30 May, 2008

Portfolio Review

Okay, so I was at a review. I wasn't getting my work reviewed, but I was lurking around the perimeter of OTHER people getting reviewed. Being a photographer is a real burden, and it means a perpetual feeling of needing to do something, regardless of where you are or what you are doing.

Another photographer said to me once, "I'm not a guy that carries a camera around." This was his way of saying he ONLY made pictures while on assignment, which for him was what worked.

For me, this doesn't work, not at all. I shoot all the time, and carry a camera all the time, and in many ways find making pictures far more enjoyable when I'm NOT on assignment. In fact, to me, there is nothing better than just walking around and shooting, regardless of assignment, job, etc, and regardless if anyone ever sees those images.

I think you truly find who you are as a photographer when you are alone and working only for yourself. When you have been given no direction, you need to find it yourself, and this forces you to ask, "Who am I?" and "What do I want to say?"

If you have nothing to say, this could be an issue, so be prepared.

These photos are an example of what I'm talking about. These pictures are LOADED with other photographers, so if anyone can guess who they all are you get.....you get...nothing really, other than me saying, "Wow, you guessed them all."

27 May, 2008

David Hume Kennerly at Orange Coast College

As the photo-world changes around us it is easy to see the differences in not only our photo-society, but also the photographers that inhabit this world. Our industry, in some ways, is a reflection of society's attention span, and with the near-overload of visual stimulation, the average attention span has been reduced to nearly nothing. Take for example the average time a person spends in front of a painting at a museum, around four seconds, and you learn where we are headed.

Consequently, the idea of a legacy, of depth in our work has also been altered. In the "Old Days," magazines like The National Geographic had seemingly endless assignment times and photographers worked for YEARS on projects before they were considered worthy of attention and consideration. Today ushers in the micro-assignment, the two-day photo-essay and the first-year photo student who thinks their work is instantly relevant.

Recently, due to Canon USA's Explorers of Light program and the photography department at Orange Coast College, I was able to take a step back into the past and spend a few hours with a photographer who is a perfect representation of the industry of old. David Hume Kennerly is by no means retired, and continues to build on his legendary archive, but is also a perfect example of someone with depth and a lasting legacy of imagery that will, chances are, never be duplicated in the "modern age."

Kennerly, if you don't already know the name, is perhaps most widely known as the personal photographer of former president Gerald Ford, but Kennerly's history goes way beyond this period of his life.

His career began at age 14, and catapulted him into the center of most of the memorable events of the 1960's, 1970's and beyond. The night after shooting the Ali-Frazier fight in New York, on the eve of his 21st birthday, he boarded a flight for Vietnam where he was to spend roughly the next two years of his life. Vietnam, as it did for most journalists to witness this war, changed Kennerly's life. He left Vietnam older, wiser and with a Pulitzer Prize for his efforts.

Back in civilian life Kennerly was asked to be the personal photographer for Gerald Ford, a job he accepted on two conditions: he only reported to the president directly, and he requested total access, anywhere at anytime. He was granted both and immediately began to make pictures that would forever change history and how photographers covered the president. Just a sidenote...we have not seen coverage like this since, and probably never will. In fact, the subsequent press secretary for then president Carter said when asked about who the photographer would be said, "Well, I know we are not going to have another Kennerly running around."

The efforts of his time with Ford have recently been published in "Extraordinary Circumstances"
Post-Ford, Kennerly continued to cover major news events for publications such as Time and Newsweek.
During his lecture at OCC, Kennerly spoke in a relaxed but focused manor. I've been to MANY lectures, and I have to say, he is really good, AND, Kennerly is one of the few photographers out there that could speak to high school students or a senior citizen group and totally pull it off. His work stands up over time.

He described his work as being simple, but I'm not sure that is quite the right word. In some ways, compared to the tilted frame, overly complex, somewhat overdone images of today, you might look at Kennerly's images and think they look simple, but I see a skill level that surpasses most photographers working today. Remember, the bulk of these images were done on "stoneage" equipment, manual focus, meter/no meter,etc. They were tack sharp, exposed correctly, AND, they were probably made in ones and twos, not thirties and forties as we make many images of today.

