you are lowering the capture rate even further. A bad thing you say? No. More challenging. Me likey. You know at some point you will have to wipe the lens, both from dog slobber and tiny human slobber, but hey, that is the rough and tumble world of the kid photographer. I can take it. And dog slobber has magic healing powers. Not sure if you knew that.

At one point, I shot 12 straight frames as fast as I could focus and wind. They were all in focus, and all displayed this tiny human in varying moods and facial features. I practice with this camera and am committed to using it, which is easy to do when you bring little else. Again, I like doing this to challenge myself, and force myself to not fall back upon what is easiest. You don’t have to change cameras or shoot film to challenge yourself. You can do it with anything. It is more mental than physical.

If you shoot kids or weddings you are in the repeat world of photography. As a magazine photographer I rarely found myself in the same situation twice. As a newspaper photographer I found myself in the same position a fair amount, or doing the same assignment two years in a row. It’s EASY to fall back into the routine world, far more challenging to look upon a situation with new, fresh eyes like the tiny human in front of your lens.

Hasselblad Gallery Page

March 5, 2010

So I have a gallery page on the Hasselblad site now.

Don’t get too excited, it wasn’t as if they came to me. Anyone who uses these cameras can have a feature page, or at least I think that is the case.

I don’t do too many of these things, but I like to see if there is any benefit in doing stuff like this. I’m sure there is if you drive folks to these features, but I’m always curious what happens naturally. Typically, not much, but still fun to see.

I love the cameras, and I love shooting square, so it was a natural fit for me. I also really love their scanners, and their H cameras, but they are both priced high, but if you can get one, well worth it. If you haven’t seen these scanners or cameras, take a peak. Regardless of your film or digital taste, the H is a great machine.


Fiber Prints Washing

March 3, 2010

This might be better after drinking a bottle of Nyquil.

I have to say. The more of these prints I make, the more I realize just how good they are. I’m not saying I’m a great printer because I’m not. What I’m saying is, comparing these prints to the BEST inkjet prints I can get, I still see a real use for silver.

Can you get great digital prints? Sure. And in some cases they look better than the analog version. I’m not saying, “never print digital.” What I am asking is “Why draw a line in the sand and condemn the analog process?”

I think most of the folks pushing inkjet are doing so because that is their business, and also because it is just far quicker and easier to make digital prints. However, as we all know, quicker and easier does not always lend itself to making something better. Look at initial auto quality. Or how about houses built with hand driven nails as opposed to nail gun. There are many more examples.

I tell ya, when this first print came up in the developer today, even after twenty years, I had a smile a mile wide on my mug. It never gets old.

So I know a lot of you are never going to go in the darkroom. I know a lot of folks have written off the idea of silver. So do this. Take one of your favorite negatives and have someone print it for you. Choose someone who is actually a good printer and have it done. You will be amazed.

And on a business note…. for those of you still doubting me. Over the past several years, when I have shown work to collectors, and I’ve given those collectors a choice as to whether they can have a silver gelatin print or a digital print…every single person has requested silver over inkjet. Every single person. In fact, I’ve never had a collector ask for digital prints. Ever.

If you only print digital, no big deal, people are willing to collect those, but when given a choice….I’ve had nothing but silver. In part, this was what drove me back to the darkroom after a FIFTEEN year break.

I tell ya. I feel, in some ways, like I’ve been missing the point for all these years. I realized for me, quick and easy was destroying my photography. Digital capture made me a sloppy photographer and digital printing made me a sloppy photographer and printer. Now, I’m S-L-o-w-l-y finding myself again. I feel like I’m thinking again, and when I’m in the field and I know I’m going to print in the darkroom, I”m FAR more involved in the photography process than when I’m shooting digital and printing digital, when I can rely on the electronics to save me from myself.

I see a future for me, and that future might not involve me “working as a photographer,” but what it does involve is me slowing down, working solely on my own work, regardless of where it ends up, who sees it, etc, but where I slowly and deliberately make images. In short, a departure from the modern photography world.

The ideal would be to have my own darkroom, which I’m working on, but even making prints in my current system, renting space, is perfectly fine. In some ways it reminds me of the “old days” when photographers would gather in the darkroom, exchange stories, insults, blows, etc. How can that not be good?

My message with this post is simple. Don’t just join the ranks of those saying, “Analog is dead, digital is better,” because MOST of those people have an agenda, and the agenda trumps your creative side. I’ve been to three shows in the past month, and two out of the three were printed analog, and were far superior to the show printed digitally, and it wasn’t just me expressing this view. So before we rush off into the next great thing, leaving behind everything that has gotten us where we are today, let’s take a second and use our heads.

Take a look around, it’s not like the photography business can get much worse.

Long Lost Friend

March 1, 2010

Somewhere in the Sahara

The idea was to attend the Visa festival in France and then head south and go to Morocco. Amy and I, and another couple, a photographer and his wife. The other photographer had family in Morocco so our logistics were somewhat worked out for us. We had a plan, a vague one, and a map.

We landed in Casablanca then made our way north. The route took on the look of a 2,000 kilometer circle which just happened to be flat in parts. Fez, south through the mountains, into the desert, back through the gorges, through Marrakesh, on to Essaouira and then back to Casablanca.

A white Fiat Uno. No radio. No air conditioning. Lots of water.

Between us, French, Spanish, English and Japanese. And a pinch of Yiddish.

