30 December, 2008

Poem from Mom "What do you know?"

the wind whispers
where are you going
what do you want

have you found
a single answer
for sure

your search is still

those about you
wander without rhyme
in the stillness of time

the silent seeds
buried deep
begin their growth

far from wandering eyes
revealing all
we need to know

19 December, 2008

Flora & Fauna

I think most of us photographers have an all-encompassing need to make pictures.

There is a big difference between BEING a photographer and dabbling in photography.

Dabbling is easy now, just buy some gizmo and start snapping. No waiting, no real cost other than time, after you buy the image making machine. No waiting for film to come back, not waiting to print, just bingo and you are dabbling. In and out, in and out, but without the need to really give yourself up.

But with most people the need fades, vanishes, never to be seen again.

But I think for those who become photographers, the need to make pictures suddenly becomes the most important thing in their non-human life, and by that I mean the most important thing beyond friends, family, life, etc,

But, even then, there are a fair number of photographers who put image making before ANYTHING else. The virus is that powerful.

They will alienate all those around them. They will fixate beyond belief.

It takes that level of need to really succeed in this business. Success comes in many forms, and financial success, even thought super-difficult, is the EASIEST to attain.

In my humble opinion, there are plenty of very successful "photographers" who aren't really photographers, but are really more marketing and advertising people. They are very talented at the game, perhaps not as much with their actual images, but are shooting all the time, very profitable, etc. But, in the end, you can never hide from the images, and within the dark reaches of the photo world, you know who the real image makers are.

And believe me, there are less and less making the grade. There are far more photographers, and far fewer are true visualists. There, I invented a word for the day. Or maybe that is already a word?

I'm not putting myself in this "visualist" category. It is not for me to put myself there. This category is where you find yourself, perhaps secretly, when someone else puts you there.

My point in all this is that I think you realize how bad you have the virus when you make pictures like I have here.

These are not even photographs, not make with a camera, nor are they printed on "photo-paper." They were not made for anyone. They were really not made to be seen, sold, shown, used or displayed.

I just made then, and not really because I wanted to, but more because I HAD to.

At home, restless, forever restless, and that need to make something comes along. It won't go away. That incessant need to go online, back to the web, to surf, like a shell of a hope that you will find something to distract you. But in the end it never does.

So you head out to the yard and make something. Anything.

The plants in the yard become your focus, the scanner your transition team, and Fabriano, uncoated, art paper your final exam. You make one, two, three, four, you lose count.

The phone rings, the email bings and it just fades away. Noise.

You have to get this done first. For who? Nobody. For what? Because you have to.

17 December, 2008

The Little Things

When I was very young, and living in Indiana, our cousins from Michigan would come to visit from time to time.

One year, my cousin Tom came wearing a red and white polka-dot hat.

This was no normal hat, far from it. Not only was it covered in polka dots, it was bright red and was made in the tradition of the train conductor, so the hat was really tall in the front.

This cap was hideous, but we thought it was the greatest thing any of us had ever seen. We all wanted that hat, fought over that hat, screamed and carried on until we had those hats. My poor parents.

I'm not sure where these things came from, but we all had them, at least that is the way I remember it. It was the early 1970's, in Indiana, which explains a lot. I also had bell bottom jeans with the skyline of a city bleached into them, complete with rhinestones for stars, homemade by my mother, just to give you a sense of place. Dad owned a swamp.

Fast forward to today.

So when I made these pictures, and I saw the t-shirt, "Make Toys Not Bombs," a part of me said, "Ahhh, that is something that 50 years from now, these girls are going to look back on and laugh.

The shirt, unlike our rural Indiana polka dot hats, is not hideous, it's actually really cool, but it is a small piece of life that will be frozen in time, as long as the negative or print lives, and can be tied to a specific time and place, and chapter in their lives.

I love details like this. They are the residue of who we are, who we were and who we will be.

I like images that are personal, and when you see something like this, it shows personality, individuality, and again, it is one step beyond the standard portrait. The pictures say, "This is us, right now, right this second," and that is all we can ask for.

I'm not after the standard picture. I'm not there to cover the bases. I'm there for the 1-2 picture edit. Total.

I'm hoping that I can continue to photograph these two, so that I can build an archive of their lives. I know that next year, or the year after, there will be another red, polka dot hat in their life, and I want to see it, record it.

16 December, 2008

La Familia

I've done some posting in recent weeks about photographing families, so continuing in that direction, I wanted to add a few images from a recent shoot.

Photographing families is not easy, at least for me, and I torture myself trying to think of ways to mix things up.

