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Archive for the ‘Rambling’ Category

At Home with Donald…

Dec 14

In Friends, Rambling at 9:12am

Laughter comes easy to Donald and I. We’ve know each other for ten years or so, and to me, it’s just one of the small but rich gifts of this nutty business that he ends up on the cover of this new book. He’s a decent soul who takes his honey out for several spins on the dance floor every Friday night, sips Cuervo like it’s medicine, and always has a bit of a twinkle in his eye. As he said to me once, “The day they put me down, all the music in the world’s gonna stop.” I think he’s right.

Home. Feels good after a tumultuous year. For the rest of the year on the blog, I’ll be focusing on some of the highs and lows of another year of survival as a shooter. I looked around my tiny apartment in NYC in 1979, and realized I was paying all of my meager bills with a camera, and knew right then that I was a professional photog. At that point in time, being called a pro was high praise indeed. It was a mark of distinction that acknowledged the fact that your pictures were not only being consumed by people and influencing them every day, but that your livelihood flowed through a lens. It was a stamp of approval that only a hardy few could merit and sustain. So, as we approach 2012, 33 years with a camera in my hands and counting. Sheesh. I get points for stubbornness, anyway.

But, lots of highs and lows, as always. The new book is one of the highs, and it’s a fun read. Lots of survival lessons in there, right next to the lighting diagrams and production shots. Having my friend Mr. Blake on the cover of Sketching Light is one those wonderfully odd pieces of serendipity that occasionally come a shooter’s way.  Donald looks a bit stern and forbidding on the cover for the gentle soul that he is, but I know he likes the picture.

Shot this during a workshop demo, when the sky and the wind just gave me a feeling I could find my way to a picture.

On the other hand, one of the more notable lows occurred this year aboard Flashbus, when a hard turn ended me up in bed with David Hobby. He reported on this incident thoroughly in his blog of yesterday:

Also, if anyone woulda told me five years ago that one day I would be traveling in a tour bus with Joe McNally, I woulda told them that they were nuts.

And if anyone woulda told me five years ago that one day, I would suddenly and unexpectedly find myself in my underwear, sharing a bed with McNally, I woulda punched ’em in the mouf.

Suffice to say you never know what turns life has in store for you. Especially an unexpected hard left-hand turn by a bus, resulting in the above. After that, I slept in full clothing.

Lots of laughs, twists and turns out there on the road.

The picture up top was shot by Kent Skibstad who attended a workshop and who wrote to me that the workshop “really kickstarted my photographic career, thank you!” It was a wonderful note to get as a teacher.

More tk…

Things to be Thankful For…

Nov 23

In Rambling at 8:48am

I’m thankful that when I take a picture, I can still hear the shutter:-)

I’m thankful for all the fancy new gear we have available to us as photogs, even though that time honored maxim of nothing working right when you really need it to still applies.

I’m thankful I still need to shoot about as much as I need to breathe.

And, I’m thankful there still remains a direct connection between my shutter finger and my heart and lungs. The very slight activity of that finger when it assists in recording what I might perceive to be a good photograph can completely arrest, for a split second, the activity of the other two. I’m thinking of donating my cadaver for forensic research so someone can write a learned paper about this physical oddity.

I’m thankful for Lynn in my studio, who in addition to producing jobs, paying the bills, keeping us afloat, and answering the phone creates a wonderful atmosphere of friendship, fairness and frivolity at our tiny shop.

She in turn is thankful that I don’t answer the phone, because when somebody calls and offers us zero for the rights to use our work, I’m prone to use the f word a lot, and we’d rapidly not have to answer the phone anymore, ’cause no one would call us ever again.

I think I’m thankful that the reprint rights to all photos recorded and yet to be recorded by any medium heretofore, forthwith and yet to be devised that will be reproduced at some point on the moons of Uranus via holographic transmission in future millennia are so desirable. That means us camera clickers must be doing something right, because, seemingly, everything we produce is truly excellent, valuable and will withstand the test of time.

Pursuant to all that, I’m thankful and still amazed that the phone does ring and people offer to pay for that which I would gladly do for free, most of the time.

I’m thankful my dad had a Beauty Lite III rangefinder camera which I borrowed in 1973.

I’m thankful, actually, for all the crazy jobs, long hours, heavy gear, busted assignments, heartache, insecurity, overfull credit cards, flight delays, outright despair, and the general personal and professional mayhem that swirls about the act of being a photographer like a personal mini-twister. All that bad stuff is like the debris on the sides of the road of one of those post-apocalyptic movies. Stay the course, stay on the path, and it leads somewhere, like to the reward of a very occasional good picture. I’m thankful for that road,  and the many lifetimes spent on it, even though I walk it now not so much in purposeful, smooth strides, but more of a broke down shuffle, kind of like Wily Coyote after an unfortunate encounter with an oncoming train. It seems a small price to pay.

I’m thankful for the gang down at Tampa, the Kelby tribe. They define fairness and decency.