This trip took place in 2000, I know because I had a mini theme going which was Polaroids of my wife, one each day every day of the trip, and the last shot I made was her in the cockpit on the flight home from Casablanca to New York. I knocked on the door, pre-9/11, and asked the pilots if I could get a shot of her in between the two of them as they commanded the plane. “No problem, come on in!” In a blast of flash it was done. I look at it from time to time, and the others, as I made a huge book of the images after returning home. It’s tangible, tactile and homemade. I love it.

This trip was not a “shooting trip,” but rather a real vacation, but we all know what happens when photographers go on vacation. But even so, I only shot about eight or ten rolls of film the entire trip. I never made contact sheets. I just processed the film, made an edit and then moved on.

But recently, out of the blue, after ten years, my phone rang. My phone rang with an unknown number, which meant I didn’t answer it.

It was someone I had worked with prior to this Morocco trip, someone who I happened to run into IN Morocco as we were leaving the medina in Fez. He looked at the four of us and said, “Would you like to go somewhere you could normally never go?” We said, “Yes.”

He took us back into the medina and into a mosque where Islamic musicians were learning ancient scripts which are passed from generation to generation only through verbal means. We shot photos.

Well ten years after my friend called to see about using these images for a book cover and CD cover.

All you digital folks take notice, in less than one minute the images were in my hand. Yes, in less than one minute. I had good scans of all the images, but I made new ones just because I like scanning, and in the process of examining the negatives I found something. I found several things.

New images.

There were several but the one in this post is my favorite. This was shot with my Leica, which was the only camera I took with me on this trip. We had spent the night in the Sahara, lucked out with a full moon, and were milling around the next day, just out in the dunes.

I love this picture because of the light and because it is simple. I also like the fact I’ve caught a gesture. On the negatives it lives as one frame, which for me is how most of my good images are made. There is no motor sequence, no posing, no manipulation, just watching, waiting and pouncing when things are right.

Like I do with all my good images, I printed this thing. I made a digital print, 17×22, but on paper I’m not happy with, so next week I’ll enter the dark and make a silver print. I can’t wait to see how it reads in the dark. I can’t wait for the time alone so that my relationship with this image gets deeper. I might print three of these new images, 16×20 and frame them for the house, or maybe just keep them in the file for now. I just know I need to do it. I can feel it.

When I look at this image the entire scene comes rushing back. Ten years ago but it feels like a blink of the eye.

Poem from Mom: Shining Through

March 1, 2010

“Shining Through”

pondering on the cabin porch
me and my old hunting dog
are alone watching the sunrise
I keep my arm around her
because the morning is cool
and we are getting old
we are beholding to the nights gentle rain
for kissing the near perfect first light
of the sun shining through
our leaping frog woods
magic of the morning
turning the wet cedar trees lime green
making raindrops clinging to the trees
and to each square of the rabbit fence
flash like colored christmas lights
dropping drops looking like comets
flashing and dashing on their way
making wet moss covered tree bark glow
with an air of mystery in the soft light
we watch as the close-knit gray clouds
at the edge of a storm
move in from the southwest
and quietly swallowed up the sun

Story Behind the Photos: Bush Sr. Blows the High Five

February 22, 2010

Digging through my archive is a lot of fun, and also reminds me of many experiences I’ve had over the past twenty years. Perhaps I’m feeling my own mortality? Nah. Just kidding.

Years ago, when I first decided photography was my deal, I ran into a friend of my dad’s. This guy was was from the Midwest, but felt more like Texas. Heavy accent. Heavy laugh. Former FBI agent. A GREAT guy. He always called me by my first AND middle name because we both shared same first AND middle names.

“Daniel XXXX,” he said. “I went to school with a guy who I think is a pretty big deal over at Time magazine.” “This buddy of mine lives in Washington, and I think he’s a top dog.” “I’m gonna call him for you.”

A few weeks later I was on a plane headed for Washington. Leica and Nikon FM2 in my carry on bag. The unknown waiting for me.

My dad’s friend was correct. His buddy was a big deal, had been for a long time, and more importantly, was one of the nicest people I have ever met in my photography career. It was instant access.

We hit the ground running.

“Drop your bags, we are on our way to The White House,” he said.

“You mean the place where the president lives?”
I said unsure if he was trying to freak me out. He wasn’t.

Over the following days we lived the lives of Washington DC photojournalists, during a time when this was a freakin great thing. I met tons of other photographers, all people I was in awe of, walking the streets in their tan jackets, Leicas around the neck, cigs dangling from lips.

We ambushed Ross Perot on the street, right after he announced his running for President. And NOBODY had these images! I banged and jostled with camera people and other snappers as we all pounced on the diminutive Perot(I also found this shot in my archive).

I felt like I’d landed in a movie about photojournalism and I was the unknown star.(Start crying now.)

We hit event after event, made the rounds into political offices, etc. I shook hand after hand, took copious notes and tried not to screw anything up. I think I even wore a shirt with a collar.

“I’ve got to go shoot the Navel Academy Graduation ceremony,” my new friend said. “And I got you a credential to stand on the bleachers in the back.”

Awesome. And then I realized my longest lens was around the 50mm length. “Don’t sweat it, I’ve got something for you,” my friend said as he produced a HUGE lens, Canon but with a NIKON mount.

Up early, stuck in traffic, battling for position and bingo things were set. He worked the entire area while I acted the part of sniper, using the long lens to pick off little moments here and there. I kept the wide angle around my neck, knowing the hat toss was coming.

Jets seared the sky.

