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Archive for April, 2011

Location Language, or, Bleeped Bloopers

Apr 26

In Rambling at 5:14am

I was literally up to my ass in alligators not too long ago, on behalf of Kelby Training, attempting a video tutorial on location lighting in first, a swamp, and then later on a beach, in decidedly non-beach-like weather. Doing the Kelby videos is a lot of fun, and they have gradually (actually, more like, suddenly) amassed the greatest compendium of video learning and teaching on the planet about anything visual–Photoshop, lighting, digital photography, you name it. But this was a frustrating day, one of those location days where you barely find the corner, much less turn it. I’ve had many of these during the course of spinning the roulette wheel of photography for thirty years. On these days, which I still find eminently preferable to a predictable, safe, or even good day inside an office (do they exist?) a certain brand of patter bubbles out of me which, in some quarters, might be deemed profane. Offensive, even. Downright saucy!

Yeah, guilty as charged. I could blame my childhood, but that’s so Hollywood starlet. I could blame excessive use of pain killers, but I’m a photog, and that has its’ own special brand of pain, yet to be tamed by pharmaceuticals, so I actually don’t use those haze inducing pills, pleasant as they sound. (I would, actually, if I were regularly in an office and had to go to non-stop meetings. For those in that type of an unfortunate setting, I think any and all mood altering substances should be legalized. Think of it as an occupational version of medical marijuana.)

Basing my career in NY has definitely had something to do with it. (There I go, lamely blaming my environment.) But in a big city press room, having your own personal quiver of verbal arrows was essential to survival. I mean, without a customized, creatively ornate, almost baroque sense of the profane insult, you were defenseless out there on that ink stained field of battle. You had to get with the program, or get gone. I mean, when you work the copy rim with a bunch of dirty old men whose sole mission in life was to slip a seemingly benign headline with obscene overtones past the managing editor on a daily basis, you get the message real quick. I remember a news short coming in that was the story of an evidently extremely lonely soul who was arrested for assaulting, ahem, his neighbor’s cows. Seems the dairy farmer, seeing his charges act a bit out of sorts, tipped police to his suspicions about what was going on with Daisy and Buttercup out there in the barn, and they staked the joint out and arrested the dude in, as they said in the piece, “mid-assault.” The rather ordinary headline of “Sodomy Charged” on this story was subsequently changed to “Cowpoke Arrested.” I don’t think that head made the paper.

I was pretty timid when I started, but I was shocked into the swim of things quite early on. I remember working the international desk as a freshly minted copy kid, and watched when one of the editors, obviously hammered, cigarette drooping from his lip, saunter up to his station in the middle of the newsroom, unzip his fly, serenely urinate in the waist basket next to his desk, then sit down and edit the 2 Star. Then of course there was Zucci, in the art department, who would take all the bridal announcement pictures and airbrush in cleavage before they got printed in the paper. He would walk these black and whites around the newsroom, proudly displaying his artwork. “Poor girl,” he would say, “Only time in her life she gonna be in the paper and she got nuttin’ to show for it!” He fixed that, and I’m sure many a shocked, prospective groom would do a double take on the day of the nuptial announcement, wondering how his bride to be had all of sudden acquired an enormous set of hooters.

In photo, it got savage, at least on occasion. When your negs would go up on the screen for edit, guys would walk by, look, and inquire, “Whose shit is this?” This was nuanced commentary, mind you. I was touring a bunch of blue haired ladies through the darkroom once, and Bobby Hayes, one of the printers, and a former Marine who had seen action on Iwo Jima, turned to them to politely explain why he didn’t use the air gun with the ionized tip in his print station to clean the negs. “I don’t wanna get fuckin’ sterile,” was his explanation. Needless to say, I walked the ladies briskly over to take a look at the print washing area. Then of course there was the photog on the staff who was roundly disliked by many in the department. When this shooter would call in a job on the two way,  other shooters could hear it, and they simply opened their own mikes and started barking like dogs over the air. Brutal.

You developed a thick skin, and sharp elbows. I had an editor at UPI who could say the f-bomb more times before pausing to breathe again than any human being I have every met. The fact that most of those expletives were directed at me, and my obvious lack of abilities and intelligence, bothered me not. The use of language was so creative, I simply stood in awe and appreciation.

So there ya go. Product of my environment. I’m depraved ’cause I’m deprived. Or something like that. I mean, stuff happens out there on location, and sometimes to verbally get your arms and head around the events, it just seems that a creative metaphor, or a pithy rejoinder is the way to go. Sure makes the day go faster. I am given pause when this brand of language makes it into my public teaching stints. I’ll stop, look over at Drew, and say something like, “I shouldn’t have said that, huh?” He generally sighs, and agrees. Oh well. What the fuck….more tk….

