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Archive for December, 2010

A Show at Monroe!

Dec 13

In News, Upcoming Events at 6:19am

Last trip of the year, next week, will be a fun one. Heading for Santa Fe, and doing a book signing and opening a small show at the prestigious Monroe Gallery. Here’s the link for the show. There’s been a lot of wonderful photogs’ work on those walls over the years–Eisenstadt, Mydans, Parks, Loengard, Leifer, Smith. Just feel very humbled to share the space.

Doing a book signing along with the show. The new LIFE Guide to Digital Photography has been out for a bit now, and it was a fun book to write. Writing a guide really makes you think about what you do as a shooter, especially those bits and pieces you just take for granted after 30 years, but are understandably mysterious to those who just pick up the camera.

In other news, just contributed to a holiday digital camera story for the New York Times.

My bud David Hobby contributed some bits and pieces as well, and it was cool trying to point folks to handy or useful stuff for the picture taker in their family. Here’s the link to the whole article.

Hang in folks….end of the year’s in sight! More tk….

A Cold Night, A Long Time Ago….

Dec 9

In history at 7:59am

In 1980, I was a network staff photographer for ABC TV in New York. I had graduated through the post college processing school known as New York press photography, and somehow landed this odd duck of a job shooting stills for TV folks. Which meant of course I was the always the caboose of the operation, the afterthought of a bunch of people who were pre-occupied with moving pictures, not still ones. I would be dispatched to various events, like Monday Night Football, or political conventions, or All My Children, to shoot the pictures that would support the news, advertising and publicity surrounding the various endeavors of ABC. These snaps would be used a hundred different ways from Sunday.

That was what I was doing the night John Lennon was shot. I had just gotten back to my tiny apartment on W.65th St. after shooting the stills for a televison special called “The American Dance Machine.” Shot, as always, color and B&W, horizontal and vertical, fulfilling my ongoing assignment mandate of shooting material that anybody could use, any which way they wanted. I had no TV,  just an AM-FM radio, which I always turned on at night, being a bit of news junkie at the time. I would get a quick overview of the day, and switch to WNEW,  my preferred rock and roll station. Music to go to sleep by.

The music stopped. Vin Scelsa came on, shaky voiced. I remember the ever loquacious Scelsa saying”for the first time in my career as a radio deejay, I am speechless,” or words to that effect.  John Lennon had been shot. Scelsa simply started playing Beatles music.

Very quickly, the news he had been shot changed. Very quickly, word spread that John Lennon was dead.

I was tired. But, on a sidewalk I had traveled hundreds of times, a few blocks from my bed, this voice I had grown up with was gunned down. Couldn’t sleep. Slung the cameras and the press card, and went out.

First stop was Roosevelt Hospital. Had to go there to see what was happening. Of course, there wasn’t anything to see. Grievously wounded, he was DOA, even though they worked on him in the ER. There was a column in the Daily News after, about officers Bill Gamble and James Moran, the cops who transported him to the hospital. They asked him, “Do you know who you are?” He allegedly replied, “I’m John Lennon.” There is evidently conflicting reports as to whether Lennon was able to respond, but the thing is, when the cops make the desperation move of using the squad car as an ambulance, it’s more than serious. Death is imminent.

I made a picture of the hospital building, what is called in NY press parlance a “real estate.” No possible pictures of the drama and sadness inside, but you can always run a photo showing where it went down. Went from there to the Dakota, where a crowd was already gathering.

They spilled all over 72nd St. Singing Beatles songs and holding candles. I stayed, shooting pushed Ektachrome, and trying not to feel like a ghoul. Hard thing about being a shooter, right? Some people understand what you are doing, others don’t. Have to let the judgments slide off your back. Bad feelings, bad words, keep working, let it go, keep your eye in the lens. Remember–at the end of this day what remains? The pictures.

And not many of those. My early archive is mostly fragmented junk now, a scrap heap of early efforts and things I wish I had seen a whole lot better than I did. Have just a few frames left of that night, and the day that followed.

I stayed into the night and the morning, which then stretched into the day. Lots of coffee. Lots of thoughts. Sometimes, with a camera in your hands, it’s just tough to leave. More tk….

