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Archive for February, 2011

Dallas Stopover

Feb 25

In Friends, history at 10:14am

Went through Dallas on this trip to visit a couple of dear friends. We met through photography. They fit a bit of a typical profile for photo enthusiasts. One is a very good, ardent shooter, and the other is an ever patient, equipment toting spouse.

I taught a bit at a local high school, lecturing both the art and journalism classes, and hopefully meeting the two in the middle. While down there my friends offered to host a dinner to acquaint friends of theirs’ with the Giant Polaroid Collection known as Faces of Ground Zero. It was a very welcome attempt to attract funding for the collection. The collection itself is covered now, thankfully, under the umbrella of the New York Foundation for the Arts, and their tax deductible giving program known as Artspire. Follow the link to learn more, or make a contribution.

A quick note came in today from my friends in Dallas…..  ” I too, spent some time with these Faces of Ground Zero, since it was my living room they inhabited for two days this week.  I had not been prepared for the emotional impact these huge images have when one is able to see them face to face.  To those of you who admire Joe’s work and follow his blog – Please, please join us in this fundraising effort with Artspire so these images can be installed in the  9/11 Memorial Museum. Every contribution, large or small, will help ensure the safe future for this magnificent Collection, described by the Museum Director as, ” An endeavor of exceptional artistic, emotional and historical significance.”  Joe McNally, who gives so generously of his time, his caring, and his expertise in photography to all of us who admire him, can do with some help on this.”

It was the first time I had seen these pictures staged in a sedate, non-public setting. I made them, unbelievably, 10 years ago, in the tumultuous month that followed 9/11/01. Now, in the quiet of this beautiful room, we had a short, but wonderful conversation.

Back in February of 2002, the collection began an odyssey. Starting at Grand Central Station in NYC, it migrated to Boston, London, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and then back to NY, which is where they ultimately belong. They came out of storage again at the 5th Anniversary of 9/11, staging at the Firefighter’s Museum, down on Spring Street. During the course of this journey, they became a book, elevated awareness, and helped in an effort that raised almost $2 million dollars for 9/11 relief.

Other than that, they’ve been in storage. 24,000 pounds of framed, crated pictures, all over nine feet tall. Storing them month after month has been an uphill fight for my small studio, and in tough years, damn near broke me. Adorama came to the rescue a couple years ago, and now they pay the storage bill. It was the first of numerous, wonderful collaborations I’ve had with that camera shop on 18th St.

It was good to see them again, like greeting old friends I hadn’t seen for five years. They called me back to that time, in that studio, with that giant beast of a camera. I slept over it, actually, in a loft bed. Didn’t stray farther than a couple blocks from the studio the whole time. Crews from ground zero showed up, often unannounced, at 2am, 8am, midnight, whenever. If they came, a picture was made.

I say “picture” advisedly. For most of the folks, I made one picture only. Each sheet of Polaroid was $300. Thank goodness the Giant Polaroid didn’t have a motor drive attachment.

The images bring back that desperate time, quite vividly. Every time the studio door would open, dust from the pit would sweep in, filling the room with the tang of destruction. There were tears, and anger.

But mostly, I remember the people. Filled with resolute dignity, they stepped in front of this strange photographic instrument and shared their story, their loss, and their determination. A bond was made, and I feel it still. In the moment of exposure, an agreement was struck, a wordless understanding: I’ll stand for your camera, then it’s up to you to see it through.

As a group, we have traveled quite a ways for quite a while, and hopefully we’ll come soon to a destination. The 9/11 Memorial Museum wants to be their permanent home, which is appropriate, and I have hopes. I’ve been a photog too long to say more than that. I have hopes. After 30 years behind the lens, it’s enough to have.

It’s a wonderful thing to be a photog. We can illustrate the pages of our adventure, sometimes with pictures that really mean something.

More tk….

Finally, A Book That Has Everything You Need To Know

Feb 22

In Books, Friends at 9:48am

Well, at least about getting your pictures up on the web effectively. Which, if you’re going to have a voice, a presence, a personality, and a chance of survival in the roiling  sea of photogs out there, is simply a necessity. Especially now, as the click of keys has replaced the roar of presses, shooters and scribes are no longer ink stained wretches, but pixel pushing, web browsing, self publishing lords of the internet. To compete nowadays, you have to get in the game, and this book is the playbook. Here’s a link, Get Your Photography on the Web, by RC Concepcion.

