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Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

We Just Can’t Help It…..

Feb 15

In Rambling, Stories at 5:00am

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Photographers. We’re strange, right? We can’t stop. We run when others walk. We work when others relax. We have no sense of weekends, holidays, time off, time on, or time in general, except as it relates to sunrise or set. When there’s a football game on TV, we aren’t looking always at the action on the field. We’re looking at the sidelines to see if any our buds are covering the game and how much of the long glass out there is black or white. We walk around like addled sumbitches, staring at strange stuff, hovering at the edge of human activity, aching to be accepted, dying for a moment, breathless in anticipation for that which mostly never happens. Curious behavior, at best. That’s putting it nicely. Most folks would just chalk it up to damn strange and tell their youngsters to stay away from us.

Maybe the word is hinky. We shake our heads, punch buttons on expensive cameras, eyeball perfect strangers, ask odd questions, and wait for light. What an odd thing to wait for. We also have restive, restless, roaming eyes. Eyes that don’t shut down. Eyes that often feel hemmed in or framed by a 35mm lens border, eyes that correspond to a 24-70, or a 200-400, depending on what they encounter. Eyes that curse the dumb conglomeration of plastic, brass and glass we place in front of them, asking that mix of pixels and wiring to be surrogate vision, supple as the real thing. Hah! We might as well ask a fucking toaster oven.

I walked out of a Starbucks the other day, in not a particularly good mood, but anticipating that the mix of 3 espressos with milk would marginally improve it. There were two men conversing at an outside table. One of them, just sitting there, was majestic, regal, even. His hands cupped a cigarette, joined loosely at his lap. I passed them. It took all of a half second.

But, when I got to the truck, I started feverishly ripping open my camera bags. Like a man in burning building fumbling for an oxygen mask, I tore open zippers, velcro, caps and covers, desperate to find a lens that might give me half a prayer of representing what I just saw. The hands. Those hands did something important. I knew it in a heartbeat. It was a pair of hands that I needed to photograph, and if I shut off the adrenaline pump, got lazy and slid into the comfort of the rental car and closed my eyes and surrendered to the latte, I would curse myself over and over again for being a feckless, useless photographer. (If you had encountered any of my early career wire service editors, you would be inclined to think it redundant to describe a photographer as useless. It was a descriptor often thrown my way, in between exasperated sighs and abundant profanity.)

So I grabbed a camera with a 70-200, and resolutely walked back to the men. They knew before I got within 10 feet of them I was going to ask. There was no tension, no fear, no clammy feeling in the gut that precedes so many photographic encounters. (Will they say no? Will they ridicule me? Beat me up? Demand money, my social security number and a financial statement?)

No. They accepted me before I opened my mouth. Those powerful hands caught footballs for a living.  Still fit, the gentleman towered over me when he stood. He had a stint with the Cowboys, hence the pinkie ring. He knew Bob Hayes, the man who changed football forever. I photographed Hayes for Sports Illustrated, when they were doing a wrap up of legendary sprinters. He is the only man in history to win an Olympic gold medal, and a Super Bowl ring.

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This remains one of my favorite portraits. Hayes had a tough go after football, and had legal and health problems. He died not too long after I shot this down at his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. At the Starbucks that day, the gentleman and I chatted  about Bullet Bob. We laughed a bit. The connection was immediate, and sincere. We shook hands. My hand literally disappeared into his.

How wonderful is that? What a gift this camera I curse is! A flying carpet into people’s lives. A certitude that this time, I will be richer for putting my camera to my eye. There’s no money on the line here. Just human encounter. Here, now, the camera becomes an instant learning machine.

The camera’s not a camera, really. It’s an open door we need to walk through.  It’s up to us to keep moving our feet. More tk…

Bless Me Father Bob…..

Jan 4

In Stories at 7:53am

You know, it’s a new year, and it’s time to download the card, freshen up the pixels, clean the lens elements and confess all those photographic sins, which for me, really, are too numerous to count or catalog. As 2009 faded in the rear view mirror, I figured it was time to see Father Bob.