Most people do not spend their days analyzing images, and sometimes the pictures that end up running today are so sophisticated it is clear they are intended to influence only a tiny portion of the viewership. I think it is good that pictures like this are created and used, but sometimes you have to ask "Who are we trying to reach?" Are we trying to win an arts award or are we trying to educate our viewers. Let's call these thick images and thin images. Kennerly's pictures are thick.

On a sidenote, I first met Kennerly when I worked for Kodak, and ended up being the van driver for his workshop class at the Eddie Adams Workshop in New York. It was Kennerly, an editor from Newsweek, a bus full of rabid workshop students and me. Was it fun? Yes, but the hours SUCKED and I didn't get to shoot anything. Good news, we didn't lose any of the students.

In short, if you get a chance to hear this guy lecture, make the effort to go. You will get a chance to see one of the rare individuals who has managed to survive, reinvent, continue to make pictures and enjoy photography as much today as he did when he was 14.

26 May, 2008

Such a Square

I know, I know, this project that just won't go away. Well, get used to it, only the beginning, early days my friends. All these pictures were made at my home. I can only see the rest of the world by turning on the TV that I don't really have. Have I mentioned that? I have a TV, yes, but I don't have cable, which in today's world is like saying you have a car but it doesn't have an engine.
Not having cable means you get about four channels, all of which are just horrific, but I do get channel 23, which seems to only broadcast one show. Luckily this show has everything you could ever want in every episode, such as women in bikinis holding signs, a little person in a Spiderman costume, several guys in cowboy hats, and an audience shooting fake cheese at the commentator.
What does any of this have to do with photography? Well, when you only get shows like this, you tend to not watch much television. So, I walk around the house making pictures.
So far, I think I have about 30 pictures in this series.

23 May, 2008

Junk Photos Anyone?

Okay, this is not a straight photo-post, but the information came straight from a photographer, so it still counts right? Right?
You like junk? Who doesn't?

I love it when someone dreams up an idea, no matter how out there, and just goes for it. The "Junk Raft" is a perfect example of this.

Okay, so we all know about the floating island of garbage in the Pacific? Anyone? About the size of Texas, hard to miss, killing bird life? Anyone?

Okay, if you don't know about this the "Junk Raft" is designed to bring awareness to this exact issue.

What is the "Junk Raft?" Well, check it out.


Cornell Capa

Cornell Capa has passed away in New York at the age of ninety.

For those of you my age, or older, his legacy is something I need not describe. Brother of the legendary war photographer Robert Capa, Cornell was profoundly influential in the history of photography, a true hub of creativity and power that many of us owe much of our histories to. I had nothing to do with Cornell, never met him, spoke with him, etc, but I feel many of the opportunities I have had, were in some way traceable to the sphere of this man, and others like him.

For the young photographers out there, if you don't know who this was, you owe it to photography to go and find out. It is cliche of me to say this, but I'll say it anyway. There really aren't many, if any, people like this coming along. Our industry has changed, caught up in the minute attention span of the modern world, growing shallower and shallower each day as the depth of creativity evaporates before our eyes.

“I am not an artist, and I never intended to be one,” he wrote in the 1992 book “Cornell Capa: Photographs.” “I hope I have made some good photographs, but what I really hope is that I have done some good photo stories with memorable images that make a point, and, perhaps, even make a difference."

This from a guy who FOUNDED The International Center of Photography.

Let's hope his life's work will be preserved in books and features for years to come.

Photos From The Sun

I'm not sure who figured out this process, but kudos to whoever it was. Odd, crumpled, IMPERFECT, grainy, dusty, off-color, what else can I say. Solar prints.
When I was making these prints another photographer was observing....a "modern" photographer we shall say. I messed up the first few prints, experimenting with times, exposures, exploring the options to get what look I was going for.
This photographer got fidgety and said I should start calling around or searching the internet for EXACT directions and options to master this process.
"Hey, relax, messing up is part of the process," I said. It bounced off. They left to race home and "duplicate" the look in the computer.
I used the print wash water to water my plants.
The images are from Polaroid Type 665 and are of the missions in San Antonio.The process is unpredictable. I did straight prints, unwashed prints, frozen prints, overexposed prints, underexposed prints. And by the way, these images are just straight. Scanned, uploaded.