Bush Sr. was doing the meet and greet handshake with each and every person graduating and I happened to snap the ONE TIME someone tried to high five him. As you can see, it didn’t work out.

And suddenly the hats were up.

We kept working the scene as the event ended. I was able to leave the bleachers and move around, long lens tucked under my arm, wide angle in my hand. I graduated from college but it was nothing like this.

For me, this time in Washington was decisive. This time was representative of a period I enjoyed, a time when the industry was still cloaked in a lifestyle I admired and strived to live.

I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.

The industry has changed. My friend is still there. And photography is still what I want to do with my life.

This trip also inspired me to give back to younger photographers starting out. I can’t offer them Washington, but I can offer them my own version of it, and for this reason I try to teach three or four times a year. Being with my friend, for a four or five day intensive period was like getting on the photo-expressway and merging right into the fast lane, foot crushed to the floor. I learned so much, so fast it was remarkable, and came away with many images I still enjoy today.

New Camera at Smogranch

February 19, 2010


February 18, 2010

Hey Orange County Peeps,

Wanted to alert you all to the upcoming show at SCAPE in Corona del Mar. Attached is the promo. SCAPE GALLERY LINK

There is a chance I’ll be out of town snapping away on some strange project, but even if I am, I’m going to try to make it back for this.

No, I’m not in the show. I have no wicked art skills or mad game when it comes to the canvas, hence my affinity for the light tight box we call a camera.

Pismo Beach Workshop: From the Technical to the Visual

February 14, 2010

Climbers bouldering along the shoreline in Newport Beach.

I’ve been teaching for several years now. I taught sporadically before that, but a few years ago I began to be asked to teach at several of the best photography schools/workshops that exist in the United States.

I had been around in the area for an extended time, had met many of those in charge of the schools and also suggested I would be interested in teaching.

Looking back at my photography life, there were key players in my development, no pun intended, and I thought it would be great to teach, and perhaps be one of these people to a younger, up and coming photographer.

I normally teach two different kinds of students, perhaps three. I teach fellow professionals, which is probably what I do the least, just because the class strategy is not what I’m most interested in, and the classes tend to be about the business of photography, which is hugely important, but perhaps not the most thrilling of topics. And for me, business is so personal it is difficult to make statements that would apply to every person in the class. Even if the entire class was about running a portrait business, there are so manys of going about that it is really about giving the basics and then forcing the students to figure out WHO they really want to be. Glamor Shots? Factory? Boutique? Working under another studio? So many options.

I also teach beginner level photographers. And finally, I probably teach more advanced amateurs or “weekend warriors” than any other group.

I love teaching beginning level students because they are total sponges when it comes to information, and in most cases, improve rather quickly, which is great fun for them and me. And the AA crowd, advanced amateur, is also fun because they typically have ideas as to the photographer they want to be, and I can help fine tune their path.

I’ve noticed a few things over the years.

First, the cameras today are far more complicated than ever before. Yes they have automatic features, but in most cases, the sheer numbers of buttons, drop down menus, etc, are enough to stump the best Jeopardy contestant. Not to mention lenses like 18-200 zooms with moving apertures and camera bodies with lens magnifications. YIKES. For most of my students, this is, and rightly so, very confusing.

And what I’ve found is that these cameras, although they are incredible tools, sometimes act as a near complete barrier to the learning process. I think this comes from the advertising(and our assigned hope to it), but also the belief that we want these machine to make us into photographers. “If I just let the machine do what it does, I know I’ll improve.” Wishful thinking, but far from the truth. The brain and eyes of the student are what matter and the development of these critical organs takes…….takes……the dreaded “T” word…..TIME, something in horrendously short supply these days.

I’ve seen a lot of students spend far, far, far too much time staring at these magical machines while they try to work in the field. For that matter, I’ve seen far too many professionals doing the exact same thing. Ever seen an sporting event? Ever seen the cameras pan by the sidelines and all you see are row upon row of photographers staring at their preview screens? That is just what I’m talking about.

Climber reaching for the next hold, the moment they must rely on their footwork and make the gamble they can stick the next move.

There is a question I hear a lot, or a series of questions I should say. They go something like this.

STUDENT: “Hey, what did you shoot that with?”
ME: “Hasselblad and 80mm.”

…a few slides pass by….

STUDENT: “Hey, what did you shoot that with?”
ME: “Hasselblad and 80mm.”

…a few slides pass by…

STUDENT: “Hey, what did you shoot that with?”
ME: “Hasselblad and 80mm.”

(You could insert “Leica and 35mm” as well.)

Okay, you get my point.

I get the “How did you do that?” question a lot. In the general scheme of questions, it’s a good question. But you see, I’ve been at this a long time, and I learned very early on, the machine in my hand, while important, is not what I need to be thinking about. In fact, any second I’m thinking about my camera is a second I’m not thinking about what I need to be thinking about to make great images.

So, what that tells me is, I’ve got to know my gear, inside and out, front to back, top to bottom, and need to be so familiar with it that I don’t ever have to think about it.

Look at the history of photography. Many of the greats used the exact same camera for their entire career. This is the polar opposite of what we are doing today. In fact, spoke with someone the other day, someone who reads this blog, who said that he was on his fifth camera in seven years, or maybe it was seventh camera in five years. Hey, and I’m guilty as well. Over the first ten years of my career I used about three different cameras. The past ten years I’ve used DOZENS. But I realized that was not a great way for me to progress as a photographer. I needed to settle down, realize it wasn’t the gear but rather what I was trying to show.

