30 June, 2009

The Urban Abstract Landscape

This post will begin with an observation, but mostly importantly, will finish with a quote . An incredible quote I must add, and one that made me believe my observation was perhaps...right on the money.

A few years ago I began to notice a certain type of image that was popping up, over and over, in many of photography's avenues and outlets.

I had seen similar work before, but it had only been in textbooks, or photo-history books which devoted many pages to the 60's and 70's, especially in the area of color photography.

Fast forward to today.

So this new style of image. I'll call it the "urban abstract moment." Always in color, obtuse, typically void of people, based on a simple pattern, or lack there of, bordering on genius, but hovering dangerously near falling into the category of image that really needs to be explained.

You know me, this sort of thing gets me thinking, wondering...questioning. Why? Why this? Why now?

I've got a theory or two.

First, it's detached in a way. There are no people, most of the time, which means little human interaction. I think this could be a direct and sobering reflection of our complex society. More people than ever, more people than ever living in cities, and more isolation than every before. Days, weeks, months spent in cubicles, or in front of a monitor don't lend themselves to forming humans rife with diverse interaction skills. Add the cell phone and iPod and we have created our own version of a human technology bubble.

Second, I think this is somewhat easy work to produce. It's odd. Again, no people, no time required to engage what you are photographing. It's there and it's not moving. Go get it. And don't think not having to get a model release is not part of the success of this work.

Third, it has been accepted. Packaged, printed, sold, again and again, and is a safe direction to chase. This work isn't about complex lighting, endangered species, social issues, celebrities or war, it's mostly about suburbia and artifacts of our society.

What's odd, at least for me, is that I've seen work of this nature I believe I really like. But then I see another body of work, of the exact same ilk and I have no ability to explain why one group is better than another, and suddenly I can't explain why I even liked the first group to begin with. And then I fall down. And then I can't get up.

I find it a hard style of work to grow intimate with, to develop with. Get it, develop....okay, I'll shut up.

But again, here is the real kicker. The art world loves it. They do. They really love it. So I get it. I know why I see so much of it. It's sellable, hangable, printable, frameable, bookable and devilishly stylish in a completely disconnected way.

Yes, the "disconnected moment" is also used to describe this work. But, alas, who cares right? It's photography, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

So, a few days ago, I'm in London. I'm standing on the street corner, hanging out, like I'm prone to do, but I happen to be standing in front of a photography gallery, one that is considered an elite space.

I see this group of people approaching....two men, one woman, and a baby in a stroller. Looks to be a small, family outing in mid-voyage time and space.

As they get closer to where I"m standing, the guy in the lead says, "Hey, a photography gallery."

And this is where things get interesting.

The second guy pushing the stroller looks up and says, "How about another picture of someone in an urban landscape?"


"How about ANOTHER one of those?" "How many people have that?" The residue of his sarcasm left a gushing torrent in the street.

I was left with only the sound of a squeaky stroller wheel and my amazement at what I had just heard.

I wanted to spin and say, "Could you repeat that?"

That was it. That was my observation, signed, sealed and delivered so contritely on that small English alley. It wasn't just me. There were others who recognized this work, this style and also had questions regarding it's place in our photo-world.

As always, I have no answers people, just more questions. During the time it took me to write this there have been great hordes of urban moments scavenged from our communities like minerals from our precious lands.

This is just an observation, nothing more. We are all influenced by trends, and I think this is just another in a long line. I just happen to see this one as much, or more, than anything else at this time. I really do believe our outside forces dramatically impact our photography, and that is what I find most interesting about this specific image style.

A Message

Someone wrote this on the back of the seat. Cab, NYC. Heading in from JFK. A great message. A dirtball thing to do. Cabbie was cool.

29 June, 2009


Okay snappers,

If you are out there, and you have a project, and you have a book, and you like money, or need money, or could find a use for money.......MIGHT want to enter this baby. Just a thought.


Let me repeat that.


Grand prize. Other prizes too. Blurb contest. Easy.

Poem from Mom "Our Place in the Day"

Our Place in the Day

our place in the day
centering the peaceful instant
detached searching to connect
sunlight shines through
a cottontails pink popsicle ears
looking like wet roses
on a foggy morning
a mother hummingbird
teaching her baby about
red hibiscus
texas yellow bells
hummingbird feeders
and feral cats
intense beauty clear message
fulfilling wanting eyes
quiet still presence
invading impalpable paradise
braiding us still tighter
ursurping our undertow
two souls in the breeze
dangling in its clear motion
showing us the way
touching nothing but the day

28 June, 2009

My Interview with Macworld UK

This was done right before the London stop of the Blurb workshop series we just completed.