Here’s what I propose. Write in about your most egregious photographic sin of the last year, decade, whatever. We’ll cruise the comments and pick out the 5 best whoppers and put them up on the blog with, uh, some commentary within a couple of weeks. The 5 most colorful or unusual screw ups, missed exposures, bad calls, blown jobs, or lollapalooza mistakes….be they as simple as leaving the lens cap on, or as serious as shooting Canon:-)…we’ll send an autographed copy of Hot Shoe Diaries. Determining the 5 “winners” is solely at the discretion of the management.

Now, these are sins committed with a camera in your hands, or at least nearby. If you had one of those production jobs in Vegas, and the model didn’t show up, and the permits weren’t valid, and the rental car battery went dead, and the client was a screamer, and you were so distracted you shot the whole day for this big movie poster on jpeg basic….and that night you decided to ease your suffering by shooting and starring in your own personal version of Hangover, well, the details of those evening endeavors, as they say, should remain in Vegas.

(Shot entirely on Nikon’s D3s by Drew Gurian and Will Foster).

More tk…

This Just In…..

Nov 4

In Books, Stories, Thoughts at 10:44am

Hot Shoe Diaries was the number one reader’s pick for the arts and photography category on Amazon for 2009.

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Pretty cool. I’ve gotten some wonderful feedback from folks who really enjoyed the book and I thank everyone for the kind words that have been sent my way. Very appreciative of the support, and thanks for letting Amazon know about it!

It’s been an interesting week.  There was the good news about the book, and then Lynn, my studio manager for 18 years, was going back and forth with a major multi-national who had a check for us, but had the wrong address listed. It batted around the GPO in NYC for a bit, and was returned, so thankfully, they called and got it all adjusted properly and re-sent it.  (As far as Lynn’s longevity with me is concerned, rest assured I am extremely appreciative. I just called Rome, and tried to put her name on the list for beatification as a saint. They asked, well, has she performed any miracles? I said, “Are you kidding me? We’re still in business!” The line went dead. Maybe I shoulda emailed?)

We anxiously awaited the check. This could be it! What a great week! First the Amazon rating, and now, a check! The one that puts us over the top! No more worries! Livin’ large. Next trip to LA, book me the Walter Iooss memorial suite at  Shutters on the Beach!

It showed up, and frankly, it was disappointing.

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Eighty two cents? Jeez. Undaunted, I went into a convenience store  and walked up to the very nice lady at the counter and asked if there was anything in the store I could buy for .82 cents.

She looked at me hard, and didn’t even have to say, “Are ya stupid, or just plain crazy?”

I assured her I was not, and that I knew it was a little weird, but my budget limit was eighty two cents.

She tried to be helpful, but was having a hard time thinking of stuff. I suggested a box of Tic Tacs but no way. Tic Tacs are like, around $1.55 most places, except Kennedy Airport, where they are $17.26. The little boxes generally have 36 individual tic tacs, which makes them about 4.3 cents per, so I could have converted my check into 19 of those minty little guys, but they don’t sell them individually.

Newspaper? Not even close. Refrigerator magnet?  I got the look again. I got outta the store, lest I discovered hassling the clerk early in the morning might lead me to discover eighty two cents could possibly purchase a big noise and a used shotgun shell.

But hey, things are okay. I just got notification from Delta that I’m in the million miler club. Million miles, just on Delta. Sheesh. Evidence, perhaps, of a life gone wrong? Dunno. But it worked out this morning. On a non-refundable coach class ticket, I got an upgrade to first! Way cool. I was thinking on it, you know, anticipating the delights of the first class cabin. Eggs Benedict? A Mimosa? Pigs in a blanket? A foot rub? An exclusive first ever in the air viewing of “This Is It”?

Not quite.

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Breakfast. Oh, well. More tk….

Early on a Monday Morning….

Sep 14

In Stories at 1:54pm

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Monday always comes early, right? Been having zero dark thirty Monday calls since I picked up a camera. Today, 3am. Out the door at 3:45. Start of the week. Cab ride through dark streets to another plane. Not even the sanit trucks are out. Upside? No getting stuck behind school buses.