I also keep hearing a statement which I feel was more accurate in pre-digital photography, which is, “It’s not the gear, it’s the photographer.” Well, yes and no. Using a Hasselblad, 80mm and Tri-x will give you a certain look, so will using a Canon 5D Mark II. They are not the same look, and to get them to look the same, which I’m not sure why you would want to do, will take considerable time, time you could be in the field working. Your gear choice is a critical part of finding your style and finding the image you think you want to make.

Climber catches his shoes which were being thrown up to him by his climbing partner.

So here comes Pismo Beach, and a perfect opportunity for you to figure this out, answer these questions, and most importantly a chance to make new work.

The images in this post are here for specific reasons. As you can see by the captions they were not made in Pismo Beach, they were made here in Newport where I live. I made these pictures because I gave myself a “Pismo” assignment, or what I thought would be the exact type of situation we will be in Pismo. There comes a time when the lights come on, the projector shuts down, the door is flung open and we run from the classroom unleashing our knowledge upon the world. So one afternoon last week, I went out on a self-assignment.

I found the climbers, just a pair of kids bouldering and I knew I had my subjects. I approached, asked it I could shoot, they asked about my “old camera,” and we got to know each other in that way that people who just met but might not ever see each other again can often do. The light wasn’t great. I knew what I wanted. I wanted a small “picture package” that would sum up what they guys were doing. I wanted a man vs nature look and feel, and also wanted a sense of tension. I explained to them that I used to climb a lot, and that I still get sweaty palms when I watched other people climbing. I found climbing intense because I’m not comfortable with open heights, so even when I watch OTHER people climb I still feel that unease.

I knew IMMEDIATELY that most important shot for me was the hand on the rock with the entire face up above. I knew it before I even put the camera in my hand. It was a given. I also knew I could shoot it straight on because the light was coming from the side, which with film is a piece of cake. With digital I would have had to expose differently because I don’t like digital in side lighting situations. HOW DID I KNOW THIS? Trial and error folks.

In my opinion, light, timing and composition are the three most important parts of photography. So when I go in the field, I’m watching the world around me through the filter of those three things. If I’m thinking about anything else, especially what camera do I want to shoot this with, what is my lens magnification or how do I find my exposure compensation, I’m not really seeing with the clarity I need.

I had my Leica and 50mm, so I didn’t really have any gear choices, I just game myself that and said, “Okay, if you can’t make pictures with this, you are just not very good.”

I took a meter reading and started to shoot. I didn’t look at my camera, I didn’t look at the images I just shot. I just looked and worked, looked and worked. I knew that shooting the “reach” shot was a 50-50 thing because of how backlit the climber was, but I was only concerned with getting an image of the hand off the rock. I shot one frame and knew I got it.

I figured, at some point, one of these kids would make it to the top, which was probably about 40 feet up, and when you are climbing, or bouldering, without ropes, that is a good distance. Again, my palms were sweating.

So I looked up, took another meter reading and memorized what the settings would be when the got go to the top, so if I was shooting something else when he finally made it, I could quickly move to my “top of the climb” settings.

He made it, I made the switch, and then got lucky as his climbing partner began to try and toss his shoes up to him. I made two frames, but this one was the best. And in terms of exposure, I took the meter reading based on the idea that the climber’s face would be in shadow because he would be looking down. If I had just pointed the camera, the meter would have hit that sky and the kid would have been totally black. But, I also wanted those clouds, rare here in the Newport. So, I cheated my exposure a little bit toward the highlight.

If you are reading this and saying, “Holy cow, I have no idea what he is saying,” hey, don’t sweat it. THAT is what this workshop is all about.

The idea is to get beyond this technical stuff and go out, have fun and make your pictures.

If it makes you feel any better, I still make my share of mistakes. That is just part of being human. And some of those mistakes turned out to be good images.

This photography business can open so many wonderful doors and windows into other places or spaces, and even into the world you are most familiar with, if we just get past our gear and start really seeing.


The Pack

February 9, 2010

Snappers descend on an anti-abortion doll, San Diego political convention, late 1990’s.

This photo says a lot about a lot of things, but I’m going to narrow it down to just a few. Perhaps one or two are relevant.

I used to love covering events. Big news events, political conventions(which is where this image was made)football games, protests, etc. I loved the thrill of the action, the packs of roving photographers, the idea of covering something considered news.

But today I’m a different person, and a different photographer. Now, I search out other kinds of work.

Working around a pack is a strange experience, especially now when the pack is so much larger than it has ever been. The switch, for me, was flipped when I covered the political convention in downtown Los Angeles a few years back(Upcoming Post!). Johnny Law was out in FULL FORCE, out of control in many ways, clubbing civilians, gassing and shooting rubber bullets for no particular reason. It was exciting in some ways but there were so many other photographers, camera people, etc, that in some ways the most difficult part was cropping out all the other snappers. I realized I was losing interest in working around other photographers.

At one point the LAPD was arresting a young woman who was carrying a pocket sized video camera who screamed, “I’m a filmmaker.” Her protest did nothing, but it did make we wonder what level of filmmaker she was, why she didn’t have a credential and why she was getting arrested? Again, the police were way overboard on how they responded to the crowd, but her plea made me realize the days of really earning a credential, really learning the craft were probably in transition. This is magnified ten-fold today, when it seems EVERYONE with a DSLR is a director of photography or cinematographer or filmmaker or producer overnight, and the internet as final destination-no quality bar- has also added to this mess.