Poem from Mom "Sinking Down"

Sinking Down

sinking down
into the soft gray
glove covered hands
that are polishing
the solid sterling
silver tray
tap dancing on the
mossed granite graves
that echo the names
so carefully etched
clapping hands reaching
for us helping us
keep time
Five Foot Two
Eyes of Blue and
Ain't She Sweet
See Her Coming
Down the Street
mom at the piano
playing the music
we danced to
on her etched name

Memory Lane

Just back from my four city Blurb tour with much on my mind. The death of Kodachrome wasn't really on my radar screen until a visit with my aunt, uncle, cousins, etc, and a discovery of a masterful print from the 50's. I'm prepping something on this right now, but first, prep for shoot, unpack, pack, etc.

More later.

16 June, 2009

Poem from Mom "Flight of the Word"

"Flight of the Word"

flight of the word
at a desperate pace
wanting to be heard
entering the race

getting to hot
running at will
finding no spot
not being still

looking for line
wanting a verse
a poem of any kind
nothing is worst

just a lost word
who needs so badly
space to be heard
taking it gladly

never lose heart
words are needed
for lines to start
in a garden seeded

words put in soil
to patiently grow
their place to toil
is all they know

14 June, 2009

Long Overdue Book Review: Beyond the Fall by Anthony Suau

It was recently brought to my attention that the World Press Photo of The Year for 2008 was taken by a photographer named Anthony Suau.(With Leica and Tri-x by the way.)

Now when I started in photography, back around the 1990 time frame, this guy was at the top of the photojournalism game. Pulitzer Prize, Capa Medal, etc, etc, so I've known about him for a long while and known him to be a great photographer, so seeing his name in the winners column of World Press was no surprise.

It also reminded me that I had several of his books, his "Beyond the Fall," as well as a more recent book regarding politics, the name of which escapes me.

So, seeing as his name was fresh in my mind, I thought it a great time to revisit his work, and his books. Moving to my bookshelf I pulled down "Beyond the Fall," and took a gander.

People, this is a great book. I mean a really great book. This is perhaps one of the best reportage books I've ever seen. It's not like I didn't know this, but it has been some time since I have seen these images, these pages, read these notes.

I've seen a lot of reportage books since I bought Beyond the Fall, and frankly, the vast majority of them pale in comparison to this book.

What got me right off the bat was, "1989-1999." Ten years folks. Ten years to make these images.

Now legend has it, back in the day, ten years was the cut off time for those making books. A photographer would work for approximately this long before taking on the idea of creating a definitive and final book impression of the story. Obviously, not everyone managed this, but a fair number did, and there is absolutely no way to substitute for that much work and time.

With each turn of the page I heard myself say, "Oh, I'd love to have that print."

This book covers the former Soviet Union in transition, over a ten year period, and I'm talking virtually all aspects of life. You have politics, war, family, commerce, health care, history, landscape, and all not just done, but stamped with his point of view.

This book is almost all black and white, and looks to be done with just a lens or two. There are so many fantastically layered images, it could be used as a teaching aid on how to properly use a wide angle lens. And, there are many images that are more art than reportage. Yes, I said it. They are fine art images, masquerading as reportage. You have any idea how difficult this is?

What I see in these images is an intimacy you just don't see that much anymore. It's probably the time in the field, his access and his ability, coupled with a real understanding of place, culture, history and transition. I don't know if I've ever had this type of relationship with a project, which really sucks, but just means I have to work harder.

I'm pretty sure one of the reasons we don't see much of this work today, or projects of this scope, is because the industry won't support it. Budgets have been hacked, deadlines have been shortened. advertising has been lost. And, advertisers are controlling content more than ever before. Most American advertisers probably aren't thrilled to see this type of work in an issue with their ads, hence the infrequent use of reportage on the cover of major magazines. Celebrity sells much better, so does just about ANYTHING else that is safe, homogenized, colorful, etc.

Each section of the book could be a book in itself, which is really what we do see more of today. Pieces of the puzzle, but rarely are we given the entire puzzle to sit with, contemplate and put together.

Looking at the pictures from Grozny I found myself wanting to find Suau online, just to pick his brain about the story behind the photographs. I could say the same for the quiet moments of Yeltsin alone in the Kremlin. "How did you GET IN there?"

Looking at these images I was taken back to the Romania stories of the early 90's, the war in Bosnia, the turmoil of the region, and could see that Suau was there every step of the way.

If he never snaps another image, ever again, the work in this book, in my mind, cements him as one of the best American documentary photographers.

What is truly mind-blowing to me is how little I hear about this guy. Okay, I live in Orange County, but even still, that shouldn't matter THAT much. I have a feeling, and I'm making this up off the cuff, he is a guy that just does his thing and probably doesn't spend a lot of time telling people how great he is, which is the modern method of becoming a legend(Monday I will begin my great crusade of self promotion.). If you tell people long enough how great you are, inevitably there will be some takers. No, I have a feeling he is out shooting. I just wish I could see more of what he was doing.

