Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rishwain Boys

Since their oldest son Gabriel was a baby I have been photographing the boys of my good friends Erin and Brian Rishwain. Often I photograph them a month before Christmas, so Erin can use one image for a holiday card. This can present a challenge because I'm always attempting to make a portrait, while Erin wants me to take a fun, smiley, and animated photograph. This year we reached a compromise. For her I pulled out the 5D and shot away until she saw something she liked on the back of the camera. This year, now that the boys are old enough to hold still for at least a minute, I brought the 8x10 Horseman. Working with an 8x10 is never easy, yet making a portrait with it is a real effort. Too shoot people with the 8x10, working the camera must be second nature. At the price of sheet film these days improperly exposed film is a very expensive waste. Yet, when you nail an exposure there is just nothing like it. I'm not sure you can see the quality of this exposure on your screen. If you can't let me assure you it's full of detail. And the tonality is extremely rich. I hope to annually photograph the boys, a la Nick Nixon, using the Horseman. The boys are restless, especially Julian on the left, but after they start to see the results I believe even they will begin to appreciate their annual portrait. I also intend to make Platinum/Palladium contact prints. I'll keep you abreast of my progress. Cheers

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I am desperate for another project, and nothing is coming to me. I've had ideas, but ideas and a buck 50 will buy you a cup of coffee. I've looked at a thousand websites searching for a spark of an idea. I've looked at the work at all 50 of the 2011 Critical Mass winners. I search for something that is not derivative of me or others. So, today, desperate, frustrated, I packed up the Super Graphic and drove around just searching for a photograph. Anything, and sadly I found nothing. The high clouds, which beautifully diffused the sun when I was packing my gear disappeared once I left my house allowing the harsh contrasty sun to dominate any potentially decent photograph. Especially after having been in Tuscany and Paris last month I'm feeling creatively stifled, and sometimes I just hate where I live. It's so culturally unalive and uninspiring. To demonstrate my frustration, this is the first blog post where I omit an image. Bahhhhh.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Yesterday with Fluorescent lights that I purchased at Home Depot I made these two portraits of my friend Herman Johnson. I met Herman at a photography class at Long Beach City College. We collaborated on a project and have since become friends. I have a lot of respect for Herman. He's been through a lot, and done time. Yet, through it all he's one of the most positive people I know.
I photographed him with both the Super Graphic 135mm F 4.7, and these two examples here with a Nikon 50mm F 1.4 with an adapter on the Canon 5D Mark II. I am very pleased with the results. I'm also liking, even though it's been done again and again, the cyan-blue color cast of the Fluorescent bulbs.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Memphis, TN

Last September Sydney was working in Memphis, Tennessee, so I decided to visit and keep her company . We had some good barbecue, both wet and dry, went to Graceland, which was not as tacky as I had assumed, and spent an evening on Beale Street in downtown Memphis listening to blues. We also took a long walk along the Mississippi. When Sydney worked I drove around Memphis, and West Memphis, Arkansas looking for pictures. I'm in love with my Super Graphic, so I travel with it while the 5D collects dust in the cabinet. I didn't make a lot of exposures, perhaps 15 total, but the ones I did make I am quite please with. We were lucky with the weather. Michael Sebastian who lived in Memphis for about 4 years wrote to me that in summer that part of the south could be as hot as the gates of hell. But we got a break with the temperature--it never rose above 75 and neither did the humidity. Although it poured the day we left, most days there was these high light clouds that illuminated the Mississippi Delta with sweet diffused light. I loved photographing there, and if get the chance to return for a couple of months I'll do a project called "chillin." Folks just hanging out waiting for what comes next. Here's sampling of some of the images I like best.
The day before we departed I was photographing amidst this horrible dilapidated demolished area that had at one time been the location of a convenience store off of highway 51 just north of Memphis. I was bending over my camera case to grab something and in the corner of my eye I spot something very small with 4 legs walking towards me. My senses told me it was a rat, so I jump back and let out a loud sissy scream. Turns out the rat was a scrawny kitten not over 6 weeks old. Well that kitten won the lotto, and is now living in Lakewood eating 3 squares a day. I thought he was a boy, so we named him, what else, Elvis. Turns out my understanding of feline genitalia is lacking, and Elvis is not a boy. However, Elvis is keeping her name.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Trip to Europe, Part I