As the years went on this reality became more and more evident. At the Super Bowl it seemed there were as many people on the field as there were in the stands(And this was the Super Bowl I covered years ago). If you have ever covered the Super Bowl then you will know the guy with Pentax K1000, 50mm and monopod that has a credential and prime spot. Seemingly everywhere I went everyone had a camera and was a “journalist” or “filmmaker” of some sort. In theory, doesn’t this democratize the process? Isn’t that supposed to be a good thing? Then why isn’t it?

I found myself looking for quiet, space, solitude and my own stories. When I would encounter even a single other photographer I would head in another direction.

There were exceptions. I worked in Sicily, five times, and each time with at least one other photographer, sometimes two or three, but we were doing it because we were friends and because we were sharing cars, sharing gas money, etc. And, what we were covering was large enough we all had our own working space.

Sometimes when you work in a pack the people you are photographing will do things they would never do simply because they are getting so much attention. This can even happen when you are working solo, but in that case it is easy to just stop shooting. Getting a pack to stop is nearly impossible. When it comes to a big news event, these packs can really create a whirlwind of their own news.(Check the articles about Lebanon from a few years ago.)

The only downside to not working these events is that I have several friends in this picture, and I do miss being around them in the field. But, I see them “off the field” so it works out.

All I know for sure is that I’m a “quiet” photographer. I think there is an upside and a downside to this. The upside is peace of mind, and quiet reflective moments on MY negatives, moments that ONLY exist for me and no one else in the world. Think about this. When I work on stories, I’m the only one there, and nobody else on the entire planet has what I have. The downside, depending on your point of view, is the lack of interest in quiet moments. Loud places tend to get more attention, but even so, when I look at my future, I see more quiet, less noise.

I think the real signature photographers don’t work in a pack, never have, never will. And I’m not referring to myself here, just others of more important historical significance. Their work requires more time and a different concentration applied in a different direction than the news photographer. Think AM vs FM radio waves. Great news photography is a fantastic thing, but again, I think a very small percentage of those in the pack are doing great news work. Maybe it comes down to motive?

I keep waiting to see signature work from Haiti that shows me a relationship between photographer and community but I have yet to see it….and I’ve been searching. Granted, it’s early days and it’s difficult to do, and perhaps I should not expect this from pack made imagery. I’ve seen work that is clearly “better” than others, but still superficial, probably due to the need to get things out as fast as humanly possible. I keep waiting for the portrait level of intimacy, and not portraits of maimed or bloodied people. I keep waiting for relationship and story telling that comes with speaking the language-even with translator-and a simplification that relays the entire picture in one image, but again, this isn’t typically what the pack provides. I’m sure it will come. The good news is that Haiti is at saturation level in the news, which has led to some great things.

What I’ve seen FAR too much of is the dead, burning rubble, heavily manipulated images of smoke and mangled bodies and tilted overly complex imagery that seems to puzzle readers but seems to be the favored snap of the modern journalism world, especially young photographers and younger photo-editors. And I see reportage from photographers who are there for a few days, fill up their drives, and have already moved on to other stories. I’m not sure what the point is other than to say, “I was in Haiti” at gatherings where a statement like that holds water. And granted, there are plenty of places where it does.(It is precisely these places that I pronounce myself a wedding photographer and watch people scatter. Just a little game I play to satisfy my juvenile tendencies.)

Or contest time, when we all know that Haiti will dominate the winning portfolios. Again, motive comes into my mind. Pack areas tend to provide contest winning material. The suburbs don’t.

I’m sure at some point in my life, I’ll be around a pack once again. I’ll say hello to my friends and then go the other way, searching for my cherished solitude.

Poem from Mom: Slot Machine

February 8, 2010

Slot Machine

slot machine life
all those days gone by
stacked like stairsteps
stored on slot machine like film
running through the annals
of a 72 year old mind
like watching a movie
with no beginning
and no ending
starting and stopping at random
unorganized pictures
holding on to each other
to keep the present coagulated
laughing and crying
until the pictures stop
and I drop another coin
into the slot

My Comment on the BBC: Who Dat

February 8, 2010

My comment on the BBC this morning. Question was about sports bringing out the best and worst in human nature.

February 8, 2010 at 16:50

In short, both, which is what makes sport so important.
The same could be said of politics, religion, etc. It is the emotion that brings out more of a truthful representation of the picture that human nature paints.
We all know, at times, it isn’t pretty. But this is something we must confront not deny.
I also think to really know sport, you have to follow it, and not just when a story exists that captivates the country, but also during those down times when nobody is paying attention.
Believe me, I’ve been a Saints fan for 25 years, and many of those years were spent living in Texas where life is all about the Cowboys and pledging allegiance to another team is like taking your life in your own hands. The majority of those years, there was NOTHING written about New Orleans other than articles by local media. They were one of the league’s forgotten teams. A media black hole. “The Most Disfunctional Team in the NFL,” according to one of the few stories crafted during these years.
Last night a journalist friend stopped by, a non-football watcher, and after sitting with me for five minutes said, “How do you know all this stuff, I thought it was just a bunch of big guys running around.”
I knew it because, at least in my mind, I’m a real fan. Who Dat!

Story Behind the Photos: Ann and Jesse

February 1, 2010


I was “working” at The Daily Texan, serving my time as a staff photographer. I think they had a staff. There were so many people rotating in and out it was hard to tell.

There were two ways of working at The Texan. First, one of the PJ classes required you work there, and the second was to just head into the underground hovel that held the offices and say you wanted to work there. I did both.