Great images don't happen that often, regardless of how many pictures you shoot, and typically a great image only comes along in a fleeting moment.

One thing I see a lot of today is the motor driven, 72 frame "moment," like a bride spinning perfectly in backlit conditions, smiling and twirling her hair, over and over, trying to make it appear as if this happened naturally, but forcing everyone to just sorta, kinda believe that it might have happened that way, only everyone knows it didn't. Does that make any sense?

I guess what I'm getting at the is "perfect" moment that is somewhat expected now in photography. I detest these perfect moments. Why? Cause I know that 99% of the time they are not real, and real is what I think is always the best when it comes to photography.

I know, I think I'm in the minority. I'm doomed perhaps. If I am doomed can someone let me know, perhaps send a memo.

So, I wanted to post these two images, both of the same family, and tell you my thoughts about why I did these images and why I like them.

"But hey Dan, why would we care?" you ask. Good question. But it's my blog, so my rules apply. You must do everything I say.

The first image, the black and white, I think, goes against what most "rules of portraiture" are. And I'm sure the traditionalist is building a voodoo doll of me as I write this, and perhaps I deserve it. But wait, there was thought behind this.

You can't see their faces right? A family portrait where you can't see the faces? Are you serious? Yes. I was.

Where is this image going to go if it is chosen and printed? Chances are, in the house of the family right?

Well then, who is going to VIEW this image? Other than the family? Chances are, MOST of the time, the picture will be viewed by people who know the family, people who without being able to see the faces, will know everyone in that frame. So.....you don't NEED to be able to see the faces. Everything you need to know is right there.

The image is reduced to what black and white photography is about, shape and shadow. Oh, and speaking of this...I've never understood shooting color in digital, and then converting to black and white. You shoot black and white, and color, so differently, that when you just shoot color and convert, most of the time, it looks like color converted to black and white. I know that sometimes we have to do this, but shoot a roll of black and white film and it will show you what I'm talking about. It's different, and forces you to really look in a certain way.

Sorry, on my soap box again.

Okay, the second image. In short, I love it.

This family is so fun, and they have tons of energy and personality. So what do you do when you are lucky enough to work with a family like this? Just get out of the way and let them be who they are!

I really like this image. It's spontaneous, real, fun, active, etc. It's one of my favorite family pictures. And guess what. There is ONE frame of this. One. I think I tried to squeeze of three or four pictures on the old Blad, but fast is not what this is about. I watched, waited, watched, waited and then bingo. Shooting with the Blad is like using one of the old black powder rifles where you had to carry your powder in a horn, and a patch, and a priming rod, and you got one shot, then had reload is this odd, panicky dance, hoping to get another shot off before being overrun. Think Last of the Mohicans. Only I'm not as cool as Danny Day Lewis and can't reload that fast.

For me, this is what photography is about, the elusive moment. I could have sat back and fired off 72 motor-driven images, but that, to me, is not photography. I don't know what it is. And, who wants to edit all that? UGH.

In the future, I can see myself going more and more in this direction. It's a real challenge, and you must be ready to face the reality that you don't always get what you want, something that goes totally against this "new idea of perfection" we are seeing in photography.

Personally, I find perfection boring and unrealistic. I want what is really there. Hope, sadness, despair, glee, all of it, as long as it's real. When you finally get a moment like that it is like pouring a gallon of clear sealer on the world at that very moment, preserving it for eternity. All that energy is sucked like a vortex, raging against all the power in the world, in slow motion as that mirror churns inside the metal box. CLUNK. And it is done, and gone.

15 December, 2008

Poem from Mom

Now, before you skim over this post I need to alert you to something about this particular poem. You might miss what I'm about to alert you to, which is critical to the understanding of the entire piece.

Mom writes about a recent snow at her cabin in Texas. A snow. This is not normal. Snow in South Texas is a rare beast. Couple that with the fact it was 80 DEGREES the same day it snowed! So, a tiny, little 50 degree temperature change. When is the last time you experienced THAT?

the texas snow
came quietly in the dim light
it was 81 degrees at noon
and snowing at midnight
the changes came fast
with a cold blast
at 3am Gypsy and I
went out to see
a picture to be
snow on the metal roof
gave us proof
its beauty is quiet
and we did try it
our hand cold as a snowball
flew and did fall
this snow was not done
for Houston it was fun
childrens angels under the sun
a rare visit from a lovely guest
showing us its best
dripping icicles melting quietly
white moonlight on white flakes
tracts in the morning snow
in its white magical glow
what a show