Pause for Thought…

Apr 14

In Thanks, Thoughts at 10:33am

We are goofing our way across the country, in our last week of life on a bus. It’s been a fun ride, mostly because of the people we have met, the passion we have encountered, and the incredibly warm welcome we have received from Seattle to NY to Grand Rapids to Atlanta to Albuquerque. We have taught, laughed, screwed up, thrown flashes in the air, logged over 11,000 miles (so far), and just in general, made light (ouch!) of everything. Just a bunch of bucketheads on a bus. Then, in the midst of a laugh, you get a note that’s like a quick snort of smelling salts. It clears the head, and removes the fog that sometimes descends after a bumpy night’s sleep in a rolling, two foot wide bed. It snaps you back to the wonderful reality of just how being involved in picture making on any level gets into the very marrow of your bones. If life is a patchwork quilt, photography can be the stitching.

From one of our attendees……

True Story about the day…

4 weeks ago the light of my life, business partner, and ongoing source of… umm… determination; was diagnosed with terminal, incurable, ultra rare, neuro-endocrine cancer. 2 weeks ago when we were meeting with the oncologist to discuss treatment, Eric informed his doctor that he refused to start any kind of treatment until after April 12th because he didn’t want to be ill for the date. I have been a follower of Strobist since I stumbled accross it a couple months after Strobist began. Eric has worshiped Joe McNally for years and we now own all his books. Off camera Nikon strobes is what brought us together. Between the 2 of us; the event of Joe and David finally coming to the Midwest to speak was a nearly religious experience.

So to Joe, thank you. I was the one with the snarky comment that you gave the disks to, it made me happy and it overjoyed Eric. We had already decided that we couldn’t afford the DVD’s. That was a gift with a double whammy that will make the trip to Indy so special for us for the time we have left together. I really can’t thank you enough or tell you how happy we were to be there. Neither of us are the kind to gush over celebrities and I NEVER write to them; but, thank you, thank you, thank you.

To David….. OMG I got to stand near DAVID HOBBY, the man made of light! And shake is hand! Seriously, it was funny sitting there listening to you and to have Eric lean over to me and say, “I understand why you think he’s so cool, he’s been hugely influential on every aspect of your photographic philosophy”.

Thank you all so much for a great day of laughter and light!

You get a note like that, and it is humbling, overwhelming, and motivating all at the same time. It makes you want to shoot better, teach better, and just be better. It makes you want to call your wife or husband. It makes you want to take more pictures of your kids. It reassures you that this lark we’re on has a good reverb.  It reaffirms that as a shooter, it’s about being in the trenches, keeping your eye in the camera, pushing through the mistakes and the misgivings and the slumps. It’s about sharing knowledge, and pushing each other. Giving back is so much more important than pixels.

Kat and Eric…sending light your way…..more tk….

Many Thanks to All as We Ramble and Roll…

Apr 3

In Tours at 10:29pm

Picked up again for the second half of the Flashbus Tour. Atlanta Saturday, Nashville Sunday, Raleigh Durham today. This has been one of those once in a lifetime adventures, nothing short of amazing. People across the country have been so gracious. The bus has alternately been loaded with gifts of cookies, donuts, beer, brownies, coffee, candy, beer,  flashlights, and, well, more beer. We have certainly been a motley crew, especially anybody who sees us in the morning, staggering around a loading dock, pre-shower, moving gear and boxes out of the hold of the bus. Very glam, life on the road. Often, we wake up behind some giant building in a parking lot, near a dumpster. I think we have gotten some gifts just because people feel bad for us.

No loading dock in Austin though, where we got a chance to move the bus inside the venue we were staging at. Cool! Gave us a chance to light the bus. Had about 20 VALs (you can see their feet under the bus) and about 50 or 60 art directors for this shot.

This trip has been one of discovery and reaffirmation for me.

For instance, I can confirm that breakfast sandwiches anywhere are really just a vehicle for ketchup.

Heard on the road: “You’re actually really nice. In all your pictures, you look mean.”

A life on the road as a photog makes you quite adaptable to all manner of conditions. For instance, living on a bus is not a big deal. In fact, it’s much, much nicer than many places I have temporarily hung my hat.

I can sleep anywhere, even at dinner. the younger guys on the bus chuckle about it, as the geezer just drifts away, but each of them has had some sort of malaise or illness so far, while the old guy chugs along.

Young Cali is in the throes of an internet romance. If I see him text one more time, I’m going to de-digitize him somehow.

Grippi is a road warrior, and may have found his calling as an emcee. He routinely describes Hobby as “The man who made us re-think the use of our tupperware!” Hysterical.

