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Archive for December, 2010

Wheels Up for Asia…

Dec 30

In News at 7:19am

Long flight this coming Sunday. NY to Tokyo to Hong Kong. Start teaching in HK on Tuesday. We’ve been planning this trip for so long, hard to believe it’s on top of us. All credit due to Louis Pang, friend, and fellow shooter. Our itinerary brings us from Hong Kong, to Singapore to Malaysia. Details here. After that, Drew and I disappear into the land of the yellow border, a strange and wonderful place, to do a story that will be published….sometime. Nat Geo does things on their own timetable, and their own way. Happy to play along and go where they tell me to go.

Got a bunch of stuff to work on, and a bunch of stuff brewing. Will be blogging updates. Lord knows I’ll be on a plane for a while, very shortly. Hope everybody’s year is closing out well. Hang in gang…more tk….

The Last Week or So….

Dec 27

In News at 7:17pm

First off, hope everybody had a wonderful time over the holidays, with a great new year shaping up. Best to all, and many thanks for all the wonderful thoughts and good wishes sent our way via the blog, FB, and Twitter. Great way to close the year. Though just when I thought it was in the can, and it was done kicking my ass, a couple of interesting things happened. Good Morning America came calling, realizing that most likely lots of folks got some sort of digital picture taking apparatus for Christmas, and would be uncertain of how to use same. They all come with manuals, of course, but they’re tough to plow through stone cold sober, and much less so after decking the halls and knocking back eight to ten Limoncellos. So, in the wake of writing the LIFE Guide to Digital Photography, they found me, and proposed that I could do something instructive and coherent in three or four minutes of air time. That’s a fair bit chatting for morning TV, believe it or not.

There was this storm you might have read about. It roared in and knocked NY and much of the upper Eastern seaboard for a loop. And of course, I was supposed to go on early in the am, post storm. The phone started ringing. Folks who work in live television tend to jump on stuff, and solve problems as immediately as they can (just the nature of the beast) so when they call you, they like it if you just pick up the phone and say yes. They wanted me to come into NY on Sunday, in the teeth of the wind and the white, park it in a hotel, and be rested and there, ready to hit the airwaves. I said, of course, yes. Made sense.

Method to my madness (and the affirmative reply) was that the hotel was on the doorstep of Times Square. Hadn’t been in TS in a blizzard, I think, ever. Plus I’ve been experimenting with the D3100, which is quite a lot of camera in a small package. So, I checked in, and went out.

It was a touch wacky out there on Sunday night, but it was refreshing to know you could still get a hot dog.

Just had one lens with me, a 24 f1.4, so just messed around in the stinging snow, driving wind, bitter cold and neon lit misery in the heart of the Big Apple until I heard the call of the wild pillow in a heated hotel room. Tried some stuff from my window, and early am as well.

Then, it was show time. I’ve done the morning shows before, so I wasn’t completely unprepared. Everybody was super nice, whisking you here and there, asking if you’re okay and if you need anything. I think the only other time people are that collectively solicitous of your needs is immediately prior to major surgery, so I felt very comfortable.

They bring you in and sit you down. If I could make a suggestion, they might equip those comfy chairs with a seat belt. Because once the morning network anchor person goes weapons hot on you, it’s a fast ride indeed. Chris Cuomo did the interview. Smart guy, very nice, tough job. He’s gotta rattle his way through two hours of live TV every morning, keep everybody’s ball bouncing, roll with the punch, turn on a dime, ask reasonable questions that presume and elicit sound bite, quickie answers, shake your hand and go to the next set. He’s definitely the eye of the storm.

Whoosh! After I was done I kinda looked down to ascertain whether I was still wearing clothes. I felt like a cartoon character in a hurricane, you know, clinging to a light pole, while everything just whips past them as they struggle to hang onto their shorts. Or maybe one of those poor TV reporters out there in the blizzard, trying to make themselves heard as the wind blows them down the street, a Northeastern species of tumbleweed. Anyway, you can check out the interview here. Many thanks to my bud and terrific shooter, Elizabeth Opalenik, who grabbed the above pic off her TV screen on the west coast.

The show at the Monroe Gallery I mentioned a couple weeks ago went well. You can always tell you’re having an exhibit in New Mexico when you see one of these.

Sorta makes you wish anybody who shows up really likes your work, ya know? More tk….

Merry Christmas Everybody….And Best Wishes to All

Dec 23

In Thanks, Thoughts at 5:00pm

And all best for 2011! Blog will be back next week….