I’m thankful for all the pixels, even though I don’t need anymore than I already have. If I end up getting some more, I don’t know where I’ll put them. I came into the studio the other day and a whole bunch of them were hiding under my chair.

I’m thankful Ernst Haas made a book called The Creation. At the end of a tough day in the field, just looking at it is like taking a shower.

I’m thankful for Sid and Michelle Monroe, whose wonderful Santa Fe gallery remains a place I go to remind myself of why I continue to do this.

I’m thankful to the bunch of folks who read this blog, or come to a workshop, and engage in a passionate pursuit of be being a better photographer. That pursuit is life long, and worth it.

I’m thankful that Drew, Cali and Lynda in my studio put up with me. They are terrific colleagues, and wonderfully talented.

I’m thankful Derek Jeter continues to play baseball, excellently. And I think I’m thankful, at least on one level, that the NBA season is in the dumper. That means a disappointing showing by the Knicks will potentially be avoided, at least for a time.

I’m thankful for my kids. Claire likes school. Caitlin might yet find what is very beautiful and worthwhile inside of her.

I’m thankful Jay Maisel didn’t become a painter. I’m also glad he throws the f-bomb freely. Some folks might be offended. I think it’s just creative use of language.

I think I’m thankful for Vincent Laforet’s blog, even though I can’t even pronounce most of the stuff he talks about.

I think I’m thankful for Google Plus, though I don’t know how to work it yet. I know it’s important ’cause Dave Moser at NAPP kidded that he was going to punch me if I didn’t add him to a circle. I don’t know. I might hold off just to test if he’s serious or not. On the other hand, that might be unwise, ’cause of the many wonderful things Dave is, “kidder” might not be one of them.

I’m thankful for my ten year friendship with Donald Blake in Santa Fe. His wise and mischievous face is the cover of my new book. We are now bound together, via a picture, forever.

I’m thankful I’m still able to travel into the land beyond the yellow border. The folks at Geographic continue to tolerate me. I’m also thankful that NGS photogs are largely not included in most of the conference calls, and story pitches, and all those magazine machinations that need to occur. We’re field people. We don’t do well in an office, or in meetings, for lots of reasons, including the possibility that we might actually say what we’re thinking out loud. Best to just shut up and shoot.

I’m thankful I’ve been around long enough to have known Eisie, Gordon, Carl, and Mr. Mili. And to still know John Loengard, Ralph Morse, Jim Stanfield, David Douglas Duncan, Neil Leifer, Walter, Johnny I, and so many, many legends who have taken up a camera over time. Their work is the bedrock on which we all stand.

I’m thankful airplanes generally go interesting places, ’cause I’m on them a lot.

And this year, I’m thankful for ground transportation, in the form of a cartoon decorated bus that logged 14,500 miles across this country. For all the folks who saw fit to come out to Flashbus, many, many thanks. For DH, Jeff, Grippi, Lenz, Cali, Drew and Phil–all praise.

The above mentioned crew riding on an enclosed, wheel borne metal can for six weeks also makes me thankful for air freshener.

And yes, I’m thankful for manual.

And I’m thankful for camera manuals. And for the fact I’ve really never read them.

Once, a video producer, exasperated by my antics and non-sequitur behavior during the shoot, looked at my ever patient wife, Annie, and asked, “Is there an off switch?” Her response: “I’ve never looked for it.” For her kindness, decency, patience and love, I am forever thankful.

The Amusing Skies…

Nov 7

In Rambling at 10:53am

Onboard a Delta jet, bound for Partnercon in San Diego on behalf of my buds at Adorama. Should be a lot of fun, though I am usually responsible for bringing bad weather to that perennially balmy city. I think they had five overcast days last year, and I was there for all of them.

I fly a lot. And there’s been some doozies this year, for sure. I was recently on a flight that was really, pretty much, Darwin’s waiting room with wings. We were in a plane stuffed to the rafters, all of us, including me, feeling a day late and a dollar short.

It’s always entertaining (if you have a  broad definition of entertainment) to be right next to the bathrooms on long flights. I try to use the loo right away, before it’s gets to looking and smelling like a recently flooded basement. Then, being an inveterate people watcher, I just settle in and regard the traffic.

On a recent flight, a lady came up and stood in front of me—right in front of me—waiting her turn. Now she had a posterior that should have been ticketed all on its’ own, in my opinion. Lordie, this was a work of art, years in the making. Broad, expansive and undulating, it was a bit like the Great Plains (which we were at that moment flying over) stuffed into a pair of sturdy jeans.

The way this particular plane was configured, I was in the emergency exit aisle seat, with no seats in front of me, just the wall to the bathroom. In deference to aisle traffic, she understandably kind of squeezed in towards my seat, to let people pass by. I all of a sudden found myself in close orbit with a very large moon. My eyes grew wide. My beloved wife Annie, sitting across the aisle, looked at me with concern, knowing I have tendency to be improvisational, being a photographer.

