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Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

Things Have Been a Little Strange Around Here, Lately….

May 28

In Rants at 6:00am

I spend a lot of time on the road, so coming back to the mail is interesting. I got this not too long ago, Hmmmm. A very big promo piece for a very big book called The End, by the excellent photog Rodney Smith. The blad contained text from Rodney describing these tough times we are currently experiencing. “Gone are the days of luxurious photo-shoots with gold-gilded Hasselblads and caviar-encrusted lunchtime snacks.”

Hmmmm. I don’t miss the above described days because I don’t remember them. Last time I checked, there was nothing at Subway encrusted in caviar, and I shot Mamiya for my 120 system ’cause I couldn’t focus a Hasselblad worth spit. The promo is, as I mentioned, huge, and lavishly presented. The accompanying, hyperbolic, hopefully tongue-in-cheek intro alludes to it being “the kind of book that will set the tongues of the artistic community wagging for a thousand years.”

The book will no doubt take it’s place in the ranks of stylish efforts, as Mr. Smith is indeed a stylish and successful photog. Again, from the front matter….”An unparalleled artistic masterpiece, this book is monstrously expensive and is being produce as a Very Limited Edition…. ” Further, the book “should only be handled while wearing white gloves.” And, “its profound imagery, compounded by its brain-teasing text, comes with a stern warning: Please consult your physician or therapist before perusing its contents.” It states that “every Smith photograph is a canny encapsulation of an essential cosmic truth.”

In addition to stylish and successful, did I mention ballsy?

The accompanying letter encourages the visual community to invest wisely during these times of economic duress. “In this period of economic crisis and hardship, we photographers must band together in support of our respective endeavors.” When Wall Street is a sinkhole run by people who are supposed to be managing your money but seem generally preoccupied avoiding doing 3 to 5 at a minimum security facility, and stuffing your cash in a pillow seems as good a plan as an aggressive mutual fund, what do you do? Invest in–this book! The early bird asking price is $650 including shipping, a substantial discount off the retail price of $750. The book is described as “worth its weight in gold.”

There is an advisory about the book contained in the promo. “Its value will only increase with time, making it a prudent investment in these tricky financial times.”

It might be the way to go. I’m on the fence. I talked to my buddy Bill down at Nat Geo about it and tried to convince him we should pool our money on this. Problem is, he’s got what’s left of his dough tied up in bull semen futures.

Now here’s an entry in the “big is better” category. THE LAST MAGAZINE. Picked it up in Manhattan last week. (Downtown, where else?) For $15 bucks. Yep, 15 balloons. Geez, there are some big pictures in here. And I’m not averse to that theory, mind you. At LIFE we always used to say, “If you can’t make ’em good, make ’em big and in color!”

This mag has taken that theory and, well, enlarged on it. Many of these obscure, out of focus frames should have had a healthy chat with Mr. Delete Button, or at least remained on the hard drive until the authors had passed and thus gained a certain retrospective merit. (“He shot this during a time when he was struggling to find his vision.”) But somehow, they got loose, got fed reassuring burbles about how astonishingly fresh and new they truly are, and just like the monster in the first Alien movie, they got real big, real quick. The title of this mag is oddly appropriate. More tk…

Random Thoughts…things I find odd or interesting…

Feb 11

In Rants, Thoughts at 2:07pm

Gary Fong  recently sent out an ad blast special for Valentine’s Day.

Now lemme get this straight. The Fongster evidently thinks a GPS attachment to your camera is somehow a romantic gift, the kind you would associate with Valentine’s Day? Does it come in a heart shaped box?

It might be useful. If in fact you have this, then you can exactly mark the spot where she fucking dumps you. You can take notes and re-visit it by your sorry ass self every Valentine’s Day. And if it comes to pass they build an Arby’s over it or something, you can go in and have a Super Roast Beef sandwich all by your lonesome. My advice guys? Lay low on the GPS and go the jewelry route.