22 May, 2008

I wanted to write something about this attached program and person. I met Karen Sugar about a year ago, via a third party, I think, and we began to discuss a project idea she had regarding micro-finance in Gulu Uganda. Let me be straight, I knew nothing about the program, but Karen was inquiring whether or not I would be interested in going to Uganda to make pictures for the program.
I had heard of the "Night Commuters," of this area, but basically knew very little about the situation. Karen, never having been to the area, was not only interested, concerned, etc, but was motivated enough to actually DO SOMETHING about it, which is more than enough for me to tip my hat and say, "Well done."
Fast forward to today and see the attached photo and you will see Karen has made her first trip.
If you have a minute, and we all do, take a minute and read this.
We live in a big world, a fast world, a world where typhoon victims can't get aid due to a military junta, and where 40,000 Chinese disappear in a ninety-second rumbling of the Earth, so I know it can be overwhelming to think about anything outside the boundary of our life, but we have to. We don't have a choice. I believe all of us are connected, in one way or another, and not a day passes that I don't think this more and more.

Women's Global Empowerment Fund, Gulu 2008

Women's Global, a microfinance non-profit organization, is helping women in northern Uganda to rebuild their lives and start business of their own. The progam began one year ago and has over 250 women receiving microcredit loans and educational programming. On a recent trip to Gulu, Karen Sugar, Executive Director, met with the women in the program to address their needs and see the enterprises first hand. Women's Global held their first "Stop Violence Against Women" training program where over 50 women attended the two day training.

The women in the photo represent a borrowing group named Amore United and is made up of 11 members, all with different small bussinesses. They have recently repaid their first loan and have applied for their second in hopes of expanding their businesses and paying their children's school fees. For more information, to make a donation, or to get involved, please contact Karen Sugar at microfund@ gmail.com or visit our website @ www.wgefund.org.

Karen Sugar, Executive Director
Women's Global Empowerment Fund

21 May, 2008

Photo Madness

Wanted to give you a heads up to another blog, an interesting one, coming at us from the bowels of the southeastern parts of our grand land. http://www.coulditbemadnessthis.blogspot.com
You never know what you might find on this baby, which is reason enough to take a peak. I know you spend most of your day here, at Smogranch....but when you do get a break, take a look and drop Jim a line.

20 May, 2008

Truth in Editing

A friend wrote me a long email today regarding this last post, and in his email he made some great points I wanted to touch on here. He referred to editing as the "Essence of Art," which I think is a very valid point. I tell clients the edit is as important, in some ways, as the actual making of the photos.
He also asked if I look back on an edit and ask myself, "What was I thinking?" Yes. Without a doubt. I make mistakes all the time.
I pick images that are not the best. Time heals all wounds right? Well, looking back on an edit, or even better, a contact sheet, will teach you volumes about your thought process.
Looking back you will also find "hidden gems" you looked right over the first time.

Do this, go back to your files and pull something from ten years ago. Take another look and see what you find.

The photo included is from the same shoot as the last few posts. This image, to the grandmother of the boy, was the best image. To me, I like the image, but it wasn't the best. Doesn't matter. To each his or her own. That is what is so great about all this, there is no right and wrong, just options, styles and how we all see differently.

19 May, 2008

Editing Your Photos

Back in the day, when I went to school, there seemed to be far more emphasis placed on the "art" of editing. You shot, made contact sheets, edited from those, then entered the darkroom and made prints. Making darkroom prints goes far beyond pressing "print," and is a difficult and complicated process. However, it did, in a way, FORCE you to actually edit.
Nobody wants to spend time making a darkroom print of a lousy photograph.
Fast forward to today when we have the ability to shoot nearly endless photos, and in my experience, our talent at the edit has fallen off dramatically.
My advice...make prints.
Even in the digital age, with the cost of ink and paper, nobody really wants to waste supplies, time or money, and making prints will FORCE you to actually edit your work.
With the ability to shoot endless images we can compile huge numbers of pictures, and due to this we sometimes feel that these images have instance relevance, when in actuality, they might not.
If you shoot 500 images, a HUGE amount if you think about it, and make take your edit to 400, you are not really editing.
Consider this...take the average photo-essay, where a magazine may run, at best, eight or ten images. How many did the photographer make for the entire essay? 300? 500? 1000? And they took the entire package down to eight or ten.
THIS is editing. It isn't done by accident or by chance, it is a thoughtful process, and why do you think the position of "editor" still exists.
This brings me to my second point. Hire an editor.
If you are working on a "serious" project, hire an editor. Or, take your work to several other photographers who will help you trim the edit. We get emotionally attached to our work, and when it comes to making the best edit, often times, you have to take emotion out. It's difficult. Very difficult.