Years ago, it was simpler and more complicated all at once. I lived in the city and, like a lot of shooters, used a car service to get to the airport. Mine, believe it or not, was called Ding-a-Ling. Swear it’s true. It being the time of magazines having more than a couple nickels to rub together, photogs would routinely travel heavy—15, 20 cases of stuff—all on the airline. Hence there were times I would order up two or three Ding-a-Lings. The assistant and I would load and roll, a little Ding-a-Ling motorcade to the airport.

Airlines back then would grant a shooter a media rate for excess bags without a Papal fiat. You could get all your stuff on board for about $25 a pop. If you knew the skycaps, and I did, a quick Benjamin would make all your bags disappear into the hold of the plane, and no one would bat an eye. Those days, wisely, are gone.

In addition to the skycaps, I of course got to know the drivers, and there was one guy who I seemed fated to ride with more than others. He drove #22. He was an older gentleman from Queens who was born to be a NY cabbie. He had a big time NY accent and an even bigger inquisitive nature, not to mention the gift of gab. After a few rides he knew if you were up or down, if the baby had a fever, what you did on vacation, if things were going well at the office, and if you got along with your mother-in-law.

Which I did. She’s an ex-mom in law now, but she’s a nice person who used to visit on the weekends when my oldest, who’s about to be 24, was just a baby. She lived in Brooklyn, with her other daughter, who we can call Mary, along with Mary’s husband and their two young boys.

It was a Canarsie house with lots of frenetic Brooklyn personality, so in other words, it was mayhem. The boys were small, but growing like weeds, as boys do, and were bouncing off walls, as boys do. Given the challenges and vicissitudes of modern life, grandma found herself being mom a good deal of the time. Cooking and cleaning and homework and all the nuttiness of raising kids was back on her plate. She couldn’t just spoil ‘em and give ‘em back at the end of the day. There was always talk about everybody moving out and giving grandma back her house, peace and quiet, but it didn’t happen. Despite her energy, she was really wearing thin.

After visiting one weekend, she got good old #22 to go back to Canarsie, a pretty long cab ride. Given the gregarious nature of the occupants I have to imagine the conversation was lively.

And that very Monday, I had one of those early calls. I threw my stuff in the trunk, and, still in my morning ether, settled into the back seat of, you guessed it, #22. I was barely conscious, ’cause Caity, at the tender age of six months, had decided sleep was boring.

My friend the driver twisted in his seat, pulled his glasses down to the end of his nose, and looked at me with world weary, knowing, New York eyes. He didn’t say hello or good morning. He arched his brows and brought his finger up up by his face, the way one does when one is about to utter an undisputable, immutable, truth. “Mary should move out! It’s not fair to your mother-in-law!”

In so many ways, New York is a small town…..

Photog of the Future?

Sep 8

In Friends, history, Stories at 9:04am

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I like it. I’ve certainly lost weight, and have the lean, mean look required for success in the intensely competitive arena of the photographic marketplace nowadays. Strong, elongated, prehensile fingers, and at first glance, it would seem, opposable thumbs which are always useful. This of course was conjured for me by the irrepressible Mr. Hobby of Strobist, who recently mentioned an article on the HSD in this month’s Digital Photo Pro.  He’s done things like this before- taking my face and placing it in the movie poster for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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This is great. David and I spoke last week and I told him such ramblings fit perfectly with two goals I have for the rest of my career: A) Never take myself particularly seriously; and B) Have fun.

Not the first time David and I have gotten a touch, well, goofy, witness our Dubai antics (Shot by the equally goofy Bobbi Lane)…..

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Of course this type of activity–a creative imagination plus a bent sense of humor plus knowledge of Photoshop plus access to the internet does create a climate the nuns used to warn us about. You know, “idle minds,” etc. We were urged to go to confession for having an idle mind, which, when you are talking about the mind of a 10 or 12 year old boy, is never particularly, you know, idle. I never really feared confession, to be honest about it, ’cause the priests I would be confessing to back in the day seemed to be in such a perpetually booze fueled state of serenity that virtually nothing you could say to them in the confessional was overly troubling to them, and they would mete out relatively light penances. You would, you know, confess all sorts of goings on in the typically X-rated big top of the youthful male mind, and they would come back with a gin fumed mandate to say five Our Fathers.

Five Our Fathers seemed cheap admission to the realm of my imagination, truth be told. Kinda like paying a nickel to go to a particularly colorful peep show.

