responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Dangerous Dancing

Jan 28

In history, On Location at 5:43am

I have worked in Russia many times, and it remains a place of eternal fascination for me. It drips emotions and imagery like blood from a wound. It is vibrant, tough, wonderful, unexpected, and impossible. It’s beautifully ornate, but also, at turns, the very definition of austere.  It is raw, and wary of outsiders. But, once you gain a measure of knowing and make a bridge, there is very little that is not possible. I have been eyed with the keenest of suspicion, and embraced like a brother. The pictures you make there have a special echo, as sometimes, anyway, they were very tough to shoot. Read the rest of this entry »

Bo’s 50th!

Dec 10

In history at 6:05am

Bo Jackson just turned 50. That’s hard to believe. As a photog, you mark time not just by the calendar, or the ages of your kids, like many folks, but also by assignments done and pictures made. As shooters, we have the good fortune of creating a massive, ongoing scrapbook of our life and times, and getting paid for it. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that had “scam” written all over it.

It’s a noteworthy birthday for Bo, to be sure, and I wish him well. It’s a bit of a marker for me, also. Photographing him was my first big gig for Sports Illustrated. I went to Auburn, and spent a few days with him in the year he won the Heisman. Nice guy. Fun assignment.

The thing I really remember from the job was being scared outta my mind. You see, he was quite simply the best athlete I’ve ever been in the same room with. A triple threat in baseball, football and track, his physicality was so extraordinary, that, even when he was just plain walking around, he exuded strikingly supple grace and physical confidence. It was an unspoken announcement that this particular human body was, you know, a Ferrari. Most of the rest of us drive Hondas, Subarus and the like. In my case, it might be a Studebaker.

My mandate from the editors was to construct a typical set of feature pictures, from portraits to activities and interactions. One thing they were adamant about was showing his baseball prowess. It was off season, but he was practicing his swing in the batting cage. So, I got into the batting cage with him. Hence the aforementioned fear.

I was truly nervous, as he was hitting frozen ropes, and I was inside with him, firing bursts as I ducked behind a net. Couple times I coulda swore he took off a piece of my ear. I kept wondering what they would say at the SI equipment locker when I came back with a 300 f2.8 with a baseball stuck in the barrel.

Sadly, quite a number of pictures from this take have disappeared. That’s the way of it, occasionally, when your slides would swim through the maw of a big magazine, get shipped here and there, handled by your agent, and picture people unknown, mostly while you were on the road, doing something else. Slides, like socks, sometimes never made it back into their drawers.

I do have a few chromes left of the effort. Got to make portraits with him doing his trademark move at the time, chewing straws. Went to a grammar school with him, as well. As fierce a competitor as he was on the field, he was equivalently gentle with kids. When we walked into the classroom he turned to me and asked, “Which one do you want me to beat up first?” I pointed to a quaking youth and said something like, “Maybe start with that one.” Nervous giggles resonated throughout the classroom. The kids adored him.

It was like photographing a small town mayor. He knew everybody, and was greeted and waived to about ten times per block. We went downtown, and had a po’boy together, and I saw a giant painted Auburn tiger on the wall of a gas station. Drove in, said hi, set up studio lights right by the pump and shot it.

His birthday was a marker in another way for me, as well. SI contacted me the other week and told me they were building a special feature about Bo’s fiftieth on, and could they use my archived pictures—for free? The gentleman doing the arranging for the feature was quite a decent sort, and did his best to explain that the biggest sports magazine in the world had no money to support this article. I was sympathetic. As a lone freelance photographer with a mortgage and kids, I’ve experienced that condition myself, more than once. I demurred.

Time has certainly flown for all of us….more tk…





A Pro’s Pro

Dec 3

In Friends, history at 1:02am


When I was growing up photographically, which was a long time ago now, achieving the distinction of being a professional photographer was just that, a distinction. It had the aura, just a bit, of a degree, hard won after years of training and tribulations. It was attained by a relative few, and I have to imagine many folks, given the daunting aspects of forging a career and sustenance via the alchemy of acetate, wisely chose not to pursue it at all. I have always likened the career path of the photog of that era as a country road traveled by a hardy few, which the digital revolution has now replaced with a multi-lane superhighway, traveled by many, at a high frame rate. The dawn of shooting ones and zeros threw the door open, I believe in welcome fashion, to many, many folks, and image making now takes place at a feverish rate.

But, being of a certain age, I guess I remain somewhat rooted in tradition, and thus continue to celebrate the value and worth of the truly professional photographer. It’s a tough thing to do, and it tests the durability, patience, skills and fiber of those who choose to engage it in full blown fashion. When I was coming up, if someone was referred to in reverential tones, as a “pro’s pro,” it was high praise indeed. It meant the individual in question could do anything with a camera. Ken Regan was one of these. Read the rest of this entry »

And now, the weather report…

Oct 23

In history, In The Field at 8:44am

The weather is always with us as shooters, right? Unless we’re still life folks, and click away unhurriedly in a studio, to the strains of Bach or Brahms, safe from the howling elements. (I personally would rather try to shoot frames in the teeth of a hurricane than do still life, by the way. I suck at it so badly that I have great admiration for those who do it well. I’ve tried on occasion, with abysmal results. How can a thing give you more trouble than a person?)