As part of the class assignment, I won “Photographer of the Semester,” which I think I won solely because I was standing there when the photo editor realized he needed to, once again, hand out this meaningless award.

What I remember most of this particular day was the fact I ended up having to shoot an assignment near the section of campus that was covered with birds. Birds by the tens of thousands would camp out at this place and crap all over. I was wearing a black shirt, got crapped on, but didn’t realize it.

So my camera strap spread the white bird crap all over my back, shoulder, neck, etc, Some guy pointed it out with a look of disgust, “Dude, you got nuked.”

So anyway, back to these images.

Ann Richards(She might have already been in town) and Jesse Jackson came to town and I got the assignment.

Now at this point in my “career” I had little idea what I was doing. Some would argue the same is true today, but I say I at least THINK I know what I’m doing now.

I had my trusty Nikon FM2, wide angle and Vivitar 283 in hand, ready to bust this assignment in the gut. Only problem was, I had to get there first.

The Texan had a car. Kinda. I think it was a white Chevy Chevette. OLD. VERY OLD. In short, this car was a total deathtrap. Nothing worked, especially the air conditioning.

This car sounded bad, looked bad, drove bad and was a rolling black eye for the General Motors Corporation. I drew the short straw and fired up the beast.

It was Austin. It was summer. You could say it was a little hot. I baked in the Chevette.

Getting close to folks like these took a little time, so by the time I got close, things were ramping up and the power couple was doing their thing, moving around, shaking hands, holding kids, etc..

“Don’t screw this up,” was my typical mentality going into an assignment during those days. I emerged from the Chevette dripping sweat and covered in bird dung.

“Coming through,” I yelled trying to cut through the horde of onlookers. “Big shot, coming through, photographer, got an assignment people, deadline, very important, clear out.”

You have to remember I’m using manual cameras, manual focus lenses and a manual flash. I’m shooting a woman wearing white and an African American man, and I’m going from bright, direct sunlight to indoor conditions. This wasn’t easy. You had to know your system(I had a vague idea). Today you could do this in your sleep, and I’m convinced most people do.

So I start outside, blasting away, then the duo moves inside. With lightning reflexes I dart in front of them, but not TOO fast to make the guards think I’m a threat. Now I’m really sweating, and I’m sure the bird dung doesn’t help my status with the crowd.

Backpedaling I create my mental map. “Okay, if I’m roughly 8 feet away, and I’m at 1/15th of a second, then that puts me at f/8, so I should use the green mode on the flash.” “Or is it the white mode?” “Or yellow?”

“Ah, sir, you have bird crap all over you.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about lady.”

“The white mode or the yellow mode?”

“Ah screw it.”


Like monsoon lightning strikes my flash vaporizes the entire room. Each blast followed by the high-pitch whine of a battery trying to recycle. A full pop each time. A sound I would learn to fear.

As the couple hit the end of the hallway the crowd faced a bottleneck and I had to turn my back on my subjects. I had nowhere to go.

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my back. It stuck like it was covered in glue.

I slowly turned and found myself facing Ann Richards. This Ann Richards had a look of alarm on her face as she slowly unstuck her hand from my back. There we were, toe to toe, both of us with looks of alarm.

“I think I just sweaty bird crapped Gov. Ann Richards,” I thought to myself. And she had the look of “Dude, I think you just sweaty bird crapped my hand.”

But Ann was a trooper. Ann wasn’t afraid of getting dirty. Ann was a hunting, fishing, Texas gal, and although there was a moment of dread in those eyes, it quickly disappeared and she shook it off, literally, like a pro, and moved on.

I actually shot the second image AFTER the sweaty bird crap moment. Jesse wisely avoided me.

I knew I had what I needed, so I raced back to the mighty Chevette and in a cloud of oil smoke and whining fan belts I careened back toward the office.

Into the darkroom.

Rolling film.

Processing film.

Drying film.

Editing film.

A full pop on the flash. Uh oh.

My negatives were like dominoes. Black and white. Nuked again.

Negative in the enlarger. Lens wide open. I began my complicated prayer method of salvaging film.

The first print. Garbage. Way too light.

I suddenly realize, “I’m hosed.” So I just turned the enlarger on and left it on. Ann’s hair became my enemy. “That hair, that hair, that hair.” I can’t burn it down. Nothing worked. I took off the filter. I poured straight dektol on the paper. I tried hot dektol. I painted it on.

The darkness became my tomb.

Through a series of magic potions, scalding hot chemical baths, luck, anger and many loud shouts, I got a “workable” print.

I dried the print.

I typed my caption.

I casually strolled over to the editors desk and tossed the print in the “ready” basket. “Piece of cake,” I uttered, smiling sheepishly while slowing backing away.

I manage to move toward the exit then sprint off toward my dingy apartment. This is pre-cellphone people. Once you left that office you might as well have been in Afghanistan. There was NO WAY to communicate.

I probably should have read the flash manual, but I don’t think I did. The next morning the paper came out, and the image looked okay. It was newsprint people. Think toilet paper.

I went back to the paper, picked up my assignments and headed off, all the while looking up, trying to avoid those damn birds.

Middle Aged Men And The Sea

January 30, 2010

I love to fish. Always have. Mom taught me to flyfish when I was really young. Like a lot of other things these days, I don’t get a lot of time to do it, so I gotta make time. But every now and then I get to at least photograph other people who are fishing.
But these guys are not fishing for fun, they are fishing for a living, and as you can imagine, there is a huge difference.