I think, in short, this book is a lesson to all photographers, a reminder of where the bar has been set.

Revisiting this book is, for me, is an exciting trip, like taking a voyage through history with someone who had a front row seat.

13 June, 2009

Poem from Mom "Lost and Found"

"Lost and Found"

paths need direction
they show the way
like nowhere maps
going nowhere
ambling needlessly
stomping the ground
making the ants run
breaking the flowers
looking for stuff
broken eggs in a nest
no chance at life
walking alone
making the most
of the finish
timepiece wound
wings on the wind
no horizon
lost and found

11 June, 2009

Chemistry Together

Okay folks, here they are. Still sealed in anticipation of what they hold in their magic. I know, I know, I'm crazy, but I've got film processing in my future once again.

If you have never processed your own film then this post will be difficult to grasp, but let me tell you, there is something about "souping" your own film that is immensely satisfying.

I was in the darkroom a few months ago, with a photographer I had asked to watch print, and midway through the first print he said, "What I really enjoy is doing the film."

I know it might sound odd, but there is something magical about it.

I think it might be simply because rolling, then processing is what you learn first in the lineage of manual, analog life, and I think it sticks with us.

I can remember being in the dark, with the rest of the class, at San Antonio College in 1990, rolling my first roll of film. My eyes WIDE OPEN yet unable to see even my hands in the pure darkness, hearing the frantic, excited voices around me as we all learned of this other life impossible to view.

I rolled my first roll on top of itself. In short, I ruined it, but I didn't know enough to know I had ruined it until I popped it out of the tank and had the slippery, pink emulsion come off in my fingertips.

Roll two was a success, and I've had the curse from that moment on. You realize there are endless possibilities with this photo-life, endless, only held back by our imagination, our passion and our will to enjoy, explore and yes, suffer.

Doing your own film can allow you to live, breath, outside the mainstream world. You can be completely alone, isolated and yet producing.

Sure, there are issues, headaches a plenty. When we get worn down by the photo-life it is easy to say "let the lab do it," or "I'll get dust spots, and I hate doing that." There are a million and one reasons NOT to do your own film, but when you reduce the cons to what they really are, most are just tiny pebbles in our shoes, that if allowed to grow, suddenly become larger than life.

Much of my work will continue with the lab, the professional lab, in Los Angeles, that does my processing, scanning, and my beloved contact sheets. You see I need things that they have and I don't, but for a nice little portion of my work, I want to bring the personal relationship back. I want to live with these images from start to finish.

Doing your own processing also allows for much experimentation. As you can see, I, on the recommendation of a friend, bought HC-110 developer. I don't know of a single lab in the United States using this developer. Most labs have standardized, and for good reason, but this particular syrup will give a particular result, unlike any other.

Doing your own film allows for the real exploration of what is possible, not only in theory, in your mind, but in practical application.

Hot developer, uncommon chemical ratios, violent agitation, four hour development times, etc, etc, all with unique results.

I know a lot of photographers look back on the times in their careers when they were running film, making prints, and either laugh, as if that is beneath them now, or cringe because they hated doing it.

But for me, I look back with fond memories. There were many times of frustration, of printing on deadline for the Daily Texan, bleaching eyes with pure bleach because my exposure was off, or spotting prints, fingers smelling like fixer, editors bitching and moaning, etc. But man, that was fun, and I felt truly alive. And, I felt like a photographer.

It seems odd that something so simple could be so important, but for me, I realizing, it really is. Will I continue to process film in the years to come? I don't know. I think I will, but hey, i thought I would be Mr. Technology at this point, and we all know how that turned out.

Printing in the darkroom the other day I took a break and walked into the main area of the lab, and there stood a young, high-school girl processing film. While I was printing I kept hearing this slamming noise and couldn't figure out what it was. It was her, slamming her four-reel tank into the sink bottom to clear air bubbles from agitation. It made me laugh. But I could see, just by looking at her, that she too had the photo-life bug, and getting her hands wet, stained, etc, was an integral part.

So if you run into me in the coming months, years, just know if we shake hands, you might pull away with residue of the photo-life on your hands.

10 June, 2009

The Straight Story

"Polaroids" fake of course.

So a few weeks ago I wrote a long post about tilt-shift lenses and how I thought they were basically a gimmick that made just about any image look good. I never posted the post, but I'm still thinking about it. My wife and I were on a short trip and she was using this lens. We were sitting in the car joking that anything you pointed that lens at suddenly become a prize winning picture, just due to the blurred area, short depth, etc. We sat in the car and made 35 different pictures that were a-m-a-z-i-n-g to use a terribly overused word.

But, what I realized was when we stripped away the gimmick, we were left with a bunch of nondescript pictures. The tilt-shift WAS the photograph. If shot in the same position, from the same angle, all things equal, without this lens, you wouldn't look twice at the picture, let alone print it, include it in a book, etc.