14 December, 2008

Poem from Mom

"Lonely City Christmas"

it's christmas in the cities
dusk finds them as the lamplighters come
leaving the gaslights flickering
on these lonely people caught by nets
with no way out their loneliness floating
in a river of tears finding its way to
unfulfilled hopes and dreams
photographed by the flash of empty tv screens
alone with their quiet doubts
am I enough or do I need to surf the net
to find more to fill my hourglass as the sand
falls spinning around the satelite
that sends the world to me
and Judy Garland sings telling you
to have yourself a merry little Christmas now
and next year your troubles will be far away
a twitching cat sleeps dreaming of a life it never had
Bing Crosby sings I'll be home for Christmas
if only in my dreams
slowly silently their loneliness is absorbed by
their fathers old cloth handkerchief
they are the old metal rollerskates
the key screwed tight to their spaulding saddle shoes
if they fall they will skin their knees
they cannot see the bottom of the hill
but will start down it anyway
a childs childhood caught in rerun memories
tinsel still on the christmas tree as the needles fall
catching them as they hear the cities call
merry christmas to all

12 December, 2008

The Layout

Sometimes odd things happen when pictures are put together.

Soft, grainy, cropped, fractured moments that end up next to one another and suddenly they fit.

The lost art of editing, or is it luck? Chance? Circumstance?

Life shuffling cards.

Two verticals that equal a horizontal.

Side by side. Strangers no longer as they are married on paper.

A click and it is done, the thoughts forgotten.

Living only on reflex now, but mostly enjoyable.

Carry on.

11 December, 2008


Some recent snaps by LA photographer Michael Napper.

Mr. Napper is not your average snapper, and if you haven't checked out his work I highly recommend you do so.

His work is simply different, transcending the art/painting/photography world in a unique way.

And oh ya, all done in the analog tradition, no computer trickery on his horizon either.


09 December, 2008

The Little One

The Hasselblad clunks with the first frame of the day.

"Are we done yet?" she asks.

"Nope, just one more picture," I respond.


"Are we done yet?"

The games we play to get these images.

The Little One never stops, rarely stands still and using this camera, in this slow methodical way, is not easy, but when the stars align it makes the image that much more enjoyable.

In today's world, often times, after hearing the clunk of the camera the kids will ask, "Can I see it?" but the Little One knows not to ask. We have done this too many times, and they know I don't work the other way. They know my response to that question.

"What fun would that be to see the image?" I ask.

"If you see it that easily, that quickly, you would forget it and it wouldn't last more than a second in your mind, the magic gone before it had a chance to build."

So now, after the long days have passed they know to start expecting to hear from me.

Then, cryptic text messages, written by the little one. "Waer r the pixturs?"

Patience, good things come to those who wait.

07 December, 2008

The Gold Rush

I wish someone a lot smarter than me was writing this, but I feel like this topic is something that really needs to be discussed.

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

“Everything is going multimedia.”

“I’m learning video because everything is going multimedia.”

“Multimedia is the future.”

“If you don’t do multimedia you aren’t going to have a job.”

“Multimedia will save _____________(insert entity here, newspaper, magazine, business, pet, mortgage, education, etc.)”

Okay, I think you get the point.

We are now in the middle of the 2008 version of the Gold Rush. Over a hundred years ago there were a lot of people around the world talking about riches just waiting to be had. All you have to do was make your way to the frozen tundra, climb a mountain range in the middle of winter, confess your love of tunneling and you were set for life.

Today we find ourselves in a footrace to buy the latest digital, motion gadget and start making films.

I don’t want to be the one to break the bad new, but this will not save photography.

Photography, in my opinion, can only be saved, and will only be saved by photographers finally making sound business decisions, and as important, photography will be saved by great photography. (I have made bad decisions and plenty of bad images.)

In the past decade we have gotten away from both of these things. The number of bad decisions we have made is astounding, and sadly we continue to do these things today. Whether this is working for free, signing bad contracts or allowing ourselves to compromise our work, all of which have degraded the foundation of our “industry.” All of which have degraded the BELIEF of what photography is and what photography represents.

We are producing far more pictures than every before, but the overall quality and thought level is not what it once was, and I’m not talking about pixel vs grain, I’m talking about the SOUL of the pictures we are producing. Imagine an automaker ramping up production by 500%, what do you think happens to their initial quality? We have shifted from being about photography to seemingly being about technology.

I think as a collective we have been standing around waiting to be told what to do, instead of asking ourselves, “What is it that I REALLY want to do, and how can I present this in a way that works for me, and for whatever client I am working for?” (I once did an entire wedding with 665 Polaroid, shot like 15 pictures the entire day. It’s doable!)

