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Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Driving To Slovenia….

Apr 20

In history, Thoughts at 2:46am


Working in Europe, under a giant umbrella of volcanic ash. No fly time now. Just as well. I’d rather drive just about anywhere than fly. Except home, of course. Gotta fly home, and pretty soon, so hoping for a wind shift, or maybe one of those movie special effects deals where all of sudden the volcano goes into reverse gear and sucks back down what it just threw up.

Working with Nikon Europe and a bunch of Annie’s extraordinary colleagues over here. What started small in Copenhagen 4 years ago has become a barnstorming tour, with stops in a various cities across Europe, particularly, this year, in Germany. Yasuo Baba, the manager of NPS Germany, and a complete, total force of nature,  has put together a terrific itinerary that has us in Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, as well as 6 stops in Germany. Somehow, through his efforts, every place we show up, there’s ballerinas and body builders.

Just crossed into Austria. Gonna be a while before we hit Ljubljana. Darkness closing in. Domen and Rene up front sharing the driving. Young guys, they are, somewhat oddly, into 80’s music. Dire Straits through the speakers. Annie eating gummi bears.

People across the board have been wonderful at the various stops. Meeting photogs from the commercial world, newspaper guys, wedding shooters, you name it. Playing with light and shooting stuff. Talking gear, the language we all understand.

Years ago, my first foray out of the US sent me to England. I was a student, and my photography professor, Fred Demarest, urged me to come over and mix chemistry for the Syracuse London photo program. I got 9 free graduate credits, and 5 pounds a week.

I jumped on it. Got myself a cold water flat with a shower down the hall in Parsons Green, south of the Thames, for six pounds fifty a week. Ran the lab, shot stuff at Speakers’ Corner, looked at lots of pictures. Went to the London Royal Photographic Society, where they had a show of Gene Smith’s work. Went back six or seven times.

Ate at the original, and at that time, the only, Hard Rock Café. Played basketball for a semi-pro team called London Amber. Had a blast. Starting five was a crazy Ozzie, me, and some terrific English blokes, one of whom was a chauffeur during the day. For a road trip, he could stuff the whole team into his massive limo. Played some pretty basic gyms, lacking, uh, amenities. Jesus, that car stank after a game.

Went to sea. Wandered up to Lowestoft, the eastmost tip of England, and signed onto to a fishing trawler named the Boston Shackleton for a two week stint in the North Sea. In November. On board, they called me “Hank the Yank” and made fun of the fact I had to hang on to stand up. Couple of them piped down a bit after I climbed the mast, which most of the crew wouldn’t do. Fun up there, a seaborne roller coaster, complete with salt spray.

Nighttime on the the Dogger, as some fishermen liked to call the North Sea, is particularly, deeply black. The wheelhouse was like a cocoon. Outside the sea circled the boat like a powerful snake, waves coiling and uncoiling. Wind sharp as a thrown knife. Inside, the glow of instruments, and the smell of strong tea.

Thirty five years and nearly 60 countries later, still at sea. Still love staring at darkness, slipping by. Still love the uncertainty of photography. Still love the fact that it kicks my ass. Nowadays, love knowing that all those millions of pixels, hot wired for color and speed, are still blind without the eye of a shooter pointing them the right way. Still love that my imagination precludes the possibility that I will ever grow up.

Still love the passport stamps, and the fact that each one means a connection made, a culture observed. Lessons learned. People met. Bridges, however temporary and fragile, made. Never get tired of the sound of a shutter. Never tire of nights like these, especially now that I share them with Annie. Here in the dark, asleep now, listening to her breathe.

Ljubljana still couple hours away. It’s okay. They can drive slower if they want. 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.


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.


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.


Breakfast. Oh, well. More tk….

Thinking, Shooting…Always a Dangerous Thing….

Oct 8

In Seminars & Workshops, Thoughts at 11:54am

Was in Vegas last week for PhotoShop World, and gave a quickie 40 minute demo for my buds at Bogen. Used the new Quadra, a 400 watt second little big man of a flash unit. Lotta fun. Just grabbed folks off the floor and made a few pix.


Lastolite makes this thing called a background hi-liter, which is basically an empty mattress pad you can stuff lights into. It gives you this incredible, lock solid, done deal white background. Uh, Joe, this photo is shot on black. Yep, turned around and used the wall of light it creates as a main. Gorgeous light for Rae, a terrific young shooter who is hopefully bound for FIT in NY this fall.

Then there was Rodney. He was in the crowd, mildly bemused by events, so I made him the event. Terrific face for a photo. He had a wonderful sense of merriment to his eyes, and at the same time could look like a professor I just turned my term paper in late to. This is shot with the Deep Octa, which, allows the light to marinate really nicely before screaming outta the box



And then of course, there was V.


V is the spark plug, the security detail and a one man tidal wave of enthusiasm who comes and puts his massive arms around PhotoShop World twice a year. I asked him to pose for me, and he was great. As I described him to the class, he’s like a block of granite with feet.