Ever Wonder How It Really Happens?

Dec 6

In Stories at 5:24am


Ever wonder how a reindeer achieves aerodynamic lift? Or how many elves Santa actually employs? Who designed the sleigh? How many world leaders are actually informed about Santa’s flight path? (Closely guarded secret, mind you.) Why the North Pole, anyway? Do reindeer retire?

If these and other questions about Santa’s mythology circle through your head at this time of year, you might want to check out the 15th Anniversary Edition of the Flight of the Reindeer Did I say mythology? Hmmm…..might be time to reconsider that label.

As famed Polar explorer Will Steger relates in this tome, “Above us, gliding, were a hundred reindeer? Two hundred, five hundred! They coated the sky.” Please note, he said reindeer, not stars. Even staid Sir Edmund Hillary finally admits in Flight that he actually observed his companion Tenzing Norgay “placing some cookies and some chocolates…in the snow.” Figures, really. Highest point on the planet would be a good cookie break stop for the big guy in the red suit.

Seems that the author of this journalistic account of the actual how-to, behind the scenes look at Santa’s big night, Bob Sullivan, through exhaustive research via reliable sources found an entirely new species of reindeer, called Rangifer Tarandus Pearyi. It is from their ranks that the select few who fly the sled are chosen.

santastudyAt the last printing of the book, Bill Clinton was President, and in fact, as also reported by The Boston Globe on December 25, 1996:  “President Clinton signed an official proclamation this week ordering American airliners to be on ‘heightened alert’ last night as Santa Claus made his appointed Christmas Eve rounds. The President’s proclamation called on Transportation Secretary Federico Pena to ‘restrict all flight paths on all United States registered aircraft and all aircraft in or around the area of the North Pole on December 24th and 25th.’ The presidential action came in response to [information] that former President George Bush was quoted in a new book as saying that signing the Santa Clause executive order was among his finest moments in the White House  . . . In Clinton’s proclamation, the President instructed all pilots flying near the North Pole ‘to be on heightened alert for red sleighs traveling at an expected speed of 650 miles per second at a cruising altitude of approximately 30,000 feet.’


The book has beautiful illustrations, maps and photos. Which of course got me to thinking. They need photos? I called Sully, the author, and Glenn Wolff, the illustrator ( I figured they must have connections, like, an email, or a cell number)  and said, hey, please let them know up North I’m ready. I’ve worked a lot in Siberia, I’ve been backseat in tons of tactical aircraft, I’ve climbed stuff so I don’t fear heights, and I can work a camera pretty well. So, you know, after 35 years, I’m, you know, ready. They sent my request for media coverage to the North Pole, and I anxiously await. This is more nerve wracking than waiting for an Olympics credential to come through!

I sent my D3S cameras to Melville for clean, check and winterizing. Thankfully, shooting digital, ’cause when I used to try to load Kodachrome in the Arctic, the film leaders would just crack like crazy in my gloved fingers. Now–I got 32 gig Lexars. Figure a few of them will get me through. Put through a couple requests to position remotes as well. Whaddaya think lens-wise? Figuring two bodies, 24mm f1.4 for low light stuff. 14-24 for in close on the sleigh. 70-200’s gotta come. Fast 85? Probably smart. I know the big guy’s concerned about additional weight. (Kinda the pot callin’ the kettle, right? I’m just sayin’….) SB900 with an SD 9 bat pack. One flash. Lumiquest softbox. Couple warming gels, in case I get to do a blend with tree lights. Not going for remote flash stuff up there. Hot shoe stuff all the way. Throw in an SC-29 to get the light off the camera, but then what I am gonna hang on with, my toes? Might have to go straight flash, ride and shoot, ride and shoot. Gotta have at least one flash, though, ’cause all those chimneys are gonna be a bitch. Figure I’ll sling the whole mess in a Thinktank belt harness. Wave tool? Always handy, and Santa don’t do TSA.