Let me regress:

In the late 1990’s I was working for Kodak in Los Angeles. This was the time when digital cameras really made a leap in terms of quality and functionality, and a time when many photographers, organizations, agencies, etc, all began to look at this equipment as a legit product.

But what was it that drew many clients to this new technology? Was it the quality? No. What it the speed? Not really(PJ yes). Was it the functionality? Skintone? Highlight detail? Workflow? No, no, no.

It was price.

Yep, plain and simple. Price.

Clients thought they could get work cheaper.

No film and processing, this MUST be cheaper.

And here is where the first monumentally bad decision of the digital age happened.

Photographers, not all, but some, began to provide digital imagery CHEAPER than analog.

Even though the investment was HUGE, more time was required, more equipment, etc, they began to sell digital shoots at the same level as analog.

In fact these digital pioneers were providing something new, something exciting, and something that the analog photographer could NOT provide, but the value of that didn’t seem to transcend the photography world.

Once clients got it for free, there was no way they were ever going to pay for it.

Within a few short years, and the advancement of the equipment one more precious generation, came the “Gold Rush” of the late 1990’s.

And what did I hear?

“Everything is going digital.”

“I’m learning digital because everything is going digital.”

“Digital is the future.”

“If you don’t do digital you aren’t going to have a job.”

“Digital will save _____________(insert entity here, newspaper, magazine, business, pet, mortgage, education, etc.)”

Are you starting to see my point? Our industry is in the state it’s in, even AFTER digital was supposed to save it. The digital revolution injected revenue and excitement at a level not seen since the days of the Brownie, and yet STILL didn’t save us.

Again, good decisions, good images are the ONLY things that will survive.

Last night I watched “Trainspotting” a movie I had not seen since it’s release many years ago. I loved it then, and loved it now.

I love film. I love motion. I like the idea of film making, etc, but I don’t see it as interchangeable with still photography.

And speaking of still photography, I’ve been at it for nearly 20 years and don’t feel as if I’ve even come CLOSE to reaching the potential of what this medium offers.

I can’t imagine trying to do stills and shoot video at the same time. Throw in recording sound and I have visions of “the one man band” character playing seventeen instruments at the same time, but not playing any of them particularly well.

Case in point, look at most multimedia pieces. They are not great. Sure, there is sound, there is motion, there are images, but as a product they fall flat.


The photographs aren’t very good.

I know, I know, I’m a jerk, but hear me out.

I don’t like to give negative reviews, but the bulk of multimedia pieces I see have sub-par images. It’s true.

Why? Try patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. It’s the same concept. Jack of all trades, master of none?

Or, perhaps you need a few more images to fit the length of a song. Or a few less. Or you need to include an image of someone you have sound for, but you really didn’t get a great image of.

You see where I’m going here? Good intentions, good ideas, then forced together like two opposing magnets.

Would the project have been better served as a slideshow? Did you really need sound? Motion? Or was this what we were led to believe we had to have?

Luckily, from time to time, I see a multimedia piece that sings. Great images, a tight edit, sound that helps inform or link, but the life-giving blood of the piece…the IMAGES. The kind of piece where you pull an arm muscle mousing back to the “play again” button because you can’t believe what you just saw and heard. And typically, these pieces required another thing………TIME. Yes, that precious commodity that none of us seem to have anymore. TIME. Say it!!!!!!! “TIME.”

All I’m saying is…there are no absolutes. You don’t HAVE to do anything, other than what that inner voice tells you you MUST do.

This is not the last “Gold Rush.” What will the next one be? When multimedia is old hat, not enough to entertain our hyper-short attention spans. When multimedia has cannibalized itself to a level it can’t recover from (Hear of any photogs who are already offering both for same price as just stills?). What will the next “must” be?

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t’ do this, quite the contrary. Yesterday I was asked my opinion on a new project someone was putting together and my advice was to start with a multimedia style intro. I think people should explore every opportunity. I just think that multimedia isn’t the only thing we can do, it’s not going to save photography, and not every project is required to be a multimedia piece.

As I finish this I look up above the computer, and something stares down at me in total silence. Something stares down with power, the same power it had from the moment it was produced, and the same power it will have one hundred years from now. Something stares down that requires no motion, no sound, no electricity, nothing.

A framed, still image, hanging on the wall.

06 December, 2008

Seattle: No Color as Mood

Seattle, dark, gray, cold, windy.

Well, not always, but on the day that I got to look around, it was, and frankly, I'm glad it was. I like these kind of days.

