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Friends in Front of Me

December 8, 2009

I don’t often post my “work” images, but perhaps I should. I’ve gone over this before, but I’m always careful not to make this avenue of communication into a full-on sales assault on your senses. I do a lot of portraits, but rarely do they make it up on the ranch.
But, every so often, I shoot something that I think has a specific meaning that might be interesting to contemplate. These pictures are from a recent family portrait, which in itself isn’t anything novel, but the folks in these pictures happen to be long-time friends. I’ve known Paul since the early 90’s, and his family as long as they have been a family. You can search the Earth for a better dude, but you won’t find one. Well, maybe Hugh Hefner, or some other guy that gets to spend his entire day in his pj’s, but other than that you won’t find anyone better. When Paul called me and asked me to do this shoot I of course said, “Sure,” but I have to say, a shoot like this comes with a different feeling. First, they are friends, and you want to rack your brain to make something special for them. Not that this doesn’t happen with people I don’t know, it does, but with friends there is on one hand LESS pressure, because they are friends, but on the other hand there is MORE pressure because they are friends. Add to this the fact that Paul is a photographer. A really good one. And I know as a photographer what it feels like to make something good, and I know what it feels like to fall short. So making pictures of a fellow photographers ramps up the internal demand even higher. Now this is one of the great things about being a photographer. A shoot like this is like working out because your heart races, your mind races and the list of “what if’s” goes on and on. Shoots like this are over before you know it, and cause me to suddenly wake, as if in a dream, as I’m packing my gear, thinking to myself, “Wow, what just happened?”

I think this first image is perhaps my favorite. For some reason it feels natural. At first I thought the spacing was wide, but the more I look at this picture the more I like it. I don’t think I could have posed them any better. I’m not sure what was happening at this exact moment, but I remember the light going in and out and in and out and me trying to figure out what to do, in what light, in what direction, etc. I had never been to this location before, and frankly it was complete and total overload in the best possible way. MOST of the time I’m working with locations that are nothing like this, locations where I’m struggling to find a place to shoot. This was the exact opposite, there were too many places to shoot, and having this happen really does create it’s own issues. Ahh, if only we always had to deal with issues like this……

This image might be a little odd, or dark, or whatever, but I like it, and knew I would like it when I saw the cross. This sky is RARE in these parts, so knew that I had to someone use the darn thing. Family portraiture comes with history, tradition and baggage, and I know their faces are out of focus. Just deal with it. I promise it will all work out. I know what they look like, so I don’t need to see them! If I had my way, I’d print this for the sky and let them go completely black, but hey, that’s me. I’m having flashbacks of a young photographer telling me I was “unprofessional.” A great compliment in my book.

Father and son. You gotta have it. I have it. I remember pictures of me in a duck blind in South Texas, golden mullet flaring from my trucker hat as I waded from the blind to retrieve our downed birds. Dad was there, his disc camera whirling, his fat fingers fumbling with the odd buttons as he cursed under this breath, “Damn this damn photography thing.”He knew he wanted to cement the moment, but the technical task was not his strong point. This image to me is simply about foreshadowing. This image is about me and Paul playing with this little man for years into the future. I see the first football game. I see hanging around the high school trying to score chicks. Okay, just kidding about that part, but I do see it as the future, as the beginning of a lifetime of images.

Imagine trying to photograph a spider monkey just released into the wild. Imagine trying to photograph a spider monkey just released into the wild with a camera that you have to look down into. Imagine getting dizzy, blacking out and falling over. That’s what it was like trying to pin down this little firecracker.
I figure when I’m 108, she might be at an age when she’s slowed down enough for me to photograph, but in the interim, I just get what I can. This hot light shot was something Paul mentioned when we got there. I thought it would be easy. I’m a slow learner.