I make an edit, then I make prints of those edits, nothing fancy, nothing sublime, but just enough to make me ask, "Is this really good enought to print?"

And, a tight edit help everyone involved. I've been amazed at how quantity has become a selling point with many photographers, and the unsuspecting client might actually think having a ton of images is a good thing. But, making a good edit not only helps the photographer it helps the client wade through the take. When people search for your images, or look for certain pictures, having a tight edit saves everyone time and shows you are more than just pressing the shutter.

17 May, 2008

Brother Photos

Okay, the last post from this shoot. Okay, maybe not. Just thought of another lesson to be learned by unsuspecting blog readers, a lesson learned from this shoot. But, in the meantime, here are a few from the brother. This kid is a lot of fun to photograph. And, as evidened by the first posts, he is clearly skilled in the art of Kung-Fu, which makes any shoot far more entertaining.
By the way, the idea with much of this shooting is to make images that are simple and as real as possible. I don't believe in perfection, especially when it comes to photography and kids.
So much of the imagery we see today is so over-the-top with Photoshop and post production manipulation, and the vast majority of this type of work, in my mind, either takes away from the overall image, or is trying to substitute for a very average original image.
Nothing in life is perfect, so why would images be? If it looks to good to be true, chances are, it is.
I think what we miss in our attempt to "create" perfection is honesty and REAL emotion, whether that be happiness, sadness or even boredom, and when you photograph kids you are always going to get a combination of all of these.
The question is, where we will stop? Already, many of the portraits, wedding images, and now even the documentary images I see are saturated beyond anything real life has to offer, and are sharper than what the human eyes sees? Why is this? Your eye doesn't selectively sharpen, so why do your images look this way?
In the words of a good friend, "When did reality get so boring?"
It didn't.
Often times the most important images, or the most relevant, seem to be images that reflect a time, a place or a moment. Often times they are very simple, straight images that will look as good in thirty years as they do now. They are not about technique, they are about content.
Look, in high school I dressed in parachute pants, white high-tops and an Izod shirt. I thought I looked really great. However, I sure as heck don't want to look or dress like that today. The same can be applied to our images, they are, after all, a testament to time and are intended to last.
I think many of the pictures today are dated by their manipulations, which is something I try to avoid. Remember the bride in the wine glass? Today's version?? How about the wedding image that looks like a sci-fi movie poster? How about the seventeen adjustment layer portrait? These are dated the moment you hit the "flatten image" button. I think these pictures will provide great entertainment in the future, which is a good thing, but perhaps not in the way they were intended.
If the pictures are good, you don't need adjustments layers, masking, selective anything. You just need the picture. Okay, and maybe parachute pants.

16 May, 2008


Okay, from the same shoot as the last post, but this time just sis. Windy, cloudy...perfect conditions for a shoot, especially here in SoCal where it is sunny nearly all the time. I shot a total of 180 frames during this shoot and had about 110 images that I considered usable, printable, etc, which even if I do say so myself, is a fairly high success rate. I think efficient shooting sometimes gets completely lost today because we have an "endless supply" and ability to just "shoot and shoot," which I find, in most cases, a very poor way of working.
If we learned from our mistakes I might think differently, but most of the time, we just shoot fifteen bad images from the same spot, as opposed to the "old days" when we shot two. A good photographer doesn't NEED nor WANT fifteen options. Why? Time. Who is going to edit and how long does it take?
I think I learned this during my newspaper days, which were few, but high-energy. You couldn't shoot more than a few images because you just couldn't afford the time to edit and print. You were THOUGHTFUL, even in times of high-stress or deadline. You made it count!
When I work I know what I have when I am shooting. It is not often I find a "miracle" shot in there that just completely caught me by surprise. Sometimes with my documentary work I will take many chances, but these are single frame chances, and I still have a darn good idea whether or not I "got it." This is what makes photography so fun, taking chances, and for me, NOT KNOWING until those contacts come back.
Instant gratification is not for me, and really takes the mystery out of photography. I know that is blasphemy in today's photo world, but it is just how I feel. It's me, just me, nothing more. Don't feel threatened! You can report me if you feel the need.
Kodak Portra 160 VC. Canon 1v.