More, as they say, tk….

Getting Your Camera in the Right Place

Dec 20

In In The Field at 9:34am

Is sometimes hard to do. We talk so much about lighting, in general, and on this blog, but the thing to always remember….where you put the camera is much more important than where you put the light. Put the camera in the “right” spot, everything flows, including the sense of the light. Put the camera in a tough or “wrong” spot, man, you can have a rough day. For this recent job on the 21st Century Grid for the Geographic, the light was whatever it was gonna be. The real deal was the towers. Get the camera on the towers.

The above was shot pre-DSLR video, with a little mini-cam Drew had in his pocket. Very rough bits and pieces, which when we finally looked at it, had enough there to connect the dots. Drew did a great job stitching it together here in the studio.

In “Shit Always Happens to the New Guy” category….

I got into those little carts you saw in the video, and went out on the wires. The things are a bitch, excuse my French. Powered by a little gas engine, those rollers crank along and will chew up anything in their way–loose bits of clothing, camera straps, thumbs, you name it. They roll over your fingers, it hurts. They grab a piece of your hoodie, and they will reel you in like a fish. I was finally getting used to the drill, chugging along with the guys who were putting in spacer bars, when my engine blew. I was on an uphill section of the wires, so, due to gravity and lack of experience, I just started sliding backwards, and banged right into the next lineman’s cart, whose name was Joe. He took it in stride as both are carts rolled downhill, gathering momentum and speed. He shouted to me, “Don’t worry Joe! See that spacer comin’ up? We’re goin’ no further than that!”

And the spacer did, in fact, stop us. Which gave us some breathing room to analyze our predicament. They considered dropping a “long line” to my cart and towing me up the wires, but I didn’t have the experience or the arm strength to tie it off at the top of the towers. I think for a minute they even considered long lining me outta there, and that woulda been fun. In the end, it was decided that Joe would take my cart, I would get into his, ’cause the motor still worked. They would then tow Joe up the wires, with me putting along in the background.

Which meant, of course, we hadda switch buggies. Joe looked at me and took some dip out of his back pocket. He said, “Joe, before we do this, I’m gonna have some West Virginia cole slaw!” Then, still clipped to the wires with our safety lines, got up, out of our respective carts, and did a little dosey-do on the wires to switch it up. Finally got up near the towers, got out of my buggy, straddled the cables, climbed back up the drop ladders they got up there, and got picked up by the chopper. I was played out. Think I fell asleep in the rental truck before we even left the parking lot.

You develop a healthy respect for what other folks do for a living, I tell ya. As the linemen said to me, “Yeah, everybody likes to just flip a switch. Nobody thinks about where the juice comes from!”

More tk…..

On Sugar Plums

Dec 16

In News at 7:09am

The world of dance is very much about the unrelenting and occasionally cruel quest for perfection. I’ve worked with many dancers, and have made what I naively thought to be a worthwhile or even beautiful photograph, only to have the perfectionist inside the dancer rise up and shred it. “Ooh, no. You can’t use that, look at the position of my ring finger on my left hand!” I am only being midly facetious here. Ballet demands perfection, which of course is unattainable. Any dancer who sticks with it has heard the call to be perfect, in their head, and perhaps in their dreams. I would speculate many a little girl, as they take their first stumbles in toe shoes, has drifted to sleep with visions of being lifted into the lights before adoring thousands, and then drowning delightfully in a sea of tossed roses from a rapturously applauding audience.

More often, though, the call to perfection is more of a bark, harsh and unforgiving, from a dance master or mistress, or a choreographer, who, understandably driven by their own sense of discipline and vision, pushes the dancer to that point where the laws of gravity simply fall away. As Balanchine once said, “Dance is music made visible.” That’s hard to do.  I was blessed to work briefly for ABT and made this picture of the magnificent Marcelo Gomes and Julie Kent, who together and apart, are the epitome of grace and elegant lines. As they took this position, I was stupefied at the exacting nature of the choreographer, and the giving nature of the dancers, striving to bend their bodies to his will.

Much of this burden of perfectionism falls on the women, of course. “The ballet is a purely female thing; it is a woman, a garden of beautiful flowers, and man is the gardener,” again, quoting Mr. Balanchine. The women of the ballet world are stars, objects of desire and wonder, adored, even worshiped. They are also the subjected to intense scrutiny.