It made me realize something. In my humble opinion, shooting a STRAIGHT, 35mm image, and getting a picture that is truly fantastic, is perhaps the hardest game in photo town. I look around at much of the images I see today, much of those pictures that seem to get the most press, and in many cases the images are HEAVILY manipulated. This manipulation can come in many forms, tilt-shift just being one of those methods. Software is probably the biggest offender. Much of what I see is so over processed I find it difficult to find the original image, and when I do, typically I'm left with just a routine picture. Layer masks, vignettes, hyper-color, selective sharpening, tilts, shifts, throws, heaves, blurs, zooms, spins, thrusts, all lend themselves to hiding the original image, or making up for an original image that was never there. And this doesn't just apply to ad work, or fashion, or celebrity, the areas you would think most logical for manipulation, but also news, documentary, etc. I've seen plenty of pictures in these genres that are dodged and burned, tweaked, at such fine detail that you end up with images containing light that is doing things that light just doesn't do. Light typically doesn't come from multiple angles at the same time, on four different planes at the same time. I see faces of refugees peering from under tents, with faces beaming, from unknown light sources. I see landscape pictures where it is impossible to even tell where the light is coming from because every blade of grass has been "touched."

I got to thinking....why is this so rampant these days? Why do we so rarely see straight images? I think I know why.

Three reasons. First, time. It takes TIME to make straight images that stand alone. A lot of time, and we just either don't have it, or don't want to spend it to make pictures. Second, making straight pictures that work is really, really difficult. There is nothing to fall back on. You can't bang out a picture, then layer it up, mask it up, tweak it up and "make" something out of it. You can, and people do, but we all know these images aren't anything grand. Images that are made AFTER you leave the field, to me, aren't images at all. They are visual fast food. Lucky for photographers, people love fast food. Three, competition. There are so many photographers today, and so much competition, it forces photographers to go faster, further, more crazy to get attention. Talk about overused phrases, how about "extreme."

I look back in history at the number of legendary folks that shot straight pictures, and come the advent of the electronic age, the numbers seem to fall off a cliff.

I know for me, it's a lot easier to make a picture with a Hasselblad than a Leica. Why? Square. Square. Square. That too is a gimmick in a way. Most people don't look at a lot of square images, so seeing them in itself is different. It's easier and I know that. I also like square for design purposed, and being able to make a square print as opposed to rectangular, or a square book for that matter, but I won't deny that the overall look can make a basic image look more than basic.

I think the time and effort required to make great, straight images is just so damn high that the business of photography has found a way around doing it.

Something else that popped into my brain regarding this thought. A few years ago I noticed something about a high percentage of the "documentary" work I was seeing, especially that work that was being featured in print and exhibited in galleries. The color, environmental portrait had suddenly become the new "documentary" work. At Paris Photo the vast majority of "documentary" work I found was presented as a color, portrait series. Group after group, story after story, medium format, color, portraits.

So a while back I did an experiment. I did a story like this. "The Thoughts of Strangers." I went out looking for people I didn't know, then asked them if I could photograph them, and asked if I could inquire as to what they were thinking the minute before I approached them.

Oddly enough, all but one person said, "great."

A funny thing happened. In two days I had a completely new, completed set of images. Done. Thirty pictures. I realized this was a great way to work if I didn't have a lot of time. They were medium format, color negative, simply done, and designed in the right way, they "appeared" like a great story, a great body of work.

Only thing was, they weren't a great body of work. When you boiled them down they looked like images that were shot in two days, but I tell you what..I could have sold this project. I could have shown this around, and I'd bet there would have been takers.

There are aspects of this shoot I really like, but in the end, the body of images are not what they could have been with more time, and more focus. But who has time and focus?

So yesterday, I went to the darkroom again, made about a dozen contact sheets, which I messed up big time, but that is another story. And, I also made three "straight" prints from 'straight" images. These were pictures shot with Leica, without assignment, just tooling around in my daily life.

As I watched these images come up, I felt like I was looking at prints from the 1960's, although all these images were made in the last two weeks. I'm not advanced enough in the darkroom to do anything tricky, and in fact these images required no dodging, and little burning.

I'm not saying these are great images. That is my point. Great and straight don't come around that often folks, and because of this we see all this over the top window dressing. We've created this photo-world of instant gratification and over the top magic and show that we can no longer, in many cases, actually take the time to make great images. Instead, we fabricate them.

In fact, many of images I see are more fabricated than captured. What is your field to post time ratio?? Huh??? What is it really? 1:2? One hour field, two hours post? One designer told me after looking at an awards annual in photography and design, "I can't find anything real anymore."

I can only speak for myself, obviously, but where I see this going is the continued dilution of the DNA of photography itself. I know, I know, that is heavy, but think about it.