Hell, I wouldn’t know HTML from a dashboard plugin, and I’m enjoying reading it. It is so concise, logical, and simple, it demystifies the hydra-headed monster known as the internet, and paves the way for you to just go do it. I liken the book to the tunnel leading onto the playing field. It is a directional, no frills, easy to negotiate one way street. You keep going, and the dark recedes, things get brighter and brighter, and you hear the muffled roar of the crowd. Then–BOOM! You are in the light, on the field, the people are screaming, and it’s on! Game time! Website! Blog! Portfolio! Your pictures are no longer in a box under the shelf at the back of the closet. They are on the world wide web, and anybody can see them, and say anything they want about them. Heh, heh! Be careful what you you wish for.

There’s a personal note to all of this for me. I’m just so damn happy for RC, who is one of the most giving, ebullient, warm hearted people on the planet, not just our industry. Down at the Kelby Camp, they refer to him as the Swiss Army knife of the internet–he can do anything and everything with a computer, including rebuild one with spit, glue and well, maybe a Swiss Army knife. He also the author of one of the sweetest dance photographs–ever.

RC shot this of his lovely wife Jen, who is a magnificent ballerina, with the adorable Sabie, their daughter, looking up from mom’s pointe shoes. I have been blessed to work with Jen a couple of times, capturing her in flight.

Jen’s a typically perfectionist ballerina. I brought her out on the sand, and she was saying, “Ooh, I won’t look good on this surface. I won’t be able to leap, or jump, or anything!” Then she goes off like Superwoman in pointe shoes.

What’s even cooler for me, personally, is that I was standing right next to RC when he shot the cover of the book, which is a wonderful frame of Central Park in NYC. I called my friend Rita, who lives in a building with one of those views, and she asked a neighbor for a few minutes on their porch. We went up, shot some pix, and then she treated RC and I to borscht, bread, cheese and vodka. Definitely a New York night.

Whether you’re just starting, or thinking about ramping up your web presence, this book is the bible…..more tk….

And Now, A Word from (actually) About our Sponsors

Feb 17

In Tours at 7:52am

Apologies for the long post. Worth it, though, ’cause there’s a lot of stuff in the Flashbus schwag bag. Seems David and I made a few calls:-)))))  That’s the good news, and plenty of it, so read on. The bad news is that for certain cities, the window has closed. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, DC, New York, Boston, Buffalo, and Chicago are sold out. In fact the tour itself is already nearing 80% sold out.

So, what would you say if somebody came up to you and said, hey, wanna help out a couple cartoon characters who are getting on a bus in Seattle, driving around the country and ending in St. Louis 5 weeks later? “And they’re doing this why?” And the answer is, well, they’re going to teach about small flash, manual mode, TTL, hi speed sync, PocketWizard radio TTL control, light stands, light shapers, light modifiers, light blockers, digital cameras, and pixels in the sky, They’re going to tell stories, offer up 60 years of accumulated wisdom laced with nonsense, fall off stages, explode flashes, and pull people out of the audience and light ’em up. They’re gonna do a free form, no boundaries (well, maybe a few) Q&A everyday, and throw expensive photo stuff into the audience in response to a particularly enlightened query, or one that is just plain funny.

Write that down on a loan application and walk into Citibank with it, and see what they say.

We walked into Adorama Camera in NYC and spoke the above to Harry Drummer, who seems to keep everything running at the shop, and he looked across the table and said, “Okay.” DH’s head and mine did a synchronized tilt, like a pair of trained felines. “Really?” Harry said yes, again. He, methinks, is a wise man, with a mischievous streak, and he enjoys an adventure. I don’t really know what his title is. On his business card, it probably says, he who knows all and juggles all, who is capable of making more cell phone calls in an 5 story elevator ride than anyone else, and keeper of the keys to the lightning fast decision. Hmmmm…that would be kind of long to put on a business card

Maybe it just says “magician.” When he walks through the store, all the cameras tend to hover slightly off the shelves. I’ve seen it. At any rate, he and the team at Adorama worked some magic, and conjured a bus ride for David and I. Without the efforts of Adorama, Harry, Jeff Snyder, Monica Cipnic and others, the wheels on the bus definitely don’t go round and round. They are good folks, which is why they’re up on my blog, and partners in the effort to keep the Faces of Ground Zero Giant Polaroid collection together.

There are more folks who are helping us out. What DH and I have found, remarkably, after all this time in this nutty biz, there’s still some people out there in the world of making photo stuff who can still stand us. More than that, actually. They’ll listen.