That scrutiny reached a fever pitch of late with Alastair Macaulay’s NYT review of New York City Ballet’s recent production of The Nutcracker. He stepped forward and critiqued Jenifer Ringer not just on her dance skills, but on her body type, saying she looked as if she had eaten “a sugar plum too many.” In the firestorm that followed this comment, he remained unapologetic, noting that in the physical world of dance, the body is part of the art form.

True enough. When one engages in any public art, be it dance, movie making, painting or photography, criticism is part of the game. The internet, and it’s cloak of anonymity, has ratcheted up the volume of criticism that is out there, and, at least occasionally, lowered the level of civility with which commentary is leveled. Anybody can say anything they want in cyber space. One can wryly, ruefully, and patiently note that those who venture the least, and are blessed with not a scintilla of their own talent are the ones who are drumming the most loudly.  The old cry of “everybody’s a critic” has never been truer.

I was blessed to work with Jenny on a couple of occasions. Most notably, for me, she volunteered to be my test subject when I first worked with the world’s only Giant Polaroid camera, at the time located on the lower east side of NY. I have written of this instrument before, so I won’t belabor it’s specifics, but it was a monster of a camera. (Some folks confuse this camera with the Polaroid 20×24, which is quite a contraption, but toy-like in comparison to  the Giant Polaroid.) It was occasionally referred to as the 40×80, because that was roughly the size of the image created with one exposure. The interior chamber of the camera was as big as a one car garage, and, very crucially for a dance photo, at f45, the camera had a depth of field of about a half an inch. The lens had no shutter, so, just like in the old days, you had to go dark in the room, pull the cap of the lens, and hit the flash. In this case, about 35,000 watt seconds of flash.

You also could not focus the camera. You had to focus your subject. Small shuffles back and forth would place them in that tiny zone of critical sharpness. Then they had to hold that position for about 30 seconds while the interior workings of the camera got spooled up, the lights got shut, and the flash fired. Not easy to do. Especially on point.

If anybody’s wondering about the color of these, what you are seeing is the natural, and occasionally inconsistent color palette of the Polaroid material, not to mention some pretty rough copy work. The entire image, with the chemical tailing that is a trademark of the Polaroid process, is about eight plus feet tall. Naturally, I wasn’t content trying for a sharp, static photo with this behemoth camera. We experimented with introducing just a touch of motion.

Jenny was so magnificent posing for this beast of a camera that we were able to knock out 6 Giant Polaroids in one day. (The fact she was excellent at holding poses was truly fortunate for me, as at the time, each sheet of Polaroid cost $300, and this was my own gig. No client paying the bill for the photos.) At the end, she posed with few of these life sized replicas of herself.

It was a wonderful day in the studio. For my part, I had to wrangle the sheer size, complexity and balky nature of this camera into a responsive instrument that could capture Jenny’s wonderfully held moments and movements. For Jenny, it was an exercise in discipline and precision, two concepts she’s quite familiar with.  She is, I’ll venture to say, the only ballerina in the world who has ever posed for the Giant Polaroid. I’m fond of the images we made, even though they’ve been seen by about a dozen people. They remain rolled up in a tube in my basement. (Except for the one I gave Jenny, who in turn gave it to her parents. Geez, I hope they have a big house.) Perhaps someday a balletomane, or a museum devoted to ballet might offer a home for them. Who knows, after I’m gone, they might even be valuable. (As my friend Ronnie, who has collected a bit of my work, says, “I’m going to have you whacked. That way some your stuff might be worth something.”)

It’s been equally wonderful to watch from afar as she has fought through personal struggles, dropped out of dance for a while, and then returned to the stage as a principal dancer. She has always talked straight up about the life of a ballerina, and her struggles with her weight. Her talent and candor, I feel, make her a beacon in the dance world, which prefers to keep the pain, the anorexia, the sweat and the tears behind the curtain. Ballerinas look amazing on stage. Offstage, their bodies can be just as beat up as an NFL offensive lineman.

Jenny’s handled this week with typical aplomb and grace. She did not attack, nor demand apologies. Jenny’s not a 16 year old stick in pointe shoes. She’s a woman. And, as she said, quite directly, in response to Mr. Macauley’s column, “I’m not overweight.” Twyla Tharp once said of her, “Jenifer is a major talent; she is gorgeous; she has qualities few dancers do. She radiates what she is–a very good person. That combination of real beauty and talent and warmth made her a logical choice. Jenifer has a very clear, clean technique and her exceptional musicality is a factor; she is an intelligent person. In a partnership, Jenifer has a female quality that is marvelous.”

She is marvelous. She’s a woman who flies. More tk….