Photography used to be about...what? History, reality, and now? Speed, manipulation, and most important...temporary fragments of an unbelievable reality?

All you have to do is listen to non-photographers. You will hear more about Photoshop and images being lost or thrown away than anything else.

I still think the photograph is the best way of recording history. It doesn't require anything but a viewer, and does something "mysterical" to the brain. See, I invented a word for this post, mysterious and magical and came up with "mysterical." The reality of the written word just wasn't good enough, so I layered up the language and blew you away with my stylish wizardry.

I'm going to focus on making real images from now on. Straight stuff. Nothing fancy. I'll probably end up working in a coal mine, but perhaps, for the survival of photography, that could be the best possible thing.

09 June, 2009

Poem from Mom "Endure"


foggy days rainy nights
alone in silence lost questions
pushing the knob on the top
of the top up and down
tilting spinning holding on
knowing this for sure
if we can't adapt we must endure
change is sticky routine boring
hard decisions easy ones
tapping fingers typing
good times bad times
holding tight to the page
oreo years of layered days
remembering you again and again
as I wanted you to be
finding your way into the misty night
holding me in the truth
telling me to endure

The Unkept

Cambodia 1996. Back of a moto, herking and jerking across Phnom Penh. At the time, there were no lights, no street lights, or street names, no building numbers, nothing. It was fantastic. You had to be careful at night, but once during my time there I took a midnight moto ride through the city. The streets were ink black and deserted. A full moon.

I think people left me alone because I was so shady looking. They probably said, "Geez, that guy can't even afford a haircut, let's cut him a break."

I hear now the city has changed, almost beyond recognition, as have Siem Riep and other towns. I don't think I want to go back and see what the world of tourism has done. I think I'll keep my memories intact.

08 June, 2009

Get Serious

I still remember, all those years ago, heading off to the the Museum of Television History in Los Angeles. Most people seemed bent on getting to watch the first episode of Gilligan's Island, or The Brady Bunch, but not me. Me, I went right for the Nixon press conferences regarding Cambodia.

There was Millhouse, with enormous wooden pointer in hand, pointing to a map of Southeast Asia. "Cambodia?" "What are you talking about?" "I've never heard of it." "Never been there, never will be, etc, etc." "Next question."

I was riveted. Through my pursuit of the iconic moment I also found an early broadcast from Soviet occupied Afghanistan, a brilliant piece with Dan Rather who had gone across the border with the freedom fighters. I think it was also my first introduction to the extreme importance of a safari style shirt, jacket, outfit, jumpsuit, costume, etc.

People this is a critical link in any wanna be photographer's arsenal. I dare say as important as what you have around your neck.

Getting the right safari/bush jacket or shirt can take years of pounding the pavement, years of trolling back rows at Army surplus or sometimes it happens in a stroke of pure luck. Some would call it genius.

This is one of my top get ups. Lapel on shoulder is key. Something to flap in the wind as you stare down at...at...perhaps an invading Turkish army?

My advice is to get out and look the part. And I mean now.

07 June, 2009

Poem from Mom "Java Trench"

"Java Trench"

inside the human wall
deep in the earth
plates are shifting
wanting movement
lining the scale
holding destruction
moving power
birthing waves
reaching beaching
faithfuls fate
from the depth
fingers grasp
the hourglass
turning in it over
and over and over
wanting the hour
it holds
as the plates shift
in the Java Trench

Al Queda Takes Down Another One

I just heard some disparaging news. At least it was disparaging news to me. To others the news will come with relief, glee and the sound of chalk on chalkboards as the name at the top of the list is crossed off.

Salgado has gone digital. Yep, it's true.

Was it the unbelievable quality? Nope.

Was it the ability to shoot unlimited images? No.

How about being able to see those Galapagos animals seconds after he snapped them? Nope, not that either.

Salgado went digital, at least according to what I read, because of airport security.

The world's greatest documentary photography, reduced to the pixel by the residue of Bin Laden and those blue coats at the TSA.

Yep, it seems that his problems traveling with film were at a peak during his recent project, forcing him to change what had been his method of working, dare I say from the beginning.

Scanning his 220 film, multiple times, had reduced the quality down to 35mm levels, and the desire to print big forced him to make a change. So, the images he captures on digital are written back to film, then printed analog. This might seem odd, but people have been doing this for years.

If I had to guess, and guessing is my best attribute, I'd say this will end with this project. I would imagine, in the future, as the need to make wall size, house size, airport runway size prints takes over the art world, as it has for the past four years, the digital print will also become a part of his world. The sinks will dry, the lab coats will hang on hooks from the back of doors no longer required, and fat, negative cabinets will be replaced with monitors, cables, surge protectors, raids backed up on raids, as our best world treasure in photography experiences his own migration into the slippery world of digital imaging.