Down in Vegas. Drew and Lynn sat next to each other in the emergency aisle. We’re casting today, and Drew has the wonderful duty of photographing about 150-200 beautiful women. He better be careful not to crack wise or say anything male or disgusting about it though, cause Lynn’ll reach over and slap that boy silly. Lynn is such an amazing producer. I know, come Friday when we shoot, I can walk to the camera and put my eye into it and not worry about anything else, cause I know everything’s been handled. And Drew’s been great. He came into the studio back in October and started traveling and running things without skipping a beat.

Lessee…more odd, ironical stuff. Walter Isasscson just wrote an interesting piece for TIME about the future of newspapers. Tough thing, though, is he writes about saving newspapers in an issue of TIME that’s about 4 pages thick. The supernova egos of the scribes and pundits at TIME must be really gasping for oxygen at this point, as the relevance of the magazine drifts. They still are doing a great job with a fraction of the resources they used to have, but man….TIME was always the photographic flagship as well, even though it was run by word merchants. The very good picture editors up there, like Mark Rykoff and Hillary Raskin, always got good shooters in the right places, even if they didn’t use the pictures all that well. As a magazine, it lives in the world of words. As one of their more peacock writers once proclaimed at a location dinner (I was actually invited), “Joe’s pictures are the whores that sell the chalice of my words.” Hmmm…

Good stuff…kudos to Syl Arena for outing the sumbitch who was just cloning people’s blogs and running it as his or her own proprietary site. Syl led the charge, and the site came down.

Great series of posts from David Hobby. As usual, helpful, informative, and funny. The Harrington link to cute kittens killed me.

I’m ranting of course, and that’s mostly cause I haven’t been able to have my daily morning rant with my buddy Bill of late about the state of things and I’m really missing it. He’s had this crazy bronchial pneumonia, bronchitis, throat thing for the last month or so. He’s been going in to work, but unable to talk at great lengths. I told him it was very clever to vector himself into the work force as a one man viral terror attack. Job security being what it is, if he can knock off a few co-workers, it might be just the thing.

Its jarring now when you get his phone message. I’ve gotten used to the new voice, which is somewhere between Tom Waitts and Darth Vader, but the old Bill is there on his recording, clear as a bell. Told him I thought he should change it up to some sort of Joe Cocker-esqe greeting, something where one protracted, guttural vowel sound would pass as a greeting. This would be punctuated by a resonant splat as he pulls the phone away, makes a long sucking sound like folks do in a Japanese noodle shop, thus accumulating the contents of his nasal passages in the back of his throat, which of late has been something of his own personal Baikonur Cosmodrome. The splat occurs when he then hocks an enormous loogie right up against the plate glass window he has by his phone. Give him a call. I can give you his number.  It’s an altogether bracing way to start the day.

Back on a plane yesterday. Cell phone envy. I guess I’ve got it. I have one of those really cheap, simple phones. It feels like it tumbled out of a Cracker Jack box. But everybody else on that plane had some Blackberry, Noodleberry, or IPhone with like 300 apps. It’s like a cult or club or something. Moose Peterson actually blogged about being over at Scott Kelby’s one Friday night, watching football, and everybody started comparing Iphone apps. I was teasing Moose, ya know, like whoo…baby, what a wild night! Were the police called?

I mean the guy next to me sat down and just started typing into this thing he pulled out of holster on his belt. Swear to God. It was like sitting next to the Dirty Harry of Blackberry users. This thing was enormous, and had like flashing lights and shit. He could type almost as fast as my youngest daughter, who types faster than those guys talk when they come on at the end of a commercial and need to qualify what was just advertised. “Rates vary in some states. What we just said was bullshit in every state. We really didn’t mean it, what you just saw was a come on cleverly disguised as an offer so we could entice old people to call our 800 number so we can get our mitts on their retirement accounts.” It doesn’t really register cause they talk so fast.