My history with weather is a fractious one, indeed. Just ask my buds Alan Hess and Earnie Grafton in San Diego. I go there as often as I can, and whenever I do, I think Alan just starts nailing plywood boards over his windows. Earnie, a durable, talented, former military shooter who’s now with the San Diego Trib, has shot his way through a ton of shit conditions over the years just looks at me and shakes his head. I think he thinks that way back in Ireland. long ago, the local hag (Cailleach, in Gaelic) cursed my family tree with the rain. Earnie is sort of mystical about this himself, and every time I show up in SD, he tries to break the curse by the mutual imbibing of the holiest of waters–beer.

The curse was in full throat roar recently in Tampa, though, so the suds aren’t working. I was down there to shoot a video for Kelby Training on….well, I can’t even remember what we were going to do originally. I could say I was going to teach a class stemming from my latest book on PhotoShop, entitled, “The Layers of Hell,” but you would know that I am lying. Anyway, whatever we were going to do went rapidly away, and our hopes for a sunny Florida shoot went swilling down the sewers along with a whole bunch of Tampa topsoil. So, as you do on location, we rolled. Shot through the wind and the weather, sat in cars, tried to keep the cameras and the models dry, went inside, shot into the wee hours, sought cover, and cursed the rain. The result actually, was one of the more fun shoots I’ve ever had in Tampa, to be honest. Standing out there on a dock, getting pummeled by the backhanded breezes of an offshore hurricane does inspire some lunacy, and some ad hoc decision making in terms of what to shoot and how to shoot it. The Kelby folks, a generally solid group of relatively normal people, actually got a little dizzy themselves in the midst of the mayhem and went running off the deck into the deep end with the video below.

The elements are always with us as photogs, right? We gather our gear in the morning, squinting at the sky like some sort of Crocodile Dundee armed with cameras and glass, wondering what the clouds will conjure in the afternoon. Moose Peterson is actually quite amazing at this. He’ll gather a bunch of folks around him and say something like, “Well, the wind will pick up later and ricochet off that far canyon wall and drive the afternoon cumulus towards that cleft in the rock. The sunlight filtering through that cleft will give the clouds a nice shimmer. This will happen around 4:10 pm, so set your cameras on aperture priority at minus 1.3EV and go to continuous high as this phenomenon will only occur for about two minutes.” He says this type of thing with such authority that people just nod in response and start adjusting their machinery without ever cocking their head to the side and wondering aloud whether if that was the biggest bunch of bullshit they’d heard since the last presidential debate.

Of course, though, he is so damn good at this, he’s often right. I was standing next to him, and he told me the light would hit the waterfall just so, and everything would be alright. It did, and I got the only decent landscape picture I’ve ever shot.

My history with weather and the National Geographic is a sorry, almost punitive one. They sent me (just once) to the magnificent beaches of Cancun to observe Spring Break, that sun drenched celebration of tequila fueled hormones. I came back with this.

This was perhaps deemed, well, cheeky. So it was back to business as usual, and they sent me to Siberia, in February.

And I spent a dismal but necessary night in the local drunk tank, where the depression caused by the ongoing darkness gathers in sad, rough fashion. The drunks stumble out of the bars, and flop onto the icy walkways. Police patrols haul them in, restrain them, and let them sleep it off, lest they be stiff as a cord of wood in the morning, and just as dead.

On a more uplifting note, I did find my way into the ladies’ locker room in a mine, where the darkness problem is obviously exacerbated by the endeavor at hand, and watched as these shift workers bathed themselves in the salubrious wash of UV light, before heading home through the bleakness outside.

These Russian kids do the same thing at school, where the only evidence of the sun is painted on the walls, and they can perhaps dream of its warming rays and the resplendent promises of the rainbow.

Funny, I do the same kind of dreaming myself…..more tk….

Shuttling Through the Years

Oct 16

In history at 11:06am

It ended as it began. And, for me, further proof, as if I needed any, that I’ve been shooting pictures for a long time. The shuttle Endeavor just got towed through the populous streets of LA, to it’s final viewing place at the California Science Museum. (The staff of the LA Times put together a terrific time lapse. Check it out here.) Back at the beginning, the shuttles were also towed, out in far more sparse areas, on their transits from being constructed and tested in Palmdale, over to Edwards AFB. I shot the first three launches and landings of the space shuttle program, staying at the Days Inn in Cocoa Beach, and listening to Shirl the Girl at the Mousetrap with my bud Hank Morgan. We’d then hightail it to Orlando Airport, fly to LA, pick up cars, and head for the desert, hoping the shuttle would stay aloft even longer than the planned mission, so we could accumulate more day rates. And, being that freelance day rates for magazine at that time were a whopping $250 a day, you needed to garner a bunch of those puppies just to stay afloat. So, we would fervently hope for bad weather, so the fellas up in space would just have to go around again a few dozen times before landing.

As the young guys here in the studio noted, neither of them were born when I made these pictures. They mentioned that one of these days soon I’ll end up in a museum. Of exactly what, I’m not sure. More tk….