These guys live and work near Bahia Kino on the Sea of Cortez. I was initially drawn there to see if I could photograph the abalone divers who work off of Isla Tiburon(Shark Island), and hopefully one day I will be able to return and do this. But on this trip we just didn’t have the time required so I ended up spending what time I had with the guys who fished for fish.

These guys were great, allowed me to do whatever I wanted. I got up early, before sunrise and made my way down to the water. They were making their way in and I took a few moments to snap a few images. I like these images, these rounded corner, Kodachrome images, simply because they represent a lifestyle I admire and they remind me of the fragile nature of our world, our sea and our future. For me there isn’t anything better than getting up with the sun and making pictures. The noise of the day hasn’t begun and the light has direction and color and there seems to be a permission to enjoy this time, and to make pictures.

These were done many years ago and I wonder where these guys are now. I wonder how the catch is today. I wonder what their future holds.

Maybe one day I’ll drive back down and bring these images, see who is around and how their life has changed.

New Work from Matt Black: The Dispossession

January 27, 2010


A few months ago I did an interview with Central California based photographer Matt Black. Besides having perhaps the best photographer name of all time, “Matt Black” he is a damn good photographer.

I like Matt’s work for several reasons. One, when I see his work, I can feel his name and know he was the one behind the pictures. In other words, he has a recognizable style. Second, he shoots close to home. I’m sure he has traveled, in fact I remember a picture of his from Bolivia, but he does a lot of work in his own backyard, something a lot of photographers neglect to do or don’t think about. I’m guilty. I dream of foreign lands not Orange County. So when I see something like this, I have a great appreciation.

This is a HUGE story in these parts, but seems to be nearly forgotten by those of us living “downstream” of the Central Valley. Crisis only begins to describe what is happening. I come from a farming/ranching family, at least in part, so when I hear of water shortage, unplanted land, etc, I know the snowball effects.

Imagine skyrocketing unemployment, far higher than most places in the United States, farmers leaving land unplanted and water being withheld or not being there in the first place. Much of our current news is centered on Haiti, our dual wars in the Middle East and the health care debate, but all the while stories like this churn like category five storms in the background.

I thought you might like to take a look. If you have thoughts, please leave a comment and let us know you are all alive.

Story Behind the Photo: Unknown Mexico

January 26, 2010

Cemetery somewhere south of Nogales

I don’t remember where this is exactly, but I remember the trip. Circa 1993 or 1994

Somewhere in Mexico, south of Nogales. Another photographer and I made a voyage. She was a staffer at the paper, I was an intern.

No real plan, just drive south and see what we find. Those were the good old days. White, Toyota Corolla, a few bucks, a few rolls of Kodachrome. My Canon. My Leica.

We started near the water, then drove to Hermosillo. Rumor had it the Chupacabra was in the area. We never found it but we did drink illegal moonshine from a tiny cap. It was beyond powerful and made the back of your skull go numb.

Then we drove into the desert.

We found a cemetery where something was going on. Maybe it was Dia de los Muertos.

I think this guy was stunned by the hippie gringo, or confused. There was probably a few “Who are you?” And, “What are you doing here?” But they were cool and we made a few pictures.

That camera in my hand was the game changer. EOS 1, and 20-35mm 2.8, the first of two zooms that took the photography world by storm, as well as the first real autofocus camera to land in full force. I used that camera and that lens for YEARS. That was a Leica M4-P with a 28mm, which I sold. HUGE mistake.

I just scanned this last night and was blown away by how good these old chromes look. I think this image was Fujichrome, but I was shooting Kodachrome on that trip. I’ll post a few of those later. These chrome had great skintone, and also handled the highlights with ease. Plus, there is a depth and texture to them that I have to try to add in when I shoot digital. It never works quite the same. Not sure why it would.

The Great Deluge

January 23, 2010

Four days of Southern California rain.

Haiti is in big trouble. It was in trouble before the quake and now it is in critical trouble.

We all know this now, and we knew it very soon after the deadly quake hit this small Caribbean island.

But after visiting one of the global news sites, and seeing that they had 33 different stories and 23 different films, all about Haiti, all located on the homepage, I was confronted with a question I couldn’t answer.

Is this too much coverage? Is this beneficial, or like my tiny piece of California soil, has it reached the saturation point?

We now have the ability to cover world events in real time, which initially, and in most cases, is still viewed as a great thing. I agree, in some ways.

One part of me says, “The more the better.” “Haiti is in big trouble the the more attention we give this story the more benefit, the more aid will pour in, and it will be impossible for the world to ignore the situation.”

But I’m not sure this system is working.

When I hit the news site that had all these stories, you know what link I clicked on? Guess. Come on, guess.

I clicked on the Golden Globe winners. I did. And frankly, I’m not interested in the Golden Globes, the Oscars, any of that stuff. Nothing wrong with it, but I just don’t follow it. So I was really surprised when I found myself staring at a complete list of winners.

What happened to me was total overload of the Haitian news story. And I AM interested in Haiti. I AM interested in the region. I AM interested in following the story. I AM interested in the photography emerging from the story.

But it was too much. It was short attention span news.

I turned on the television, the first night the networks landed, en mass. Here were lines of reporters on the ground with very little to say. They would pass the mic back and forth and basically explain what they saw, but in most cases they really had little to nothing to add. I just wondered why all of them were there, and how much of the annual news budget were they spending on this one story.(And then two days later some of these same people are hosting cooking segments on the morning shows.)