Sam Spratt is an incredible artist. He did the amazing illustration for the bus, and Andy Szejko at a Few Loose Screws worked up the overall artwork for the bus and the website. Jamie Mullican and the crew at Adnormous wrapped the bus and turned it into a giant, rolling cartoon.

Heard on the road: “Joe, are you limping, or are you just old?”

Hapa Sushi in Denver is the best sushi I have ever had in the continental US. Only thing better I have had is sushi at the fish market in Tokyo, and well….the only more immediate thing I could do would be to  catch it myself and go Gollum on it.

Heard on the road: “Is this bus like the one in Girls Gone Wild?”

Don’t have a group meal at a Mexican restaurant and then get on a bus. (I’m resigned to it though. This summer I go back to Santa Fe, and inevitably one of our class dinners is at a big Mexican type restaurant where all the food sloshes into the middle of the plate and looks like somebody already ate it once.)

The crew on the bus…..

First off, the big guy….Jeff Snyder of Adorama. As I always say, Adorama is the one who put the gas in the tank. Their support got us rolling. So, technically, he’s the client, and given that fact, we should be bringing him cappucino and scones on a platter every morning. But, Jeff ain’t like that. He pulls and hauls like the rest of the crew. He’s sleeps across from me, so when I pull back my curtain, he’s the first thing I see in the morning, which is very disconcerting. My morning salutations to Jeff have ranged from “Good morning, sunshine” to “Fuck off.”

David Hobby….he sleeps in the bunk below me, and I can always tell when he’s awake, ’cause his light glows upwards along the wall and I can hear him tapping out his blog, or moderating comments, or other tasks involved in running the worldwide strobist web. Given the amazing numbers of his readers, it’s very tempting to grab his computer while he’s not looking and tweet, you know, “TTL rules!” or “Manual Sucks!” or something pithy like that to his network.

Drew Gurian….overall producer. He keeps things running, which means paying attention to all the detail stuff, as well as the big stuff, and keeping Grippi and Cali organized, which is a bit like herding cats. He has to ask a lot of questions, some of which Phil, our driver, has deemed so dumb that he has nicknamed Drew “Shortbus.”

Karen Lenz….Lenzbaby directs traffic, organizes the VALs and is our interface with each venue. If it goes well, that’s a happy face, and if it is problematic, well, you don’t want to mess with Lenz before she’s showered, breakfasted and caffeinated. The fact that we have had very few of the typical last minute venue bobbles you could expect is a tribute to her fearsome organizational skills, and uh, persuasive demeanor. Lenz is also a goddess among women. Has to be, as she has put up with 6 flatulent men in a confined space for weeks.

Sleeping on the bus for me has been like sleeping on a train. Engine rumbles, low hum…lights out. a sleeping pill on wheels.

Heard on the road: From the waiting line to get in…..”Hey Joe, try not to suck today.”

Waking up every day at 5am in a loading dock is a good way to keep your feet on the ground. no blue only bowls of m&m’s, no vats of Dom sloshing around on this bus.

Everyplace we have staged has it’s own personality. At the Colorado Convention Center, we, as usual, put up stands with directional signs to our room, and each stand cost $10. We couldn’t use carts to load in, unless we wanted to take out a second mortgage. By contrast, the Seattle Convention Center did back flips for us. The manager there, Bruce, was so helpful we all started calling him Bruce Almighty.

More crew… Grippi….Is a whirling dervish of activity, except after setup in the morning when you can generally find him under a table, asleep on the floor, with his shoes off. It’s okay, he can go zero to sixty in about a half a second.

Cali… aka, Justin Bieber. He is the star of the soft core porno portion of my teaching stint. When he goes double guns for a picture, women in the audience just melt down. Lots of people in audiences have probably wanted to take him home. Unfortunately for him, most folks in our audience are older guys.

Phil, our driver…..Phil tells it like it is. He has driven a motorcycle at over 200mph. I suggested he could beat out any trooper on the highway at that speed, and he shook his head. “Radio’s always faster,” he said.

When told we had done a group shot while he was asleep, and thus not in it, he shrugged and said, “Well, then, it’s not a group.”

I can tell we are becoming family ’cause we are starting to eat off each other’s plates.

If you’re going to take a break from a long road trip, San Diego is a real good place to do it.

The volunteer corps, all the VALs, have been routinely amazing. So helpful. They have been gangbusters at every stop.

I think the younger guys are worried that I’m going to have some sort a nervous system train wreck, and they’ll have to start wheeling me onstage, where I’ll tap out out “Group B, Minus One” on an Ipad with my chin. Or I could be like George Lucas as a director and just have a bicycle horn taped to my chair. One beep is “faster,” and two beeps is “more intense.”

More tk…