Yikes again. It's been two months since my last entry, and I initially promised myself that I would at least try to post something bi-monthy. Yes I am well aware that bi-monthly is not once every two months. Although I learned long ago photographers are not allowed to have excuses, it is much more challenging to update a photo blog when shooting film. The work flow is a bit more than merely downsizing an image. But I hope to make up for my insufficient frequency or for that matter any post by writing this very long post, yet hopefully interesting opus. Last Friday Sydney and I returned from a 3 week sejourn in Tuscany and Paris. We were in Europe for two reasons. We were in Italy for a very belated honey-moon. I wanted to share Tuscany with Sydney while we were young enough to completely savor the beauties of Italian life. Secondly we were in Paris for my show "So Far So Close." The vernisage, opening, was on October 13th. But, more about Paris and my show in the next post. I can only write about one country at a time. With the help of my friend Brian and his company BookMyAward we used my American Express points we had accumulated, from buying all that film over the years, for two first class round trip tickets. On both are flights Chicago to Frankfurt and Dusseldorf to Chicago we treated like royalty. On each flight for my appetizer I opted for Caviar . I hadn't eaten Caviar since my decadent days when I was a model in Paris back in the day. While waiting for our connecting flight to Milano we both took showers in the Lufthansa first-class lounge. The shower rooms were huge, with bathrobes and slippers. After traveling for 15 hours it was sweet. The real adventure began after picking up our rental cars at Malpensa airport in Milano and driving to our Tuscan villa in Chianni. We travelled east to Genoa than south along the coast to Pisa, but the scenic route to Tuscany meant little opportunity to view the Mediterranean coast as we drive through tunnel after mountain tunnel. It took us about 4 hours before we exited the autostrada at Pisa, and then things got very interesting. By then it was dark, and we were left solely with google directions to our destination. After about an hour of driving around in circles around roundabouts we realized that our directions were not accurate, and we had gotten separated from our friends who had the GPS in the other car. By this time we had been traveling for over 24 hours, and we were beginning to get a tad cranky. Fortunately Sydney's daughter Rachel had her phone upgraded to international service and we were able to contact the Renate, the German woman who was the caretaker of the villa. Even then it took us another two hours to finally find Chianni. Mostly by luck and the generous help of a owner of a trattoria we made it to our villa. After unloading our luggage we had the first of what would be many glasses of delicious local.
We awoke the following morning with a view of a Tuscan valley with miles of vineyards to take in. Chianni is nestled on a Tuscan hill and to get to it you must drive up windy roads. It's difficult for an out of towner to find Chianni even in daylight, how we managed to make it to what would be our Tuscan home for the next 12 days that first night became a wonder to us all throughout our stay in Italy.getting way out of your comfort zoneAfter taking day of getting our bearings and our Italian feet under ourselves, then finding the cafe that had WiFi, the ATM that gave us euros, the market we could buy our groceries, and discovering our charming little town of Chianni we were ready to venture out to take in the beauty of Tuscan. Our first foray was to Florence, Firenze. We drove, which we later learned was a mistake. After a miserable drive to and fro to Florence Renate told us that it would be much easier if we drove a half hour to Pontedera and took the train from there. In Pontedera we could comfortably, and much more cheaply take the train to Florence, Pisa, Lucca, and Sienna. But that's the adventure of traveling-- getting way out of your comfort zone and discovering things as you go. Our first trip to Florence was not all that pleasant partially because we were all still recovering from jet lag. Yet, I believe what turned us off most about Florence was that at every point of interest, Il Ponte Vecchio, il duomo, the Ufficio museum we were surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of tourists. There were at least twenty groups that we observed following a guide who held and waved a stick with a flag or some indicator on it in case someone of their group got lost. The lost sheep had only to remember the symbol their tour guide was holding to safely find their way back to the fold. I for one would rather be lost than be a part of a herd. I had been Florence nearly thirty years before, and I do not remember that many tourists. I also don't recall back then seeing so many Chinese tourists. And what I also noticed is that everyone in the world now takes photographs, mind you most of them from the same angle. For anyone reading this blog if you do make it to Florence, I recommend you go in winter. Yea it will be cold, and perhaps even rainy, but I believe it will be worth because in-climate weather will hopefully cut the number of tourist in half.
The following day took us to Volterra. Driving in Tuscany can be exhausting, because it is mostly navigating small windy, hilly, country roads. If I was alone in a Porsche it would have been fantastic, but with 4 others in a minivan it became tiring and a bit tedious. But I didn't complain, I would rather swerve on a Tuscan hill then be stuck on the 405. We were passing through vineyards where some of the best Italian wines are made. In fact the best and cheapest wine that has ever touched my lips was the local table wines. Because preservatives were not added the local table wines were not meant to travel or be stored in a cellar, but boy were they so delicious. In truth after 3 weeks of very good wine, I can no longer drink the cheap stuff at Trader Joes.
The highlight in Volterra was an old Roman Amphitheater, and considering how long it has been since the last dude wearing a toga made a speech there it was still in remarkably good shape. Looking at these ruins some two thousand years old, made me ponder about all the thousands of people, who are now dust, that stood where I stood viewing the amphitheater. And knowing that when in another hundred years, when I am dust, some other American tourist will be standing at the exact same place I stood on October 5th, 2011 marveling at the same view of that amphitheater still intact made me feel in awe of all that is and was and extremely insignificant.
On the 6th of October we drove to Pisa. We still hadn't learned that it would have been much easier to take the train, so we took about 3 tours around the city until we eventually found and could see the leaning tower of Pisa. I've seen it before, yet I was just in much in awe of it as I was the first time. Actually I think it was more in awe of it this time. The setting for the Tower is the Campo dei Miracoli. Keeping company with the leaning tower in the campo are the Duomo and Babtistery. All three are absolutely ornately gorgeous structures, and each alone stand unique. However as an ensemble they make an odd visual connection. The architecture of each is different, and built during different epochs, so they contrast with one another but in an jazzy way they harmonize as a architectural tryptic. And since these structures bring millions of euros to the city of Pisa, unlike many other buildings in Italy, the Campo, the three structures, and surrounding grassy area are splendidly maintained. However, as special as it all was the thousands of tourists, again, detracted from all the beauty and splendor. Something to note: the last time I stood in Campo dei Miracoli was about twenty-five years ago. Since then about 2 billion more people inhabit the planet. It only makes sense that one of the most popular tourist sites in the world will have more tourists.
Our favorite city during our stay in Tuscany was Lucca, which sits about 50 kilometers north of Pisa. The center, old part of town, is nearly as charming as the center of Sienna, but because it lacks any major tourist attractions it is much much less crowded. We had lunch at Piazza dell'Anfiteatro and it was sublime. After lunch we strolled around the narrow romantic streets lit with bouncing reflected light. Our stay there was really delightful, and with out all the tourists we truly enjoyed our Italian moment. I recommend any who visit Tuscany who wish to experience old Italy without the mobs make sure to put Lucca on your to do list.
Since I came to Europe with only my Super Graphic, most of the photographs that accompany this post were taken by Sydney with her Canon G-12. Because I was already loaded down with the Super Graphic, 7 holders and all the other stuff required to use that camera, I didn't have enough room in the camera case that I purchased especially for this trip for another camera. I now regret not having found a way to make space. In retrospect I wish I would have brought another camera. But what? I suppose I could have stuck my M-6 with a 35mm lens in my other carry-on, but truth be told I would have loved to have had the Leica X1, something compact and digital, but of high end quality. It has been, and will always be my bete noire-- not to have, at all times, the perfect camera.
A few mornings while the rest were still sipping their first cappuccino I drove around Chianni to make a few photographs. The great thing about shooting a large format camera is you don't start extending the legs of your tripod unless you're fairly confident you have something worthwhile to spend the time and money on exposing a sheet of film. That's the beauty and/or fault of digital. It doesn't cost a dime to take a bad photograph. Stubbornly I still have the film mindset of trying not to take the picture.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Downward Dawg?

