Sunday, August 11, 2013

Feature Shoot

I am quite honored that Julia Sabot, photo editor of Dwell Magazine, highlighted my work in Lakewood on the blog Feature Shoot.  Have a read...."Lakewood: Portraits of a Sacred American Suburb."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Interview with PhotoWhoa

Recently I was interviewed for the blog PhotoWhoa.  Here is the interview.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Photoshop Workshop

Since I just recently finished changing my website to APhotoFolio X design, I thought I’d make a blog entry.  It’s been months since I’ve done so, and now seems as good as time as any.  And rather that waste words on why I haven’t made any entries in ages I’ll just use my time and energy writing on a recent event.  I will however write that writing isn’t easy for me, and unless I am very inspired to express something it’s difficult for me to put fingers to keys.  I suppose the same applies with taking photographs.  And like taking photographs sometimes you just have to do it when you’re not feeling it, and hopefully the inspiration will follow.
I want to begin with discussing the John Paul Caponigro and R. Mac Holbert Photoshop workshop I attended last month at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara.  It was five days of intensive lectures and application of Photoshop workflow.  The amount of material they submitted overwhelmed me.  At the end of each day I needed to take a couple of aspirin and a glass of Pinot Grigio to relieve my headaches.
Before the workshop began they asked us what we thought our level of Photoshop was- beginner, intermediate, and advanced.  I put down intermediate.  I knew well enough that I was far from advanced, but since I’ve been dabbling in Photoshop for nearly 15 years I couldn’t consider myself a beginner.  After a week with JP and Mac I now consider myself an advanced beginner.  JP kindly placed me in the middle of the workshop attendees that he has encountered. 
A reason I’m not better with Photoshop than perhaps I ought to be is for the longest time I resisted and refused to embrace digital technology.  Yet now if you wish to compete in the editorial market, unless you’re famous it’s impossible to abstain from shooting digital.  For personal work, I still shoot film, so in a sense I still resist it.  But the reason I shoot film has more to do with the camera than digital technology.  I do not like making images with a 35 mm camera, and the cost of a medium format digital camera remains beyond my price range.  Thus, I’m still hanging out in the analog world.  Yet every decent image I expose ultimately ends up becoming a digital file.
After making portfolios for reviews and having friends and colleagues critique my work I learned the necessity of making better prints.  I’ve made a great deal of improvement, yet I've known that my printed images were far from perfection.  A couple of colleagues whose work I greatly admire have taken this workshop, and they had nothing but rave reviews for what they learned from it.  Have a look at Svjetlana Tepavcevic's work.  Her prints are exquisite, and her work went to another level after attending JP and Mac’s workshop.  She continues to return to her workshop notes and John Paul Caponigro blogs for different techniques to enhance her images.  As she likes to say she’ll work on a technique until she owns it, i.e. it becomes a part of her Photoshop tool kit.
After a month I’m still trying to gather all the information they presented and processing all that I learned.  I was warned to be prepared, which meant that the more you know going into this workshop the more you’ll gain.  Photoshop, like any other craft, art, or skill is something one must practice consistently and regularly, and the broader one’s base of knowledge is going into the workshop the more one will gain from the workshop.
I will not go into all the techniques I learned during the week, but I will write that I’ve added the gradient tool and the Selective Color Adjustment Layer to my toolbox.  For my work it’s not about compositing, HDR, or making someone’s skin perfect, it’s about having the controls to make my work look like I envisioned it and enhancing the qualities, e.g. contrast and color, of the image to make it appear its best.
I recommend the class for anyone who wants to improve their Photoshop skills and learn the proper way to use the application.  I do not suggest the class for beginners.  In fact I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who hasn’t been using Photoshop for at least 5 years.
Both Mac and John Paul have websites that have a ton of free information.  In fact you might see me there.  I highly recommend bookmarking Mac’s basic image workflow pdf.  I follow it on every image I work on.  Finally, not only are Mac and John Paul Photoshop masters and prodigiously smart, they are nice guys and incredibly helpful and patient.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Serendipitous Portrait