So then we take off and he switches up to his computer which is some sort of monster Dell that makes kind of a Tarzan yell when he opens it, and man he starts peckin’ away on that like he’s getting’ paid by the keystroke. This went on for a while, and I just about had enough so I start pseudo-Photoshopping some pictures I thought might knock him off his stride a bit.  I’ve got the new Macbook Pro, the 15 incher with the glossy screen so there’s no way he couldn’t notice. That thing is so bright and contrasty they could use ’em in the searchlight towers of a maximum security penitentiary.

It worked.I could tell he was sneaking glances, cause he started to make typos…heh-heh.

Today when we left JFK we had to make a tight turn to the runway and right behind us was an Air France jet, and I could just about see into the cockpit. In the interest of international relations, I pressed my face to the window and started mouthing “Frog Pussy!” I think they saw me, cause I swear the co-pilot was mouthing back, “Mick Bastard!” Runway fun.

You know I never really mean offense by any of that stuff. I’ve been on the road for over 30 years, and I’m pretty addled at this point, plus enormously sleep deprived, and that probably contributes to the oddball train of thoughts that trundle through my brain at all hours of the day, especially the early hours. I mean, ya gotta laugh doing this, or you’ll just start weeping uncontrollably. Remember in the Perfect Storm? The boat capsized and it’s over, and the tough guy on the crew, played by William Fichtner (who always does a great job) is standing in an upside down cabin of the boat, his macho exterior cracked and splintered, crying as it fills with water? As photogs, we could all just stop right where we are and do that. But I refuse. Hard as this is, just still love it. Love it, love it, love it. That essential thing, coupled with a mildly bent sense of humor, keeps me going. Bleary eyed, but still going. I’ve come to embrace the shot below as something of a self portrait. That camera made the entire 1000 miles of the Baja race, clamped to one of the dune buggies, and this is how it came back. Battered, beat up, but still shooting pictures. (It was a loaner camera, by the way, Nikon was not pleased.)

I’m sure they’ll box me up and cart me away someday. I have dreams about this sanitarium type place I end up, sorta like the one Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday ended up in towards the end of Tombstone, one of my favorite really bad movies. He’s in a bed, white sheets, white pillows, white walls. Everything white, then he can’t feel his toes, and then…nothing. His reported last words were, “Damn…this is funny.”  It would serve me right to make the passage in monochrome after shootin’ all that damn Kodachrome….more tk.

Back on a Plane

Mar 15

In Rants, Thoughts, Travels at 9:59am

Back on a plane. This time through Atlanta to Albuquerque. Gonna teach my lighting workshop at Santa Fe, which I always look forward to. More on that tk.

Early morning rush at the Delta terminal in Laguardia and I’m shuffling towards security, my pants down at my ankles, holding a tray of meager possessions. Only thing missing is some split rail fence, the pungent smell of cow flop, and the occasional moo.

In the background I’m hearing the drone of the TSA lady. “Please keep moving. Walk forward. Please keep moving.” Superfluous advice, no? I mean, of course I’m going to keep moving. What do they think I’m gonna do? Riverdance?

Actually, the TSA has gotten much better to deal with. They have it as streamlined as it’s gonna get, I think. They are certainly working on being a bit more friendly. Guy who checked my ID today was genuinely decent about it, so, you know, I’m inclined to be pleasant back. We bantered a bit, and I thought, he’s a hard working guy, probably got up even earlier than I did, and he’s out here getting his ass kicked just like I am. So there you go.



The best was yet to come, though. Got onto a way overstuffed jet to Georgia, I mean packed. We’re talking pickled herring back there. Overheads are spilling stuff everywhere, and we’re trying to get outta Dodge and the flight staff is urging everybody to move out of the aisles so we can shut the door.

So there’s this lady. She is one of the last people on board. Bling city. Bandana in the hair, Hollywood sunglasses, hubcaps for earrings, pink bra, with some sort of tied up piece of material that I guess serves as a shirt but leaves her back pretty naked, a burp blanket over her shoulder, a 4 month old baby, and a carry on the size of your average Midwestern city. She’s got two flight attendants in tow, one of whom is carrying her baby, and the other is trying to sort out what to do with the bag. They are probably just as exasperated with this passenger as everybody else, but for now, they are hewing to the path of sisterhood and trying to help her out.