This shot is simple but I like it. You might be thinking that my focus was the hair or the eyes, but actually that’s not the case. For some reason I think kids teeth are really funny. I think seeing teeth in kids is proof we are born to be carnivores, and I can’t see a kids teeth without laughing. Also, this was a great chance for dad to pin her down for .2847584566349934 of a second. Don’t worry, she was only upside down for less than an hour.

And finally, I had to put this in. That sky. It’s rare folks. And this location, it’s rare as well. I’ve been thinking about this place a lot, and thinking about how great it was. I could go back with Paul and the family, over and over and over and never really tire of this place. In fact I think that is probably a good idea. To go back every year and just keep creating pictures as the family grows and the years pass by. I see a book about Paul’s family on the horizon, with this image on the contents page. At least 700 pages, printed on virgin, Redwood timber paper and the world’s most expensive ink. It would totally be worth it.
In all seriousness folks, I like this shoot, but it only wet my appetite for more of the same. I want more of my friends. I want more family. I want more time together. I want more time to dream and create. I want more time to record history.

I don’t think I’ll be content until we go back. But when am I ever content?

Happy Trails.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. David Wissinger permalink
    December 8, 2009 6:50 pm

    Well, the hot light shot is hands down my favorite. It’s great in every respect. The first shot puzzles me though. When I think of family photos I think “together”. This one makes a point of separateness. I’d be interested in knowing more of your thoughts on it. Finally, I love the location. Whenever I find a cool location, everyone else has as well and its like a knife fight to get a shot without the cast of Ben Hur in the background. So, how’d you get the place all to yourselves?

    • December 8, 2009 7:02 pm

      Well, the first shot I really like because of that distance, which as you say is not what I would normally do. I was attempting to pose them, but hadn’t really done a good job of it and they just sort of landed in that position, which for me feels really natural, more so than what I could have done posing them. I don’t do a lot of family images, and posing a group of people is not really what I like doing, so for me this was just luck, and their natural feeling. I have images of them together, and some of them are fine, but I think this one has a real sense of a moment, perhaps not a perfect moment, but that is not what I’m going for. I don’t think perfect really exists, and when it does, often times, it looks kinda fake.
      This was at the Mission in SJC, but you have to be on a list to shoot there, I believe. Late in the day, crowds gone. But I’m not sure this place really gets super crowded in the winter. Heck, I’ve been to the Missions in San Antonio, and had the entire place to myself.

      • David Wissinger permalink
        December 8, 2009 7:10 pm

        OK, I know what you mean about group poses, even small groups. By the time you get limbs, heads, hair and light where you want it, there is no moment. Plastic smiles and irritability. How did Paul and his wife like the shot?

        Many of the public places in Northern California require a permit to shoot. But it seems to only matter if you drag in tripods, lights, reflctors, diffusers, etc. If you show up with people and a camera you can go almost anywhere, no questions asked. At least that’s been my (limited) experience so far.

      • December 8, 2009 7:37 pm

        I think they liked the images, but again, for me, we only hit the surface. There is much more we can do. Well, for me, permitting is a very sensitive issue, and it drives me crazy. Down here it is very confusing, and trying to find out what permits you actually need is a real challenge. You have state, county, city, local, and often times it is difficult to figure out where you are, and what you actually need. It took me three months to get my last permit and frankly it worked in about 10% of the places I was going. The guy in the permit office actually apologized to me because no one seemed to know what I needed or how to get it, but said I would be fined if I didn’t have it.
        I’ve been asked a few times for my permit and when ask why I’m being asked I get a different answer every time. I’ve even been told it depends on what equipment I’m using, which is unbelievable. I’ve also been told “they” don’t differenciate between a HUGE production shoot with casting, catering, etc, and a portrait photographer photographing a kid with a Leica.
        I think at the heart of this is money, as always. So, I don’t shoot anywhere that requires a permit, or I try not to. I figure why give these places my money, my time, when I don’t seem to be able to get a straight answer from anyone.
        And, some of my clients are really perturbed about permitting as well. They feel if they own a house in the city, pay taxes, they should be able to have their portrait made.
        It’s just one of those strange hoops you have to jump through to work here. I think a HUGE number of photographers don’t get permits.