I digress. What the ever prescient DH has actually construed with the Gollum idea above is, I think, nothing less than the….Photog of the Future. Hear me out.

Obviously, lean and mean, as I have noted. Doesn’t eat much. Could probably subsist on a diet of rainwater and bark. Remember in the movie, he would jump into a stream, grab a fish, and just start eating it raw? So, imagine the Gollum photog gets booked into a hotel that has one of those aquarium displays with over-sized koi in some algae infested waterway near the reception desk. No bills for dinner! ( I’ve never completely figured out the indoor lagoon thing in lobbies. Why would you want to sit and have coffee and a bagel next to an under tended, foul smelling water display invariably complete with a drizzly waterfall effect that makes it sound for all the world like your table is right next to the urinals in the men’s room?) No matter. This raw fish meal practice would thrill the accountants at a place like Time Warner, ’cause it would cut T&E substantially. Not that it has gone up all that much. They haven’t raised the per diem there (last time I checked) since the 80’s, so you are still supposed to spend something like five bucks for breakfast, twelve for lunch and hoo boy, 25 balloons for dinner. Get crazy! This of course means that if you go to Denny’s for breakfast and have a French Slam and a large OJ, you’re on your own dime for eats for the rest of the day. Your per diem is just as burnt as the toast.

Gollum knew the secret passageway into Mordor, remember? That means the Gollum photog would be most likely devious enough to slide, unaccredited,  into virtually any presidential tight pool, at least for a few frames.

Clothing. Uh, minimal, obviously. The means no special wardrobe to be purchased even for extreme conditions, and certainly no dry cleaning bills. This type of expense has always nettled the accountants. The legendary story that rattles the hallways of the Geographic is of a shooter who was assigned to an extremely cold location and promptly went out and expensed a hugely costly fur coat. The powers that be of course bounced that piece of paperwork back to the wayward journalist. It was turned in again a week later, with the exact same total and a note that read simply….”Find the coat.”

That brazen display of contempt for the accounting process of course is mild by comparison to that of the China correspondent for Nat Geo circa the 40’s. I cannot confirm this, but legend has it this particular scribe received a telex from home base stating, “Mission accomplished, return to HQ.” To which he replied, “Confirm. Can I bring my junk?” To which home base replied in the affirmative. Several months later, an ocean going freighter with a full blown Chinese junk strapped to the deck steamed into the Washington ship basin and the individual in question lived on it for several years.

I never had the benefit of working in those days of shenanigans and largesse. When I came along, the accountants were slowly, Gollum-like, hissing in the ears of the powerful, and loopy, frivolous, “gifts for natives”  expense accounting (an actual category in the old Geographic daily log books) was  rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Closest I came to a whopper was during the first launch and landing of the space shuttle. Hank Morgan, David Strick and I were out in the vast nothingness of Edwards AFB, trying to figure out which corner of the sky the shuttle was gonna drop out of. Hank being Hank, said something endearing like, “So long, sucker,” and brought the hammer down on his rental. I plunged after him, which was a mistake, cause given the dust trail he was churning at 100 plus mph I could see absolutely nothing. But I figured as long as it was dust, it would be okay. If the cloud turned to flames, then chances are Hank met with something truly unfortunate, and I should slow down.

A tremendous crack reported from the undercarriage of the car, and while it still drove well enough, I noticed my gas level was heading south as fast as a dropped rock. Much perhaps, like the rock I had just run over, which plowed a canal in the gas tank wide enough push a supertanker through. Holy shit. David and I started pulling gear outta the trunk like crazy, thinking that a vehicle with a hot engine in the desert sun in the middle of a lake of gas had disaster stamped all over it. I called the car rental outfit and complained that their vehicle had malfunctioned and hadda get towed from somewhere in a couple thousand square miles of desert. They called me two days later, and hadn’t yet been able to find it. Yikes.

I started thinking then about how I could creatively use my expense account to incrementally cover the cost of a Buick Regal. You know, a few high priced dinners, lots of Manhattan cab rides, a camera repair or two…..Sheesh. They did find it, thankfully. But you know, if it was the Gollum photog, there would have been no rental car needed. Food for thought….more tk.