This camera, by the way, is YEARS old and working just fine. No eighteen month lifespan, or need for new software, firmware, etc. It just works, and is far more responsive than anything in the pixel world. Oh,and when is the last time you looked through a fullframe viewfinder on a film body. You will be amazed. I really just started using it again after a long break and was really surprised how good this thing in. How quickly I forget. It is light, bright and ultra fast. Go figure.

More Brothers and Sisters

These kids are fantastic. Really, and I have been able to work with them since they were itty bitty, and they just keep getting better. This time around I realized they had reached a new level,age yes, but also maturity, and as I began to shoot we had actual conversation about photography, video games and kung-fu. Then, it was brother and sister once again. I just sat back and snapped away.
By the way, this shoot was done on the new, reformulated Kodak Portra 160 VC, and I have to say, it looks incredible.
Just look at what an overcast day can do to add mood and density to a portrait session.The balance of cold blue tones are muted by the warming film, but the skintone stays where I want it.
This first set of images are just snaps of both kids, but I will post more later.

15 May, 2008

The ET Highway

I have posted about these images before, but someone was looking for images of this area and as I pulled them I realized I could write about them again. If you haven't seen this area, fill up your water bottle and check it out. Remote would be the key word, fenceless, open range and miles of it.
We all make fun of the Area 51..area for lack of a better word, but this place really is odd. And, you know there is a lot going on in the "area" that we don't know about.
Hasselblad, 80mm and Tri-x. Pretty simple.

13 May, 2008

Ground Level

Imagine roaming the Earth at this level. Kid level. A new perspective can be pretty refreshing. Remove the prism, place the camera on the ground and snap away.

11 May, 2008

Back to Back To Back To Back

I love photographing kids this age. You can see in their eyes the newness of their surroundings. They haven't been with us long enough to take anything for granted. The feeling of grass on their feet. The rays of light splintering through a palm frond. Leaves, drifting in the breeze, all things that will hold their attention. These images were shot within seconds of each other and express the range of emotion and fascination we all have, or at least had!

09 May, 2008

Recent Portrait

One happy kid. He never made a peep the entire time, other than laughter.

Pool Portrait

Just shot this one last week. I love this. Zeiss, 35mm and Tri-x. Made one or two frames but like this one the most. The light was nice, late and from an angle.

Fred Roberts at MOPA

Fred Roberts is an interesting guy. A "late bloomer" by his own admission, at least when it comes to photography, Roberts shows no signs of lagging behind. In fact, you could say he bloomed right into the photographic fastlane.

With two major books in circulation, gallery representation across the United States, and now his first major show at The Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego you could say, in a profound understatement, that Fred has found significant photographic success.

Spend any time with Fred and you can see why, besides the photos, that he has found this success. In short, passion. Fred has it in abundance.

I attended the opening of his show at MOPA and made these images.

08 May, 2008

To Live or Not to Live

There was a decision to be made. There was no right or wrong, just a choice. The assignment had changed. The deadline was no more. All the options were inside one Tenba bag, black, just sitting there. "What are we doing today?" I asked.
A 5D and four gig cards. A 1v and five rolls of 36. Left in my hands. The decision. My automatic response was 5D...to save money perhaps? A fast turnaround? Would I save time?
But wait. Was it? Is it? Would it be?
I grabbed the 1v and the first roll of 36. One lens. And then I shot. Three people, one big, two small. One hour. Five rolls.
I didn't need twenty images of one scene because I got in it the first two. I'm supposed to be a photographer remember? 180 pictures. A lot, more than I need.
Getting in the car, pushing the start button and my mind hits autopilot. Download to the desktop, label folders, open Aperture.....but wait.
No need. I think I'll make a salad instead, write a little bit, sit on the back porch and think. Film, job is already gone, shipped off. Now I have my life back. And now the mystery remains. The anticipation that so many find difficult to understand. Buzzing.