Last week I took pictures for my friend/ teacher's website. Carmen Fitzgibbon is yogini who teaches at Yoga Works Studios in Los Angeles. I met Carmen about ten years ago when I was practicing yoga on a regular basis at Yoga Works. Before she made the decision to dedicate herself to the teaching and practicing yoga she worked as a stylist, one time working with me on a shoot. Since I am no longer living in central L.A. I am, unfortunately, not taking as many yoga classes. It's of not just my opinion that the best yoga teachers and practitioners are located in Los Angeles. I didn't know that I had been spoiled by the quality of teaching in L.A. until I've looked into classes near where I live.

Yoga is like so many other auxiliary businesses manifested in Los Angeles by the entertainment industry. I would dare to guess that more than 50% of the yoga teachers in Los Angeles were one time aspiring actors. I don't mention that to be critical of them, their life paths, and certainly not yoga. I state this belief to give reason to why the concentration of quality yoga in Los Angeles is so great. Actors are always seeking ways to enhance their physical, emotional, and spiritual selves, and practicing yoga is an encompassing pursuit that improves one's mind, body, and soul. If I'm eating properly, limiting my alcohol consumption, and practicing yoga 3 times a week I am at my best.

Photographing Carmen performing a variety of asanas was an enjoyable and inspiring project. The challenge was to optimally position my camera to make her poses look technically perfect. This was a challenge because as Carmen says, she is an alignment junkie. There are a variety of yoga practices from Hatha to Bikrams, the one that Carmen comes from is Iyengar where posture and position are paramount, and workout and sweating are secondary. Every serious yogi at one time or another practices a form of Iyengar to technically improve their poses and complete their practice.