I'm a black and white fan, and these days are just what I want from time to time.

Days of great light are magical, but the great light typically exists for very brief moments at the arrival of day and the departure. You must be ready, ready to pounce, to know where to be, what to have in your hand and be able to feel what is around you.

But dark days are welcoming in many ways. There is no heart-racing panic to make a picture when the light is at it's crux. Instead you find yourself with time on your hands, a photographic luxury, but one that comes with responsibility.

The light on dark days is no crutch, it won't make the picture, most of the time, forcing you to spend thoughts on composition, depth, layering, and how you will utilize the darkness.

You can disappear in dark days, into the depth of life that takes a step back when the sun is hidden. Things move slowly, there is not the same joy that penetrates your skin through the rays of the sun.

Not much is expected. The world's guard is down, open and permission to just be is granted.

Forget about everything and feel that wind in your face. Red cheeks, turn your back and look around.

Seattle provided me the dark day, and a reunion provided me someone to photograph. Friends from 5th grade. Had not seen each other in 20+ years. A photographer as well. Clouds, scattered showers, wind, fresh salmon fish and chips, water and a brief time to just look around.

05 December, 2008

Observations of a Morning Ride

- it is a beautiful day

-not sure what economy is bad because the high school let out and there was nothing but new cars leaving the lot

-all student drivers were on cell phones, most of them expensive blackberry type phones

-not a single student was using a headset or hands free device

-not a single driver got pulled over or ticketed

-people on cell phones drive like they are drunk

-the air off the ocean is cold but crisp and nice

-A LOT of people still smoke, kids too

-many smokers, who would typically never litter, seem to have no problem throwing their butts out the window, on the sidewalk or even on the beach. Can someone explain this to me?

-I love running errands on my bike, it not only feels good, it is fun. I wish more people did it.

-holiday decorations look funny when it is 75 and sunny.

-there was not a cloud in the sky

-there are A LOT of security company vehicles out and about. Park patrol. Neighborhood patrol. Police patrol. Beach patrol. What the heck for?

-the solitude of winter is nice, even when it is 75 and sunny.

04 December, 2008

The Gamer

I have an older brother and sister. My brother, six years older, was always better, faster, stronger, etc, as to be expected. Sis wasn't much on the sport scene, but she cheated me at Monopoly, cards, and anything she could, so she proved her mettle in ways other than sport.

My point is I know what it is like to have older siblings.

This little package of dynamite also has an older sibling, but she is a GAMER! This girl can play and has some wicked skills not to mention some attitude. I think having an older sibling really pushes her, and it shows in her ability to play soccer and the other sports she enjoys.

I think she scored five or six goals in ONE game.

We have made some sport pictures in the past, over the years actually, but I like some of these recent pictures of her, which are more subdued. Quiet moments.

03 December, 2008

Through the Ages

One of the great things about my job is watching the kids I photograph grow up. I just did this shoot a few days ago, but yesterday I had to retrieve a file from an older drive and notice another shoot I did with this girl and her younger sister, perhaps the first shoot we ever did.

They were TINY!

It was fantastic to see those old images and to see just how different they are now.

When I show up these days I just begin shooting. Me being there is old hat and the girls just do what they normally do. It is a luxury to get this kind of access and this kind of comfort when shooting portraits.

I will post the little one next!

02 December, 2008

Poem from Mom

The Library

picture a big dictionary
on a large wooden stand
at a big city library
alone in the dark
after the people are gone
the words on the pages
begin to rattle and roll
they swirl up in the air
like a south texas tornado
and find the crack on the roof
at the edge of the skylight
and escape into the night sky
to the map of stars
winding their way
around in space
the aliens hear them
and write such as this
earthlings how is it
you let so many words
wander here and there?
keep them at home
and write about
your beautiful planet
and sort out the right
words to learn how
to live in peace
and good health
we know it is
Christmas there
listen to the message
grab some words and wish
for peace on earth
and goodwill towards all
there is a way
it is in the words
of the night
at the library

01 December, 2008


At some point in my life I will only shoot black and white. No matter the results, black and white is always my favorite. Color, in great light, the right ingredients, is great, but I'll choose the black and white from the same scene, every time.

It's not better, just different, and for some reason, it is what I prefer to look at.

I also like grain, the more the better. Real grain, not noise. Noise just doesn't do it for me. Grain gives texture and depth.

This is the Z man, someone I've been photographing for some time now, and he is fun to work with. He reminds me of my brother, serious, but then given the chance will give me a look that leaves us both laughing.