He has success on his side. I would imagine that behind every terminal will be a young digital ace, fresh from tech-school, able to perfect every pixel of a world we all used to know as being flawed. No longer. Most of us come to digital closer to the other end of the rating scale, forced into digital by clients no longer willing to pay for film and processing, clients on skeletal budgets, used to getting things for royalty free rates from photographers willing to offer up anything they have and anything they can get, just to keep the machine moving.

I will imagine that he will be at a level, right from the beginning, where he won't deal with perpetual upgrades, software issues, corrupted drives and mismatched profiles. He will probably not have to spend day after day, night after night, solving electronic issues that come with "being digital." Others will do it, and for this I would imagine he will be grateful.

But, in the end, as long as he keeps shooting, and speaking, and donating, and being a walking example of what is possible in the world of photography, well, that is all that matters.

The geeks will run with this, like they always do. As I write this they are mobilizing in the streets, like carnaval without the floats. "See, I told ya," they will yell, fueled by another high-profile member of their camp, THE feather they dreamed of having in their proverbial hat.

But allow me for a moment to retrace where this post started. Airport security.

A lot of people ask me about film, and about traveling with film, and I have to say, post 9/11, for me, traveling with film has been EASIER than ever before. I don't travel like Salgado, not even close, and I know his situation is far different than mine. But for me, pre 9/11 was tougher. I had a more difficult time getting hand inspections. Now, I've yet to have an issue.

With having said this, there are certain countries that just won't hand inspect, even though having a hand inspection is your right as a traveler. Some will give you different reason after different reason, others no reason at all. Some countries see an American passport and your cooked, done, over, no chance. This has happened to me in France and Switzerland. In France it was veiled but also clear enough to figure out. In Switzerland it was clear. I was lucky you see, the airport security guard started screaming at me, yelling about Americans in general, how horrible we are and that any flight with Americans was a "high risk flight." I explained my mom's family was from Switzerland, which only seemed to incense him even further, as if I'd betrayed my motherland from the womb.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, I shoot a lot of ASA 3200 film. In fact, I've traveled more with this film than any other, and I've yet to have a ruined roll.

I think for a lot of photographers somewhat troubled by their transition to digital, blaming airport security is an easy way to say, "Okay, I know I've got to do this digital thing, so blaming airport security will at least make me feel a little better."

Not to say that airport security isn't a horrible mess at this point. In short, nothing they do seems to make much sense at all, unless complete confusion is their goal, and frankly, it might be. Might as well try it, works for the government right?

Take four trips in the United States, ask for hand inspections and you will get four different scenes. You might get an easy inspection on all four, but chances are, they will all be done differently.

You know me, I'm inquisitive. I ask. "Hey buddy, what's the drill?" I've been told countless different tales of this rule, that rule, this regulation, that regulation, etc, In short, I don't think they have a clue.

I'm scared to death of airport security in the United States.

Overseas, another story. These folks tend to have their collective acts together, more than we do. And in some places, they are downright militant. But again, I don't see this as a bad thing. I wanna be safe, and I don't want to ride coach with Richard Reid , or his lousy iPod music or vegan meal.

I don't think Bin Laden, or any of his boys knew just how far reaching their acts would be. I certainly didn't think I'd hear the world's best photographer having to change his work due to the effects of the world of terror, but it appears as if the change has already been made. I can see Bin Laden, sipping his morning latte from the basement of the Pakistani Presidential Palace, chuckling as he turns the paper to his second in command, "Look, we forced Salgado to go digital," his second in command sneering as he returns to his People Magazine, uttering to himself, "I hope he backs up his work."

And let's also not forget the power of the art world, the only world left in photography that seems to have money. If the art world wants big prints, photographers will print big, end of story. It doesn't matter if you are a contact printer, if the gallery says, "Hey, I think I can sell those if you make your contact prints eight feet wide," then that contact printer, chances are, is scheming a way to make a negative eight feet tall. I've seen it happen a hundred times.

I don't think the traditional documentary channels are really viable anymore, at least not like they used to be, so all photographers must look elsewhere, for other, more profitable channels, and at the moment, the art world is the space being chased. Big prints are the rage, and I don't think anyone can escape this. Digital makes big prints a snap, no pun intended. Get it, snap?? Okay, forget it.

So in the end, what did we learn? I can ramble? Due to me having written "Al Queda," "Richard Reid," Bin Laden," I'm now on a watch list? And yes, another photographer due to reasons beyond apples to apples is headed down a new path.

I wish him the best of luck and hope like hell he continues his work for decades to come. And, I hope that somewhere out there, perhaps in a small, mountain village, in a remote land, a young kid is pouring over the pages of a book of black and white photographs, making the decision to follow in those very footsteps.

Until then my friends, I'll be here, at home, polishing my lead bags and lighting candles to the Gods in blue jackets that roam airports like a pack of vipers. I fear not.