This new printing is an anniversary edition, as I mentioned. Glad they brought it back, as it was a favorite for my kids back in their day. TIME for kids noted about the original:  “Little kids love stories about Santa’s flying reindeer, but maybe you’re ready for something more scientific. Now you can read the not quite down-to-earth facts in Flight of the Reindeer by Robert Sullivan, illustrated by Glenn Wolff. Sullivan interviewed reindeer experts, historians, flight specialists and other ‘Santa’s helpers’ around the world. Their eyewitness accounts of reindeer streaking across starlit northern skies are, well, unbelievable. Wolff’s beautiful, detailed drawings show how the aerodynamics of reindeer flight are like airplane flight. . . .Secret details of reindeer flight are revealed. Did you know that all U.S. Presidents sign a ‘Santa Claus clause’ directing planes to clear North Pole airspace on Christmas Eve? That Dasher was hyperactive as a fawn? That the team has been together for 2,000 years? (Except for rookie Rudolph-just 1,500 years.) There’s incredible, detailed history here. Sullivan seems to be full of it!”

They’ve got a Facebook page going for the book, and I think they’ll be posting fitness reports on this year’s reindeer crew.  I’ll let you know on the credential. More tk…..

Knockin’ Around

Dec 1

In Friends, On Location at 9:03am


Drew and Grippi in our studio conspired recently to post a youtube video
of me getting wiped out by a fast moving long boarder.

Being the rather massive tribute to inertia that I am, I demonstrate the nimbleness and cat like reflexes of an overloaded garbage truck in attempting the dodge this wheel borne mini-bullet train. Above is the last frame before I bailed. Nobody got hurt, but I decided that wet tarmac and a hairpin turn were just too much excitement, and we sought a different venue.


The above was done ad hoc, seat of the pants shooting. (What else?) We went out with the guys from Landyachtz boards, who were amazing. I’m hanging out the back of the mini-van, with two Justin clamped SB’s on the support struts of the tailgate, and one flash on camera acting as a commander and a flash. The van is rolling about 45mph or so, and the guys on the boards occasionally outpaced us and just came right up to the bumper and pushed off. Also out there with us were a couple of Vancouver based buds, Syx Langemann and David Cooper, both terrific shooters. The Vancouver photo community is just great, with photogs like Syx and David, and places like the Vancouver Photo Workshops. There’s a very talented pool of people there, and a great spirit of sharing and teaching. It’s why we go back year after year.


Couple years ago, I made what is one of my favorite couples portraits ever, of Syx and his lovely wife Taryn.


The beautiful bump in Taryn’s belly has now become the precociously gorgeous Hannah, who, in this follow up portrait, is orbiting mom and dad like, well, an eighteen month old.


After Vancouver, I rotated through home and ended up in Amsterdam, at the Zoom Experience, held in Utrecht. Again, just a great bunch of folks, and I was very honored to be part of the presenting corps.


Muddled through in the usual unrehearsed, “let’s see where this goes,” kind of style. We were presenting in this theater in the round type of black box, so just like walking into a photo studio, I pulled out lights and hunted for a photograph. I was blessed to be working with Aad. He is a patient soul who works for Nikon Netherlands, and actually interfaces with photogs who bring in busted or dysfunctional gear, so he gets to see us at our collective best, not to mention most patient. Perhaps that’s why he looks a bit like a mix of Neil Young and Keith Richards. I took my file and ran it through Aperture and de-saturated it a touch. Aperture’s sleek enough, and understandable enough, that even a post processing numnuts like myself can understand it.


My thanks go out to all the folks at the Zoom theater, and especially the Nikon Netherlands gang, headed up by Berend van Iterson and Roeland Koene, who stitched it all together. The gentleman running the show screens and all the AV wizardry was Pierre Jacobs,  part Photoshop master and part Conan O’Brian. He kept everybody loose, and the shows running. He, too, was struck by Aad’s persona, enough to riff a bit on the current “I am Nikon” campaign.


It’s been a lively week or so. Hope everybody had a great Turkey Day. Can’t believe it’s December. As my mom used to say, “Oh, you know, 4th of July and the year’s over.” I didn’t really believe her, but you know, she mighta been onto something. More tk….