A word about David, if I may. He remarkably knows the intricacies of the web, and how to use the web to intelligently, coherently teach and amass knowledge, get news out, and display his prodigious skills as a shooter and educator. It is nothing short of astonishing.  For a great deal of the planning stages of this tour, I have sat at tables with the crew, blinking in bovine amazement as he leads the discussion of SEO’s, Google analytics, and DVD editing and organization. At tour meetings, everyone is summing up complex thoughts, notions and details, finishing their coffee and getting up from the table and I look down at my note pad and there’s a few words, painfully scrawled….”JOE AND DAVE GET ON BIG BUS…..”

Back to our sponsors, one of which is Manfrotto. Marco Tortato, the originator of the Manfrotto School of Excellence, shouted out from Italy, “Va bene!” Over here in the states,  Kriss Brungrabber and Mark Astman both said, “Are you nuts?” and then said okay. They are chipping in with all manner of camera and video support systems, stands, clamps, grips…and about a hundred Tri-grips and Justin Clamps that the Strobist and I will wing into the audience at various stops. Lastolite is in as well, of course, and the stage will be littered with diffusers, reflectors, Ezybox soft boxes, and a new line, influenced by ideas and suggestions from someone implausibly named Numnuts. More on that tk….

Adorama and Manfrotto are definitely putting gas in the tank, and making sure we get David to a Chipolte at least every other night. Which brings us to the question of…


What David and I did was just start talking to people we know who make stuff we use. And they all said yes. The result is a schwag bag which will be given out to all attendees that, potentially, if you use it all, has STUFF IN IT THAT COULD BE WORTH MORE THAN THE PRICE OF AN ADMISSIONS TICKET.


Thinktank…Has a branded Flashbus Pixel Pocket Rocket in there. Adorama is the biggest distributor of Thinktank stuff on the planet, so they’re a natural fit.

Peachpit has a coupon thrown in that gives a discount on a selection of their books.

Lumiquest chipped in with an Ultra Strap. (Which really works, BTW. Most secure way of attaching a light shaper to a small flash I’ve come across.)

Spyder’s got a Flashbus notebook, and a promo code for discounting Spyder monitor calibrator purchases.

Rosco chipped in a Strobist Collection Gel Kit. It’s got a collection of gels in there that you really, actually use, hand picked by the Strobist himself.

Pocket Wizard designed and printed a poster. Which when David and I sign it will be worth less than what it would be unsigned.

Frio…very cool. They’re giving away their cold shoe accessory, which rocks. In the bag there is a promo code. Use it, and they will send you one, free.

NIK software is in for a 15% off coupon for any new NIK software or upgrade.

Tether Tools, which makes fantastic computer platforms and connectors for working tethered, has a promo code in the bag for free Jerk Stopper Cable Retention Device with a $100 purchase. I have pulled out my cords from the laptop so many times that I think the “jerk stopper” was named for me.

That’s a bunch of cool stuff, and we will be doling out bags at every stop. Given the vagaries of shipping, and the fact that the bus is a moving target, this announcement is not a done deal guarantee that every item will make it into every bag in every city. But we’re sure gonna try.

And then, there’s the stuff from the stage. During the day, and in the Q&A, David and I will be distributing cool stuff like Lexar pro cards and readers, Manfrotto Justin Clamps and Lastolite Tri-Grips, Lumiquest LTP’s and Softbox III’s, a Spyder3Elite Monitor Calibrator at each stop, and one Tether Tools USB tethering cable at each stop. NIK is winging in with one Color Efex Pro 3.0 complete edition, or a Viveza 2, or a HDR Efex Pro software giveaway in each city. (A word about the Lumiquest LTP–it rocks. I’be been using it a lot, and it pumps out a cool, punchy but soft quality of light.

Did I mention this is all Drew Gurian’s fault, by the way? He has this (literally) hazy history of his days as a rock ‘n roller. He won’t discuss it much, because of all the well publicized travail with the various groups he drummed for. Seems he was always filling in for some poor previous drummer who exploded on stage, or drowned in their own vomit. You know, the typical rock and roll tale of woe. It was Drew who said last year, “Like, why don’t we get this, you know, tour bus…..”

More tk….

DB and the Chopper

Feb 11

In Friends, history at 7:03am

Got a note this week from David Burnett, long time photojournalist, who this month is chairing the judging committee over at the World Press Photo awards. Judging that contest is a massive task, requiring a couple weeks, lots of coffee, a love of visual storytelling, a point of view, and probably some eye drops. Thousands of images a day pass by the judges.