Of late it's been my goal to make conceptual portraits.  That is when given assignment or working on a personal I attempt to create a provocative portrait that has some sort of narrative.  I.e. before I show up at the location of the session I've prepared at least two concepts that will illustrate a story about my subject.  This requires much pre-production brainstorming, jotting down of ideas, followed by weeding out of the ridiculous or the cost prohibitive, further brainstorming, and finally settling upon something I know how to do and preferably something I've never done before.  Equally I demonstratively don't want to make a photograph that's, and it's also not my style, cliché or contrived.  This type of portrait is common for many editorial portrait photographers.  Some of the best at this are Annie Liebowitz, Mark Seliger, Martin Schoeller, Chris Buck, Peter Yang to name just a few.   Their work, even though much has gone into it, never seems forced.  I've read and heard many interviews with these photographers and others discussing some of their most successful portraits.  And what is most common is that even though they came prepared to their shoots with tons of lights, ideas, props, and sometimes the whole dog and pony show, their most outstanding images came about often by chance, happenstance, a happy accident, or even a mistake.
Then there are the portraits that fall into your lap.  Last week I was returning home from picking up a couple scones for breakfast and I came upon this image.  I sped home grabbed my faithful Hasselblad with its standard 80mm lens (the tools for 90% of my images).  Fortunately, she hadn't moved from where I had previously seen her.   I have met and even photographed this Crossing Guard before, yet in my wildest dreams I could have never conceived this photograph.  I just happen to have been lucky that morning to have come upon it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Inexplicit Artist Portrait

For the past year I have been working on a project called Los Angeles Artists, abbreviated - LA Artist.  The project began after I photographed my uncle, Charles Garabedian.  The prestigious gallery LA Louver represents Charles, and at 87 he is well established not only in Los Angeles but internationally as well.  He was the perfect initial subject because it was easier to get other artists to agree to participate once I had him in my portfolio. 

Different than other portrait sessions with a creative it is always a learning experience.  I’ve become fascinated listening to artists discuss what motivates them and the various processes they use to produce their work.  

A good artist portrait is a challenge because it mustn’t be overly literal, yet the image should hopefully exhibit something about the artist and his work or method.  Though some of my photos have the artists near or next to their work, I desperately work the juxtaposition of the two with the desire to make portrait that is neither obvious or cliché.  

There are many factors that either make it easier or more difficult to create a good portrait.  The space and light in the artist’s studio can either be an aid or hindrance.  Most studios have good light, so that more often than not is an asset.  However, as best I can, and it’s extremely difficult to refrain from the tried and true, I avoid the typical available light environmental portrait.  Rather I’m pursuing a more conceptual interpretational portrait.  I.e. in addition to working with the environment, I’m using my own lights and ideas combined with the artists’ tools and work to create a more conceptual portrait.   My goal is to make a portrait that isn’t so literal, but does have some sort of narrative. 

Below beginning with my uncle are four examples of artists in which their work isn’t explicit, yet the image provides a glimpse and a narrative into who they and their work represents.

Charles Garabedian

Ben Jackel

Peter Shelton

Daniel Aksten

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The "Life" of an Artist

I first met Brian Doan at Long Beach City College two years ago in his photography class “Alternative Processes.”  Due to time restraints I considered dropping the class, and that thought grew once I heard Brian speak.  Brian has a thick Vietnamese accent, which at times is difficult to understand.  However, there was something in his demeanor that compelled me to overcome the communication barrier.   Perhaps the difficulty I had understanding him forced me to concentrate more on his manner because I sensed a keen awareness of someone who has experienced the extremities of life.

Since August the Oceanside Museum of Fine Art is Brian’s work in its current exhibit Facing West / Looking East.   The exhibit features artists whose works are the reflection of the duality of their experiences of both Asian and California cultures and their affects upon them.  Via a combination of photo illustration, sculpture, and multi-media Brian’s work is an expression of his life - being a refugee of a communist country and a Vietnamese American.

Fighting for the survival of the photography program at Long Beach City College, the duties of being a single parent, the recent death of his father, and the demands of being a teacher and an administrator, all the while trying to find time and space to create more work make for challenging times.  But this is Brian’s life, and as much as he would love nothing more than to focus on making art I sense he thrives on this demanding and chaotic existence.  And, through it all he will use what he’s now enduring as a source to create more art.