And then there’s Kathy Siler…….


I’m in so much trouble. At the closing ceremonies I announced a “Draft Kathy Siler” movement to get her in front of a camera. So why am I compounding my difficulties by mentioning this in my blog?  I’m in enough hot water as it is. Could it be, that as photographers it is part of our mission to be a pain in the ass:-)?

Lessee….a colleague showed work at PSW he specifically described as all shot “without flash or reflectors.” The holy water of available light! No evil photons generated by the machines! He used the phrase, “God is my gaffer.” Okay! Who’s your grip? There’s a whole blog’s worth of material in that phrase, just not gonna go there right now.

Speaking of available light, had my midterm review on my current National Geographic story the other day. Virtually every frame was shot with available light. (I can walk! I can walk! Thank God almighty, I can walk!) Biggest compliment the editors can offer a shooter is to expand the page count of the story, and that’s what happened. Now I just gotta figure out how to shoot the next half of the darn thing.

Headed from PSW to PRW, the Paso Robles Workshops, run by my friend with the hair with a mind of its’ own, Syl Arena. Given the dense, rich, textured, complex and multi-layered cultural experience of Vegas, when I hit Paso I decided to stay shallow and photograph Robert for a class demo with a 50mm lens at f1.4. Been experimenting a lot lately with limited depth of field portraiture. Good look at the camera for Robert here. Shot with Ezybox Hot Shoe softbox on a Sylinator paint pole rig for up front, and then just a hard, warm gelled light in the background off the tin siding.


Speaking of turns of phrases, Del, one of my participants here at the Paso workshop had trouble with a scarf someone was wearing in a photo. He said during crit it was “surprisingly luminous.” Love it. I’ve run into stuff like that too, over time. We had a good laugh, and during the deal I uttered a couple of colorful metaphors, which just bubble outta me occasionally, a bit like farting in a pool. The class, thankfully, endorses such frivolity. Frank, a Continental pilot who shoots real well, and, I’m sure, is no stranger to the use of pungent commentary, commented that my language was “surprisingly luminous.”

Buddy of mine who is a terrific shooter and is currently assisting in NY just moved on from his regular gig and is now awash in the turbulent freelance seas of the Big Apple. He had just got to the point where the job was owning his life, and he wrote to me describing that and letting me know he’s out there ready for work. Describing how a job often goes, I wrote back….

“Ahh, yes, grasshopper….a job is just a job, until it becomes it becomes like one of those things in the Alien movie that springs from a pod, smothers your face, deposits an embryo in your guts that gestates with incredible rapidity and chews through all your inside wiring, leaving you bloody, dead, mouth agape at the utter unfairness and speed with which your life force was sucked out of you. With your vision flickering like an old TV, your last image is that of the predator you incubated lurching down the block, looking for it’s next meal. Welcome to the workplace!”

I thought that was helpful, no? More tk….

Nigel and Me, Still…..

Sep 10

In Thoughts at 6:11pm


Up early today. Nigel’s gained some weight lately, and when he nestled himself on the bed last night he proceeded to snore so loudly I coulda sworn somebody was trying to start a large diesel engine right there on the blanket. It’s okay, though. He’s my bud. He’s a bit paunchy (Annie gets defensive and simply says he’s “big boned”) and a little tentative, ’cause I think he’s got some arthritis in his forelegs.  I bought him some steps I’ve put around the house so he can get up on stuff easier. He won’t use ’em, though, being male and proud. He still jumps, even though it’s gottta hurt. That’s the deal with guys. We look at something and think, I can still do that, and then our body tells us different.

Same thing here. In addition to being up early, I’m grumpy ’cause I’m fasting. Annie worked out a week for me while I am home to kinda kick the tires and change the oil, so the whole week is doc’s appointments. Feeling like I’m spending a great deal of time flat on my back on an examining table, looking upwards through a 16mm full frame fisheye at a bunch of googly eyed, well meaning folks who look me over, ask some mildly embarrassing questions, purse their lips and frown a bit, then make notes on a clipboard. (I chuckle inwardly. In this ten minute examination these folks actually think they’re gonna find out what’s wrong with me? Heh, heh, heh.)

(My buddy Bill at Geographic is having a field day with this. He mentioned today that all the questions are designed to create a baseline before they harvest the organs.)

What can I say to these rational, logical, disapproving folks? That I know I shouldn’t have done half the shit I’ve done? That I know it wasn’t great for me to breathe carbon dioxide gas for a week at one of the world’s largest nickel mines in Siberia? I know it’s not a good idea to get kicked and punched, shot at and tear gassed? I’ve had stitches and surgeries, been baked in the desert and frozen in the arctic and arrested at gunpoint. I’ve climbed around towers loaded with microwaves. I’ve smiled my way through meals in faraway places that I knew were gonna ricochet through my system like a pinball in an arcade game. I’ve drunk stuff of indeterminate origin that I knew had microbes that were gonna chew their way through my inside wiring like gremlins on holiday. I’ve worked around disease and radioactivity, picked my way through mass graves, blacked out at 9.2 g’s and hung off of and outside of clanky, rusted flying machines that had no business staying in the air, but somehow, with some spit and glue, did. I’ve parked myself for hours covering concerts in front of walls of woofers with enough decibel horsepower to flatten a city block, never mind a flimsy pair of eardrums. I’ve done the macho, bonding ritual of hoisting flagons of native brew that would make straight sterno look like a fruit smoothie.