If you don’t know David’s work, you should, and almost certainly you have seen it and been moved by it, even if you didn’t know who was the author of it. He has covered the globe for virtually every major magazine out there, and done so with an intelligent eye and an open heart. Back in the day, when magazines actually let photojournalists act on a hunch, or overstay a trip just in case something might happen, David was in Iran. Sensing a seismic shift coming, he hung in, and his visual document of the toppling of the Shah, and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini is gripping and complete. He was perhaps the first Western journalist to gain access to the Ayatollah, and gave us a look at the Muslim cleric who changed Middle East politics forever.

David got this picture, and others, by being David, which means he stuck with it, went with the action, made good choices, sidled along with the crowd, created an opportunity, and most importantly, was ready photographically, when the door opened and he had a brief window with Khomeini. His coverage, and the thought process behind it, is presented, remarkably, in the book, 44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World.

DB continues his wry observation of the world from his blog, We’re Just Sayin. He pointed my attention to a recent entry about the day in Vietnam he didn’t get on a chopper.

The war wasn’t going well, and the official US position on moving the press around had changed. Instead of flying aboard American choppers, flown by more experienced pilots, the press was being ferried about on VN Army birds. On board this flight were Larry Burrows of Life, Henri Huet of the Associated Press, Kent Potter of United Press International, and Keisaburo Shimamoto of Newsweek. David was denied. He argued and pushed, but the answer was no. The bird was too crowded, too heavy. It took off, and never came back. All four shooters perished.

I never knew how close DB came to getting on that doomed helicopter. Reading his blog reminded me all over again of the essentially shaky nature of being a shooter. Even engaged in the most routine assignments, success is never guaranteed, and nothing is certain. It is always a risk, always a leap. For war correspondents, the leap of faith taken every day is staggering.

Like the one Burnett took by staying in Iran. There were no guarantees, no certainty of outcome, just a feeling that something momentous was about to happen. He stuck with it, which is sometimes, as a photog, all you can do. And then pray you’ll be ready with a camera to your eye when the moment you thought you needed to wait for implausibly, inexplicably, and suddenly, happens.

David’s been taking those leaps for years, quite successfully. It is sad to recall that tragic flight, of course, and the lives and talent lost. One positive note for me is that David didn’t fly that day. If he had, we would all be the poorer for it….  more tk…..

Amare on Fire….

Feb 4

In In The Field at 6:57am

Photographed Amare Stoudamire a couple times when he was a hotshot with Phoenix. We got along fine, and he actually gave me some time to work, an unusual event when in the company of a big time athlete. Made some decent pix, which Sports Illustrated did not use, as I recall. Shot him as well for Sports Illustrated for Kids, which did run as a cover, if memory serves.

The big guy, the Elinchrom 74″ Octa, is like cheating at cards. Basically, you put this light up and everything looks nice. I have often been on location where this light replaced a good idea, which I was bereft of at the time. Big, soft, luminous, this puppy covers the waterfront in fine style. Perfect light for tough spot, when you got no time and your noodle is crackling with all the intensity of a three way bulb on dim.

Or, if you are in the company of somebody 6’10” and tipping the scales at 240. Big guy, big light. It makes things quick and easy, which is where you want to be when you have the star for minutes. It also makes adjusting the light tres simple. No grids, tape, snoots, and multiple small flashes which will not fire on cue, etc. With the octa it’s basically up, down, left, right. Not too tough to do.

Highlight flash off the floor in the background is well, you know, the Phoenix Suns, man, the sun, right? Geez, I get some lame ideas at times.

Amare’s got an amazingly soft touch, which in part derives from his eye hand coordination and the sheer size of his mitts.

So I shot that. SI didn’t go for it, as I said.

During the shoot, I did one of most stupid things ever. We were at the half court stripe, and he looked at me and gestured with his head towards the faraway hoop. “Got a hundred bucks?” he asked. I blinked. Stared at it and blinked. Said no. Damn. I probably had a hundred bucks in my pocket. Coulda gone shot for shot with Amare Stoudamire from half court. I mighta even won. Lord looks after a fool, right? Mighta got lucky on my first shot. Oh, well. Just kept shooting pictures.

The way Amare’s been tearing it up for the Knicks lately, it would be a sure way to lose a quick Benjamin. Basketball at the Garden is fun again. Gonna go to a game in Feb. with the K-Man. Damn, it’s good to be home….more tk.