Wouldn’t it be better to slow down, get the story, secure a few facts, do some EDITING and then present what you know in ONE clear, concise report?

Instead I got a Twitter-feed-like shotgun pattern of reporting. It had little to no effect. Again, I KNOW this situation is horrific, so I don’t need the play by play. I need the facts.

Day One: 100,000 dead
Day Two: 50,000 dead
Day Three: 200,000 dead

All over the map. But I wonder why report this in the first place. We know there are many dead, so why throw around numbers when you have no real idea what you are talking about, and these numbers are impossible to verify.

Look, I don’t have an answer here, I’m just wondering if I’m alone in this. I keep thinking to myself, “No, this coverage brings attention.” But again, I’m not sure it is working like we think it works. Do other people turn off to this?

And as for the photography, the same applies.

Day one, we were flooded with cell phone imagery. Its horrible quality, but at that point it’s not about quality, it’s simply information.

A day later, the “real” photographers arrive, and the imagery looks much the same but the quality level of the imagery, the resolution, the sharpness, etc, gets better.

Day three and on, the photographers land in platoon strength and now all bets are off. Every single day we are blanketed by hundreds, thousands, if not tens of thousands of images from every possible angle. Again, much of this imagery looks alike.

And here is where the pendulum shifts.

By now there are people on the scene with the ability to give us more in depth reportage. Perhaps they are photographers, journalists, with a history in Haiti, and IF GIVEN THE TIME, MIGHT have the ability to tell us what is really going on. But based on the modern news cycle, they too are rushed, and contribute little more than similar photos, stories, that we have already seen.

For me, I would love to say to this small group of people, “Please, take your time, get the story, get what you need, take the time to edit, find the best way to present it and then bring it to me(as in publish it).” “I will stop what I’m doing and give you one hundred percent of my attention.”

But again, this doesn’t happen. What does happen is dozens, if not hundreds of more carbon copy news stories land in the multitude of information channels.

It’s a very strange situation because in some ways what I’m asking for is more thoughtful, perhaps more beautiful work to be created from a horrible situation, but in the end, I think this is what will deliver the most impact, far more impact that the current style of heavy rain.

I’ll give you an example, and I’m pulling this out of my butt, so hang with me.

Back in the early 1980’s, part of the Sahel, or perhaps all of the Sahel was in the grips of a major famine. A photographer named Sebastiao Salgado decided to go and see for himself what was happening. He went on his own, at least I think he did, bulk rolling his own film, living a tough existence.

Now I’m guessing here, but I would imagine he was on the scene for at least a month, perhaps more, shooting, traveling, compiling images. And if I had to guess, when he returned to Paris or New York or wherever he was living, it took another few weeks, months, to collect the work and then…..release it.

Now this photographer is not a spot-news photographer, a front line war photographer, but that is partly what I’m getting at.

Maybe there were other photographers on the scene, wire service people putting out images in rapid fire, but the work that had the REAL IMPACT was the black and white work of Salgado. It is the ONLY work I can remember from that story. I remember seeing it for the first time and freezing because it was so powerful I could not look away. It was thoughtful and presented well.

I would imagine he didn’t send, transmit or publish anything during the time he was there, so you could say, “Well, if he had then perhaps the world would have known about the situation earlier and perhaps fewer people would have died.” That’s a good angle, but I would imagine there WERE photographers doing this….so where was the impact?

There is another layer to this.

So now Haiti is flooded with media personal, and I mean flooded. I would imagine a HUGE percentage of annual budgets are being spent on this story, and maybe that is a good thing. I asked another photographer who had been there why this was happening, why this story was being attacked in such mass and the answer was, “Because they think they can win a Pulitzer.” I’m not gonna touch that one, but it is something you have to consider.

But the real problem with this is when people blow their stack and attack a story like this, it typically doesn’t last long. You hear tales of “image fatigue,” and Haiti is about to experience this.

Then, when the time comes to really solve the situation the world is completely burned out on the story, and the media outlets don’t have the budget remaining to keep covering the story at the depth it needs to be covered.

So you have the NGO organizations suddenly becoming the only way for journalists, photographers, etc to gain access and make work. Most of these folks are working for free, or working for wages that are below poverty level, which contributes to the limitations placed on them. And you see the cycle we have created.

The photographer Sara Terry created her Aftermath Project based on this concept. Just because the bullets stop flying or the Earth stops shaking doesn’t mean the story is over.

I think it is completely unrealistic to think this is going to change anytime soon, but I for one am really growing tired of the superficial, super fast bombardment of information that seems to increase on a daily basis.

When is enough enough?

Fingers crossed for Haiti.

Looking for a Look

January 21, 2010

So I had this idea.

But I need to experiment to get it where it needs to be.

It’s about Orange County. Living here. Just something that dawned on me the other day.

So I went out and I began the great hunt, only I didn’t know what I was hunting for exactly.

So I go out, walk around, shoot, come home, process and then study what I have. Then I go back out, tweak what I’m doing and try it all over again.

I’m getting closer. I’m not there yet, but I’m feeling something. I’ll figure out where I’m going and then go there.

Here is the first image.

It involves a high speed film, a filter, a hot developer, constant agitation, a bit of flashing(not that kind!), and some luck…….

It’s not there yet, but I’ll get it eventually.

Two Views

January 20, 2010

Can anyone spot the knee brace?

Hiking. Orange County. My buddy shoots. I shoot my buddy.

The background is fake. Orange County is all pavement, but my buddy mocked this thing up from historical photos from other parts of the world………

Two looks. Two photographers.