Then—she started to exercise. Yep. Right there in front of me. One legged knee bends, stretches, waist bends, all done in a fairly slow rhythmic fashion. It was hypnotic, really, sort of like watching a very large pendulum. Up, down, right, left. My face started to follow it. Up, down, right, left.

At this point, Annie’s left eyebrow, which I have described in the past as being attached to a steam driven catapult, is fairly dancing off the bottoms of the overhead bins, and her expression has gone from mild consternation to outright alarm. Her eyes were alive with messages, the unspoken language of marriage, and she reached across with an US magazine featuring Kim somebody or other in an effort to divert her nut job of a mate from doing something irretrievably stupid, just for the sheer giggle of it.

Thankfully, the bathroom vacated and the lady in question disappeared within. I was thankful at that moment I don’t have x-ray vision.

It was great theater, though, and it wasn’t over. A bit later, a lady with enormous, spiked high heels went to use the facilities, and she came out with, oh, about 15 or so inches of toilet paper attached to one of those heels. Oblivious, she trooped up the aisle, with this totem of her recent activities trailing behind her, a bit like the string of cans attached to the rear bumper of the newlywed’s car.

Seems all of my seatmates of late have been sort of large and grumpy as well, which hasn’t been fun. One gentleman, who should have purchased about 30% of my seat, pulled out his Ipad and began to play high speed poker right away when we hit 10,000 feet. He held it in his left hand, and furiously punched and pulled cards with his right index finger. Unfortunately, his right elbow was also connected to that index finger.

Now, I enjoy a massage as much as the next person, but having my ribs tattooed by somebody’s poker playing elbow doesn’t classify as pleasurable. I shifted as far as I could to the right of my seat, but after a couple hours of this I finally took my laptop, put it on my knees and raised my tray table upright in the defensive position, forming a wall between his seat and mine.

Being both male, it got real mature, real fast. We kept eyeballing each other over my impromptu castle battlement like a pair of five year olds having a turf war in the playground. I swear if I had some of my old plastic soldiers I would have lined them up on the armrest and started making machine gun noises.

It’s been a little nutty up there lately. More tk…

China Update

Sep 19

In In The Field, Rambling at 6:28pm

Have, as always, received a warm and gracious welcome from everyone I’ve met here in Beijing. The organizers of this project have put together a wonderful week for the photogs. In the field,  ups and downs, as always. Yesterday I climbed many, many hundreds of steps to get to this Buddha, carved into a hillside outside of Beijing. Having been shut down at other temples on the grounds, I was prepared to climb all that way and not get a frame. I tried to forestall that programming my D3S into “turbo” mode (a little known firmware adaptation….Joe make joke….)  got my EV set, and knelt down. I had 20 frames off before anybody could say, “Hey numnuts tourist!” But the lady in charge of this temple was disinterested, and went back to her comic book. So, it was just me and the big guy, and I kept shooting.

Long day in the field. There was a PR lady with us, who I guess was pretty effective, ’cause we didn’t have to pay to get into the temple park, but man, she wouldn’t shut up. Chinese is a beautifully expressive language, but when someone is that vehement, in close proximity burst mode, all day, their vocal cords thrumming like the engine on a Formula One car, man it gets tiring. It was like having my camera to my eye and a woodpecker attached to my temple.

But the big guy was kindly and patient with me, there in all his goldness. He was also, blessedly, silent. I thanked him for his serenity, and permission to shoot. More tk….

Going Forward

Sep 13

In Rambling at 9:01pm

Blog will be light this week as we dig ourselves out of a pretty sizable 911 project, and I head to China tomorrow. I did cover the opening ceremonies of New Jersey’s heartfelt and amazing memorial, Empty Sky.

The memorial is a simple, poignant architectural expression of the grief and sacrifice of  the 746 New Jerseyans who were lost on 911.  The twin slabs of concrete and polished steel lay on their sides, and are created in the same aspect ratio as the original towers. If you stand between the two, your sight line is directly at the former site of WTC. Simple, powerful and riveting architecture, the product of incredibly talented Jessica Jamroz, who won the international competition to design the memorial.

It’s funny how memories of 911 stick with you. As I looked through the lens to frame up this shot, which was the only decent picture I snapped all day, my attention was caught by the name Rick Rescorla. An employee of Morgan Stanley, who had warned all comers about the possibility of an airborne attack on the towers, he successfully shepherded most of MS’ employees to safety according to an evac plan he had devised and insisted they practice. He searched the floors, making sure people were gone, and distracted many from the immediacy of danger by singing inspirational songs into his bullhorn. He perished in the collapse of WTC-2. His remains have never been found. He is surely responsible for saving the lives of many that day.

The Faces of Ground Zero show is down, and stored again, with thanks again due to volunteers from FDNY. I’ll get caught up to some thoughts and feelings over the next couple of weeks of blogs. Many thanks as always for stopping by. Did the guest blog for Scott Kelby today, where I ruminate about a strange land beyond a yellow border. Head over there, if you have a moment, check it out. More tk….