 For a little over an hour Brian and I talked about his life in Viet Nam, becoming an American, his relationship with his father, his mentors Nick Nixon and Abelardo Morell, and his development as an artist.   I learned that though he intends to move beyond the two dimensions of the photographic image photography is and will continue to be the basis of his work.  I was most interested in learning how the photographer developed into a conceptual artist.  He told me studying philosophy in graduate school helped him to become cognizant of his own beliefs and that the act of making a photograph was an expression of self.  Nick Nixon told him “your life will teach you how to make your art.”  Having been raised in a war-torn communist country, then as a young man unable to speak English immigrating to sunny, laid back, capitalistic Southern California, Brian was destined to create work that explored the contrast between Vietnamese and American culture and his existence within those two worlds.

During an exhibit in 2008 at the Vietnamese American Art Center in Little Saigon Brian learned a difficult lesson.  His form of expression outraged many in the Viet Nam community because one of his portraits contained symbols of communist Viet Nam.  His feelings were ambivalent.  As an artist he drew a certain satisfaction that his work had provoked a strong reaction, however it wounded him to realize that the unintended consequences of his work had caused his family and community so much pain.  Yet, rather than withdraw from the source of this resentment, in 2010 with the aide of a Fulbright Grant, he returned to Viet Nam to delve deeper into the roots of this conflict.
One piece that stands out at the Oceanside exhibit is the multi-media piece “White Christmas.”  The work is autobiographical.  It’s a haunting impression of the day that a four-year old boy’s world was turned up side down.  Small toy figures represent Brian and his fleeing family, his father, and the helicopter that would separate them for ten years.   All of this lies atop of a TV displaying only static, but from it emanates the familiar American Christmas song “White Christmas.”  That melody warned the South Vietnamese that the North had invaded Saigon and for those fortunate enough to have the connections it was time to get out.  For those without that ticket out it was time to prepare for all that they had feared. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Start of a Project

I've begun a new project.  It's too early to explain what it is, however I'm excited about it because I believe it's provocative and relevant.   However, I will admit that it will be all portraits of different people who have one thing in common.  I have yet to write a project statement because I would like to get at least 5 shoots under my belt to see what develops.   Without writing what the project is about I would like to share an images from my first shoot.  The subjects were Kevin and his son Spencer Gates.  I've gotten to know Kevin through a mutual friend.  The three of us surf and about once a month we car pool to the beach.  On our trips we share our stories.  It was actually Kevin who unknowingly planted the seed of inspiration for the new project.  Kevin has two children, a boy and a girl.  His oldest, Spencer, has an extremely rare genetic disease titled Mucolipidosis III.  Because it's rare and so few people are born with it there has not been a lot of research done on it, thus, unfortunately, as of yet there is no cure.  All Kevin and his family can do is give Spencer the best life they can.  I will not go into the affects of the decease because I don't really have all the details.  I will write that it is obviously crippling and from Kevin's accounts it can be extremely painful.  Yet, since Spencer was born with decease, the pain and hardship inflicted by the decease are what he has always known.  So, he deals with it.

Kevin works and plays hard, yet he is completely dedicated to making sure that his son gets the most out of his life.  I don't know how Kevin does it all, I have a hard enough time just taking care of myself.
On our surfing excursions Kevin has shared a lot of stories on the scouting trips he's done with Spencer, hence the idea for this shoot.  I have lots of ideas for photographs, yet due to impracticality very few result in photographs.  And of those that make it on film or pixels rarely do they end up like imagined.  However this photograph of Spencer and Kevin turned out exactly how I envisioned it.  Before the day of the shoot I knew where and when I wanted to make the photograph.  I knew exactly what camera, lens, film, and light source I wanted to use to make the photograph.  I had even imagined the mood and expressions.  When we arrived at the location all the elements came perfectly together, and I knew I had a great photograph when I made it.

I am very proud of this image, but not because of its quality.  It's dear to me because of its humanity.