I mean, if I had tried to get on at that moment with that size bag, they would have hand checked it immediately and, as soon as it was out of sight, switched the destination tag to Duluth, just to teach me a lesson.



But, you know, there might be formula or diapers in there with the rest of the jewelry and lipsticks, so they encourage her to disassemble it and stick various small pieces in a variety of overheads. Everything that comes out of this bag was incredibly colorful. There was a hot pink purse with gold corners, a Betty Boop backpack (not kidding), multi colored scarves, you name it. I’m watching this and thinking, shit, the circus in town?

She’s breaking this thing down like a Russian matryoshka doll, and bending over and bending over and then standing upright to reach the overheads repeatedly. I feel like I’m watching an accelerated version of the “bend and snap.”
And then, of course there’s the thong. She’s got low slung, painted on jeans and she is standing in the aisle next to my seat putting stuff in the opposite overhead which means of course I am eyeball height and inches away from the old butt crack. Talk about fill the frame.

And there it is! Again and again! Peek-a-bootie! She certainly didn’t look like a plumber! There was this little swatch of material supported by 3 strands of floss. Good thing I didn’t have anything stuck in my teeth, but that would have been too forward on my part, I imagine. Geez Louise. Thankfully my eyes don’t focus that fast, that close too well anymore.

And of course I find this funny and just start giggling like an idiot and the flight attendant leveled me with a look that said, “One word outta you and I call the air marshal.” She was stressing pretty bad with this passenger.



Ahh, the ongoing adventure of the skies!

Back to basics in the next few blogs…got some lighting stuff etc. Enough of this levity!

Da Grip

Mar 10

In Rants, Tips & Tricks at 4:13pm

Some folks have written to me about hand holding cameras. I talk about it a bit at workshops and the like. (There’s a page in Clicks about it.) Seems pretty straightforward, I know, but as has been noted before, I have a tremendous capacity to state, explain and generally belabor the obvious, so at the risk of talking about yesterday’s news and telling people that which they already know, here goes.

[By the way, I’m flying right now, back from Spain, and eating on top of my laptop. When I’m working I just close the computer and put the food tray on top of it. Is that weird? I don’t know. Might be risky, I guess, but I do it often. I think I’ll be alright. The tortellini I’m scarfing is encrusted in it’s plastic dish like a bunch of barnacles below the water line of a Greek fishing vessel, and I’m having a hard time prying them outta there with my little plastic fork, so definitely no danger of spillage with these.

Could be trouble with the coffee and the water, I guess, but I’m pretty careful. I don’t think I’ll have an accident, but, just like driving in the snow, ya gotta watch out for the other guy. My neighbor seems nice enough, and not prone to sudden movements, unlike the guy who is sitting in the seat connected to my tray table who’s been trying to get comfortable for about a half an hour now, and the seat’s yakking back and forth like he’s boffing his girlfriend…]

Okay, back to the grip… First, what not to do:

Grip - Bad Posture

Bad posture, Mr. McNally, as the Sisters of the Precious Blood used to tell me (my blood, not their’s). This type of deal is a one way ticket to the spine doc, and field fatigue. Field fatigue is something we don’t talk about much, but man, it’s there. The more tired you get, the worse your pictures are. The more compact your movements, the more comfortable you are, and the more you support the camera with your body and not just your arms, the more spry you’ll feel, even at the end of the day.

[…But my seat mate’s cool. She’s a slender female, which is great cause I’m hoggin’ the armrest like crazy. Last flight I was next to some guy who literally spilled into my seat and smelled like low tide. Couldn’t even find the frikkin’ arm rest, let alone compete for it.

Armrest comp is great. You get a couple of guys tight together for a few hours, and let the games begin! (This really occurs between guys. Most women tend not get involved in this kind of petty, machismo hoo hah.) I can always tell the ones who’ll be tough. They’re suits, mostly, and they work on PC’s and they immediately pop up a screen with, like, third quarter results, just a spreadsheet stuffed with numbers and bar graphs, and they study it real intently, like they’re a windtalker and trying to crack some kind of code…]

(Warning, warning! This camera grip is much more convenient and doable if you are left eyed and use a motor driven camera, which is obviously deeper, say, than a D70. So we’re talking a D300 with a grip, or a D3, that type of body. Also, the left eye thing. I just have always used my left eye. Dunno why.)