04 June, 2009

The Page

Back in the day, this was it. This was your life. Your career, your impression.

The single page.

Your portfolio. Your chance to show those few that you were legit.

Now, we have all means. Electronic, still, static, fluid, email, text, blog, site, book, magazine, etc, but as early as a few short years ago, all we had was this.

"Put twenty slides in a single sheet and send it along," was the order of the day.

My first trip to New York, it was all I took. I had my Leica and a page of slides. And I got work. I also had a really bad necktie and hair past my shoulders. I think the hair and the tie were so bad it actually worked in my favor.

I remember people staring at me on the streets of Chinatown.

I like the idea of a portfolio like this. 99% of the time this page was never projected. Even then people thought, "I'm too busy, I can't project these," so they held them up to window light, desk lamps, anything that provided a backlit glow. It was a lousy way to look at work.

But, just like today, people, for their time, were moving too fast. Maybe this was a good thing. It gave you a chance. Maybe if people went slower they wouldn't like your work, but a quick glance, even at the entire page, not even as individual slides, just might work.

My first photography job, the editor never even looked up, or at my prints, just nodded through the haze of a four pack a day room and said, "Your hired."

Back then there was more spirit to portfolios. I don't mean they were better, but people were more real I think. I think people now chase the market, showing only what work they think will get them more work, and not perhaps what they truly want to shoot, or what style they actually prefer. We are specialized now, and there are far, far more of us, all jockeying for less jobs.

Back then you would see people on a limb, pages of pure nonsense, or pages of pure genius, but thrust about with casual concern, as if to say, "You don't like me, that's cool, someone else will."

Now our presentations are slick, and are perhaps judged more than the photography itself. I've seen incredibly complex, fancy portfolio designs, made of wood, metal, plastic, paper. I've seen boxes, cases, trunks and all designs that make the ultra-hip look flawed, and yet hold images that aren't as interesting as their packaging.

I think what I like about a page of slides is that you can't hide from it. They all look the same. Until the time when the cold metal of the loup is pressed against the clear, plastic sheen and your photographic soul has its guts put on display. There is nothing cute, nothing but the work to do all the talking for you.

I love great promo pieces, love, love , love books, as you know, and will continue to make more of those as promotion than anything else, but I have to say, there is a part of me that cherishes the day of being slammed by some old photo editor as he tossed my slides in the trash can and said, "I don't want to hear your war stories." His thick glasses fogged by rancid breath, overheating as he ranted about this "punk kid." I thought it just might come to blows.

As we move forward I'm realizing more and more how much I can learn from the past, and just how good we had it. I'm hoping to do this same thing, years from now, looking back on days like today, but I have to say, I've got some doubt I will feel the same. We live in a different time, not better or worse, just different, and those formative years are nearly impossible to replace, retrace or relive.

So, I'll leave you with this page, a page of random stuff, not a portfolio, but if I can find one of my old portfolios, intact, I'll scan it and send it as well. Peace.

Poem from Mom "Ticking Clock"

constant strolling
thoughts roaming
flaming goals
endless glomming

leeching souls
hovering past
opening goals
longing cast

hummimgbirds know
blue morning glories
grabbing brain glow
captured stories

curving roads
groovy lanes
lock load
line claim

festering greed
grinds down
poetry seeds
by the pound

no more verse
always can
still terse
good plan

no key today
lock stock
futile clay
ticking clock

03 June, 2009

Straight vs Flashed

Paris, a long time ago, a self portrait, the tower. Camera at arms length, shot straight up, low percentage, Leica M4-P, no meter. Just a click. But I got it. I like it.

The first image is the straight print, Kodak Ektalure, the second, developer spread by hand, then flashed, stopped and finally fixed.

This print was in a box, a handmade box, with many other prints, made in a darkroom in San Diego that was literally a cave. Printed underground, hung to dry on a clothesline, like something out of a movie.

I forgot about this print. I forgot about all of these prints. They were left in my smoking hot garage, over the years, through the elements, and a few weeks ago I found them, resurrected them. Saved them.

Even through all the heat, dust, summers, winters, they looked just as I had left them, as if they were brought from a tomb.

I look back on this image with hyper-fond thoughts. I was working for Kodak at this time, mostly in Southern California, but I had convinced them to allow me to attend the Visa festival in Perpignan. We were on our way and stopped over to spend a few days in Paris.

At the time, I could not do any kind of commercial assignment, due to my working with Kodak. So, all I had were my M bodies and my tri-x. Photography was pure. I just shot whatever I felt like shooting, took my time, processed, printed in the darkroom cave.

I remember the shoes I was wearing, a style of sandal I had read about in the LA Times, and one I had seen over the years on my travels, Chupplies, or something along those lines. I had two pair made at an old shoe store in downtown LA, across from the paper. The shoe maker told he mine were the last shoes he would make. After decades he had closed up shop and began working in a factory in Long Beach.