  2. December 9, 2009 9:23 am

    those are all pretty nice. I do like that top one. It’s classic. It’s also very hard to see and make that picture. I’m not sure you could do that with a 35mm. I’m still scratching my head on how you use the hassy handheld.

    • December 9, 2009 6:17 pm

      I think with the Blad you gotta commit to it. And, you have to realize your going to miss some things. You will have the out of focus image, the not perfect image, but that is what I’m looking for in some ways. It’s slow. It’s clunky. I did a shoot the other day and shot a total of 48 images. It’s just a different method than shooting digital. I would imagine people are shooting 300, 500, 700 image during a digital shoot. That to me is a little odd. It’s spray and pray. But, I can’t see certain advantages to do that, but I can also see what it does to the photographer overall. Film is the great equalizer and shows who can shoot and who can’t.

      • David Wissinger permalink
        December 9, 2009 7:28 pm

        I have exactly zero experience with Hasselblad…or any format other than 35mm. Not one roll of film; not even one frame. The evil camera shop I frequent has a used one with a 80mm lens and the eyepiece viewfinder attachment. The whole rig is $1,800, which sounds reasonable to me. They’ve offered to let me shoot with it some weekend, but I know what would happen…and they do too. I love the clunk/slap of the shutter. It’s the anti-Leica!

  3. December 9, 2009 7:17 pm

    excellent images of the geros. sjc mission? i should get you to come down and do a session with us. it’d be nice to be off the hook for awhile on capturing moments of the girls. 😉

    • December 9, 2009 7:32 pm

      thank you. I would love to go back there, I gotta get on the list somehow. A great place.

  4. December 10, 2009 7:20 pm

    Dan, I really like this shoot. I mean, REALLY. I am a friend of Paul and Nikki and the family so like you, I am seeing it a little differently. Having Kate upside down is priceless as you noted, you HAVE to TACKLE her and hog tie that little cutie !

    Now on to permitting…. I have shot at the Mission but I really steer clear of there (unless I leave the camera at home) as well as other places that require a permit. I would understand it more if they were trying to keep the areas clear and more inviting to photographers but I have seen days there when there is a wedding going on and 2-3 engagement shoots all at the same time. That to me is more about the moolah than the photo-traffic.

    So, thanks for sharing the work stuff !

    • December 10, 2009 7:57 pm

      Hey Pesh,

      Thanks for writing in. What is really a bummer is that MOST places now require a permit for “commercial photography.” But getting anyone to define that is the hard part. All the beaches, most places anywhere in a city, etc, all require permits, not just places like the mission or specific private property. So depending on where you go, how many locations, you might need three or four permits for one shoot. City, county, state, etc. My last permit was hyper specific, county locations only, and you could drift ten feet on the same beach and be in a state local or city and not know it. I even had someone who was helping me get the permit say, “You might not know where you are during a given shoot.” I was naming locations and he was saying, “No, that is state,” or “No, that is local, and then then state, and then back to local.”
      So, I try to void anywhere I need a permit. Less hassle.

  5. December 11, 2009 7:44 pm

    Something nice happens when you look at these pictures, perhaps because something nice was happening when they were taken. mom

    • December 11, 2009 7:48 pm

      Are you saying it was because I was there? I know you are.

      • December 11, 2009 8:31 pm

        Perhaps. You can fool some of the people—oh well, yes because you were there. mom

  6. Ruth Anne permalink
    December 15, 2009 6:23 pm

    I rarely get to see a good image *of* my brother…it’s sort of the analogy of the cobbler’s kids going shoeless…the photographer’s sister never seeing the photographer.

    The fact that he trusts you with his important images speaks volumes of your obvious and great skills.

    • December 15, 2009 6:42 pm

      Or, he was desperate? Your bro is one of the good guys. I should be making far more pictures of them than I am. My bad. Thanks for reading.

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