[…Speaking of wind, I shouldn’t complain about anybody sitting next to me, cause I’m tooting like crazy during this flight. Must be the pressure change or something. Or that double beef bean burrito I ate in Madrid before embarking.

In Flight Update
Oh well, I digress. Brad’s gonna read this blog and make sure he gets his seat on the other side of the aircraft from now on…]

Focusing left eyed brings your motor driven camera closer to your left shoulder. (Really Joe, no shit?!) That’s a good deal. If you swing your body around into something resembling a boxing stance, your left shoulder becomes a base, or a platform for the camera body. It also brings your center of gravity back under the camera. Also a good move.

Grip - Left Eye

An overhand grip might be cool if you throw a baseball for a living, but not if you shoot pictures to conjure bread on the table. That overhand grip! See it all the time. Bad news. The overhand pulls your elbow out, away from your body, like a bat wing, and meanwhile you have that ham hock of a hand laying atop the lens like a couple of pounds of ground chuck. Useless weight on the drag strip.

Grip - Overhand Bad

[Flight update….currently there is a baby screaming and a dog barking (no joke), each within five seats of mine. I noticed this lady who got onboard with a little barking rat inside of one of those mesh bags, and sure enough, he’s a yipper…]

Put the left mitt under the lens, or, if truly skinny on shutter speed whilst using a short lens, clap that puppy over your right hand gripping the camera.

Grip - Left Hand Under

Grip - Left Grip 1

Grip - Left Grip 2

[Flight update….they’re coming by with the duty free cart. All the vices, tax free. Liquor, cigarettes…surprised they’re not running a special on methamphetamine. I was thinking to myself, “Who buys this stuff?” and I got my answer. Guy four rows up just bought what looked to be an incredibly expensive woman’s watch. I know desperation when I see it. Must’ve forgotten to get something for the gf while land based and this is his last chance for something appropriately chic and European. Whew! Dodged a bullet there. If he showed up empty handed he probably wouldn’t get lucky till late fall.]


Mar 7

In Rants, Thoughts at 7:10pm

Goofy Joe
(Photo by Scott Holstein)

“Hi, my name is Joe, and I make mistakes.”

I always say it. In Webster’s, next to photographer, it says “he or she who makes mistakes constantly.” Let’s face it, we are the most fallible of creatures, and I’m not saying that to knock us down. Lord knows, your average photog does enough self flagellation to qualify for a 13th century monastic order. (Chant after me, and Monty Python. “Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem.” Thwack!)

No, mistakes are just with us, that’s the deal. I could wax on/wax off poetically about how we make mistakes because we are supposed to embrace the world with the eyes of a child: So new! So fresh! (Say the last with Michael Jackson’s voice.) But that could easily be construed to be just so much smarmy bullshit. I think we just plunge ahead, as the English say, bash on regardless, and mistakes occur. I make tons of ’em on location. Zig when you should zag. Commit to the wrong angle, and get back to the studio and look at a bunch of images that might as well have “What was I thinking?” embedded right there in the EXIF data.

I can’t tell you how many times on a job I’ve looked at a Polaroid, or an image on my laptop, and shook my head in dismay and thought it was a great thing I wasn’t doing brain surgery cause there just went the piano lessons and the gift of speech. (These are inside thoughts, of course, cause usually the client is looking over your shoulder and you have to be happy happy joy joy. “Oh yes, it is going to be fine! We just have to tweak the lighting a little! Just soften the tones, you know, because we’re being forced to shoot the boss man right after he got hammered at lunch and now he looks like a stoplight with a neck tie, but that can be fixed in post and if we move the light this way a bit you won’t even see that stylish plaid shirt!”)

[More after the jump]

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