And done much of it carrying anywhere from 20 to 60 pounds of gear, sometimes much more. So my knees sound like somebody’s opening the front door of an abandoned house in a horror movie, and my spine is about as straight as the Pacific Coast Highway. And my mind? Let’s not go there.

So what do I say to these well meaning, helpful medical folks? How do I explain that 30 plus years ago I threw myself into the mosh pit of a shooting career because I had no choice? That, just like any photog, I did ridiculous, ill-advised stuff just cause I wanted the picture so badly? And that there are a bunch more of us out here, camera in hand, just as nutty? (Hell, I’ve got colleagues who have done such wacked stuff it it makes me look like a frikkin’ librarian.)

How to tell them that I’m up for more? That my best pictures are still out there ahead of me? They may be right around the corner, in plain sight, or still years away, hidden inside some project or notion that ain’t even in my head yet. I might need to fly or climb to get them, or run after them, or limp, as the case may be.

But, just like Nigel, I won’t use the steps…..more tk.

A Morning With Eisie and Carl….

Jul 27

In Friends, history, Thoughts at 4:56pm


And Gordon, Ernst, Margaret……..

Had a terrific week in Santa Fe. Great class. Nice bunch of folks who produced some pictures that were much more than nice. We rocked and rolled all week with big and small flash, in the usual collection of fascinating places, working with the unusual, interesting and beautiful faces of the Santa Fe Workshops model community, many of whom are my dear friends, and populate numerous pages of The Hot Shoe Diaries. I’ve got a great relationship with a bunch of the folks who pose for the workshops. Like Deidre. She called me last week and said, “Hey, I shaved my head! Wanna shoot me?” Answer below.


More on D in a future blog….

That’s always the fun stuff. Every week long workshop, I host what I call the business breakfast to talk about the un-fun stuff. It’s generally a long meal, peppered with nettlesome questions about how to survive as a photog, how to make it, construct portfolios, find clients, price jobs…..the grist of turning our passion into pictures that make money. I do this during the daylight hours. If we met for dinner, it would most likely become something of a religious drunk, with many tequila laced epithets, confessions, admonitions and apocalyptic descriptions about just how wrong the business of photography has gone. The entire conversation would simply degenerate into a bunch of extended vowel sounds, kinda like a set of James Brown lyrics.

I attempt to be coherent, and thoughtful, though it’s hard. When you hear about a recent cover of Time magazine being bought off Istock for $30, it’s easy to just think about reaching for the sawed off and giving them sumbitches what for. But this whole numbing process has been going on for so long it would be difficult to sort out the most deserving sumbitches, and truth be told, some of them be us.

So you know what saved the day? What elevated us all? A visit to Sid and Michelle. The Monroe Gallery of Photography currently has a show called “A Thousand Words.”  Walking into those four walls adorned with those pictures is to leave all the other crap behind, and be lifted up by the most beautiful breeze you can imagine. The images cut to the chase and the heart. You get goose bumps. Your eyes sting. You remember why you picked up a camera in the first place.

Sid and Michelle are so knowledgeable, and for them, the pictures on the walls are family, just like the people who made them, though a fair number of those shooters are gone, which makes preserving their legacy all the more necessary. They told my class stories and a bit about their wonderful philosophy, which is, simply put, that pictures are important, and have value.

Bill Eppridge’s pictures from RFK’s campaign are on the wall, and Sid showed the class Bill’s book. In A Time It Was, Bill’s visual record of Bobby’s campaign, is the charred master print of the busboy cradling the senator’s head. It was damaged in the Laurel Canyon fires that swept through Bill’s home, but the core of the image is still there, and the charred edges make that moment all the more searing and painful to look at.


The lead photo of the show is Eisie’s famous drum major shot. I used to bump into Eisie all the time as he padded the hallways of the 28th floor of Time Inc. “Hello McNally,” accompanied by a fairly dismissive wave of the hand was generally as far as the conversation got. As the story goes, Eisie was waiting at the elevator on 28 with a bunch of other photogs. The doors opened and they all crowded in, the diminutive Eisie found himself in close quarters, surrounded by younger, taller photographers.

He looked around. “I used to be just as tall as all of you,” he said in his German accent. He made a couple dramatic shrugs of his shoulders, the kind of motion you would make if you were carrying something heavy. “The equipment, the equipment,” was all he said.

Driving through the desert. Damn hot. Blogging from the van. 10 hours to San Francisco, where Drew and I do two workshop days at Google, and then a stop for Kelby Tours. After that, we disappear into the land of the yellow border.

More tk…..