06 May, 2008

The Unexpected Photo Essay

I've covered a lot of sporting events in the past. I've never really been a great sports photographer although I really do like sports, and when I have a spare moment, which is rare, I will watch what I can.
The guys and gals who shoot sports full time are remarkable, and although it might look easy, it isn't.
Many of the top sports photographers know the game as well as anyone, and use this knowledge to predict where the great images will be. San Diego Chargers, third down in the red zone....who are they going to pass to? Antonio Gates. This is what I mean. I know this info, but like I said, I'm not a great sports shooter so I may or may not get Gates as he hauls in the TD pass.
What I like to do when covering sports is to look for something different, or something that is part of the game, but perhaps not what the average sports fan is used to seeing.
Case in point, Rafael Nadal during a post match interview at a tournament in California. Fake plants, bad lighting, journalists, old tennis posters on the wall and the sterile, machine parts needed to hold this event. It's odd, its void of excitement and glam. It's the nuts and bolts of what these players do when they are not hitting the ball.
To further things, I shot square and black and white. Hey, why not?

Color Balance Lens


Okay, occasionally something comes along that makes my life easier. Not often mind you, especially in today’s world of gadgets where we THINK we are making things easier only to realize we still haven’t figured out how to set the timer on our VCR, our now obsolete VCR.
Sometime last year, thanks to an old friend in Los Angeles, I was given one of these babies to play with, to experiment with, and being a typical photographer set in my ways, I just left it in my camera bag.
Well, about six weeks later, while shooting, I looked down and saw this beast tucked away in an outside pocket. I felt bad. The person who loaned me this is a really great guy and I thought to myself, “Use it, test it, and send him a report.”
So I did.
I now have a new favorite tool for the “front end” of my workflow, at least when I am shooting digital. Color balance is not romantic, not flashy, not really that interesting, and for the most part is rarely spoken about in the photography world. We love cameras, and in most cases photographers think that their day begins with loading that first card, setting the camera to auto white balance, focusing and snapping that first frame, and for many, I’m learning, that is how it does begin.
But, but, but, just hold those horses for one minute. I was guilty of this as well, for a long time, but now I have a little secret that I use BEFORE I fire that first frame.
The “Color Balance Lens” or “CBL” was designed and manufactured in Korea, and in short, I know how it works, but even if I didn’t it wouldn’t matter. What is important is that it DOES work.
In short, you place the CBL in the light falling on what you are photographing and you then photograph the CBL as it fills about 75% of your viewfinder. I then hit the “Custom White Balance” menu option on my Canon 5D and it asks, “Is this the image you want to use for your white balance?” I hit “yes,” and boom I’m off to the races.
This disc measures the color spectrum and creates a “recipe” for color that my camera understands, and man o man you can’t believe the difference.
On my first shoot I did half with and half without the CBL and just looking at thumbnails you could see a HUGE difference. I don’t shoot digital anymore without first using the CBL.
This is not to say you are not going to make adjustments in your post-production, but your starting point is so much better than what you get by allowing the camera to figure things out.
What is interesting is that I have spoken to many photographers about this and the range of acceptance has been varied. Many photographers respond, “I don’t need it, I shoot RAW.” It has nothing to do with RAW, and I only shoot RAW as well. Digital post-production is about time and efficiency, and this tool allows you to be more productive, more efficient and saves you loads of time. One photographer said, “I never need to color correct because my eyes are so good.” That was stunner, and I wish I had their eyes, although I have to say, I’m somewhat skeptical of that remark.
There are many ways to get to from point A to point B, but this one, to me, is the best I have seen.
Often times when I hear photographers speak of their field practices there is a feeling of “I’ll fix it in post,” which always makes me scratch my head. Not that I don’t’ LOVE scratching my head, but perhaps what makes the most sense is to make the BEST possible image in the field so that you have to spend the LEAST amount of time in post? The CBL is a great first step. Check it out. I've put a before and after sample to show you what I'm talking about.