I wore those shoes into the ground, a black pair and tan pair. I loved those shoes. I miss those shoes. I thought I would be able to find them again, but after all these years, nothing.

These images, for me, seem like they are from another life. So much has happened since then. Life seems to be much, much faster, much more filled, but there is much about this past time that I miss.

Paris is still there. I think. I've been there since, but don't have any images I like more than this. Nor do I have any silver prints from the more recent trips. I'm working on that.

02 June, 2009


Hey Campers,

I wanted to let everyone know about the upcoming Blurb workshops. A great series, with some fun people showing fun things.

SUBJECT: Blurb Photography Book Workshop series

This June we’re hosting the Blurb Photography Book Workshop series, featuring photographer Dan Milnor, graphic designer Bob Aufuldish, and Lightroom guru Jerry Courvoisier. In these 4-hour workshops you’ll learn about the principals of book design, editing your images in Lightroom for optimum results, and how to use Blurb books to promote your work.

You can also participate in a photography book review prior to the workshop. Having your work reviewed is NOT a requirement to attend the workshops. Once you purchase a ticket for the photography book review, we’ll contact you to set up a specific time to review your work.

Photography book reviews begin at 4:00 pm; the workshop kicks off at 6:00 pm (expect it to last until about 10:00 pm).

All the details are below, and we hope to see you there.

San Francisco – RSVP at http://blurbworkshopsf.eventbrite.com

New York – RSVP at http://blurbworkshopnyc.eventbrite.com

London – RSVP at http://blurbworkshoplondon.eventbrite.com

Chicago – RSVP at http://blurbworkshopchicago.eventbrite.com

Flashing Can Be Good

Typically, when you hear about someone flashing it comes with police reports and strange, fringe elements of our society that people don't want to talk about.

But, I'm hear to dispel the myth. I think flashing can be good. Darkroom flashing I mean. That's what you thought I was talking about right?

Flashing, doing what we were told NEVER to do. "Good Gosh Millhouse, don't turn the light on in the darkroom when your working, it will ruin your life!"

So for years, I kept, hard and fast, to this cardinal rule. NEVER turning the light on. Then, I made a mistake. I made several mistakes, all at once, and and new door opened, one which held almost infinite possibilities.

I made this picture several years ago. This is a scan of the print, done on Kodak Ektalure paper, a gem of the distant photographic past, a legend if you will. Ektalure was unique. It was also loaded with Cadmium, a not so great part of our distant past, at least in analog terms. Cadmium, a heavy metal, is still around in many forms today. Just ask our toxic barge operators, the guys in clean suits.

Anyway, back to my ramble. I had this print half in, half out of the developer, was running my hand over it for some reason, then accidently turned the light on. Realized my mistake, turned the light off, stopped, fixed, and went, "Huh."

Then the gloves were off. The darkroom was filled with flying developer, rubber gloves, spray bottles, flashlights, those green sticks that glow in the dark, fireworks, gasoline and jet fuel.

Other printers quickly moved away, realizing how far I would take this new technique.

This, a contact sheet, I believe from Southern France, gypsies. There are other flashed prints from this series, others I will upload in the coming days.

I thought, all those years ago, that these prints would fade, wouldn't last, but they look exactly like the day I made them. Crazy I know.

My scanner doesn't fit an 11x14 prints, but you'll get the idea.

By the way, those two frames that are squared. My edits. I remember shooting those. Leica M4-P, 28mm. Right at the barely handholdable level. I was so close to that guy on the left, a stranger, and was holding my breath, knowing I was probably going to get a little camera movement. It was so quiet, and I was still able to squeeze off a few frames.
Flash on people.

01 June, 2009

Polaroid from El Mirage

This baby was taken a long time ago, on El Mirage Dry Lake. I was shooting and traveling on my motorcycle with 4x5 Crown Graphic, and Polaroid Type 55, a unique beast of a film that is no longer with us. For you geeks who think you can fake this look by scanning the border and applying your digital file to the middle, think again. It wasn't just the border, it was the lens and falloff of the camera that also made this look.

Not to mention the tones and feel of the "roid." It was a grand thing. You can still get this film, in limited quantities, and for a much higher price than what was originally intended for this product. There are rumors of someone buying the machines of Polaroid and reviving this once great entity, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

This was a fun way of working. Slowly. Methodical. One sheet at a time, packing and unpacking the bike. Spending time with people. talking, telling stories, hearing stories. You can't do a drive by with a 4x5.

I used to shoot portraits, and commercial jobs with this camera until parts and pieces of it began to break off and fall at the feet of the client. "Ah, something just fell out of your camera," they would say. "Oh ya, I don't need that anymore," I would answer as I quickly tried to distract them.

I really miss this damn thing. A friend just made me a 4x5 pinhole, which I have yet to use, but I will in the coming days.