Viewing the images with Carmen after the shoot reminded me of my own pursuit of perfection with photography. What appeared to me to be a perfect pose, Carmen would point out that her big toe was not touching the ground, a no no. Overall Carmen was happy with the work, however; the next time she has photographs taken of her poses she wants another Iyengar alignment junkie on set to make sure her poses are text book. In the meantime this out of shape yogi is inspired to get his butt back in class.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Pleasant Occasion

Last Saturday Sydney and I drove south on I-5 to the opening reception gala of The Art of Photography Show in San Diego. I was honored to have "Louise" selected by the curator of the show, Anne Lyden the Associate Curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum. 15,444 images were submitted by artists from 72 different countries and only 109 images were selected. So, it was quite the honor to be represented in this prestigious show. It was also fun to meet and mingle with some of the image makers. Obviously not all could come, but I was able to get about 30 of those artists who did attend to scribble their autograph next to their work in the catalog. It was good to see my new friend and inspiration Jesse Rieser. Our work has appeared together in about 3 different shows this year. They had an artists only reception an hour before the doors were open to the public, so it was fun to sip on the free bubbly and look at some stunning work. I had a chance to speak with Anne during the reception, and she remembered me from a review I had with her at Palm Springs Photography Festival 2010. She congratulated me on my selection and hard work, and told me my follow-ups made it easier for her to include me in her selection. As has been said by Aline Smithson numerous times: it's about hard work, persistence, and consistency. Truer words are rarely spoken.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A return to Paris

It looks like I'll be having a show of a work from both Lakewood: Portraits of a Sacred American Suburb and Au Bout de la Ligne (ABDLL) in Paris this October. The details are still being worked out, but it looks as if the vernisage (opening night) will be the Thursday (Jeudi) the 13th. You're all welcome. The other day in beginning initial preparation for the show I went through my images from ABDLL again and came upon some photographs that had missed the prior cuts. I find that it takes approximately six months before I can objectively look at an image, and even then until I print it out and see how works at least 12"x12" I do not know if it's a keeper. The monitor can fool you. I save my heart until I see the print. Then and only then will I allow myself to fall in love. But photographs can sometimes be like that girl you ignored in high school only to see her again a few years later when she's blossomed. And like some photographs I've always thought that those that bloom last bloom best. Anyway enough about romance and blossoming here are few aged images from the archives. Of course I'm just dating them again, I will not get serious until I make a test print. However, you're opinions are indeed welcome. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A long bike ride

Last Friday as I do nearly once a week I went into to L.A. to drop off and pick-up film at A&I. If I have the time and not the need to carry anything large I'll ride my bike. From my home I pedal about 3 miles to the Del Amo station L.A. Metro Blue line. With my bike I hop on the northbound train towards downtown L.A. to 7th & Metro stop; there I transfer to the red line toward North Hollywood. I exit at Vermont and Santa Monica Blvd,; from there I hop back on my bike and head west on Santa Monica Blvd. another 3 miles to West Hollywood. Normally when I am finished with my errands I return as I came. However, last Friday I was feeling rambunctious, and on a whim I decided to make the entire 27 mile ride back home on bike. At a quarter till 4:oo pm I set off south on La Brea Avenue. Many who have not ridden bikes as long as I have fear traffic. I'm not implying I wouldn't be safer if I was driving like any normal person in the comfort of my car, but bike riders with experience know how to make car traffic aware of their presence. In fact Friday afternoon rush hour traffic is the best time to ride a bike in Los Angeles. Actually rush hour is an inaccurate description of traffic during the periods when working folk are on their way to or from work. It should be renamed snail hour, because L.A. traffic from 3-7 in the afternoon is merely creeping along. So not only am I unconcerned by the possibility of being injured by a car traveling at 5 miles an hour, I'm able to speed past most past most of them. At Washington Blvd with the wind at my back I headed east. L.A. traffic in the afternoon is usually heavy eastbound, but that wasn't the case, and to my surprise Washington Blvd. was free of potholes with plenty of room for me to ride comfortably between the parked cars and traffic. I remained on Washington Blvd through Korea town to downtown where I eventually was riding parallel and next to the Blue Line Train from whence I came. As does the train I turned south on Long Beach Avenue where all L.A.'s recycled scrap metal appears to reside.

So why am I writing about bike riding on a photography blog. That's an excellent question, and here's your answer. Riding my bike home allowed me to see parts and locations of L.A. I had never witnessed. If you have a taste for urban grit as I do it was a visual smörgåshbord. Heading south between the 110 and 710 freeways through south central cites Huntington Park, Walnut Park, South Gate, and Lynwood while I reposed at red lights I experienced a plethora of L.A. culture. My rear was soar and my muscles were tiring, yet the vibrance L.A.s vast multi-culture energized my pumping legs. I smiled at anyone who looked at me. Of course most people in L.A. think that a stranger over 20 riding a bike a bit kooky the return looks I received were a tad wary.

The best part of this trip was seeing all the wonderful possibilities for photographs. There's a project there. Perhaps it could be called "By Bike in L.A.." Now if can just find a way to rig my 4x5 and tri-pod to my bike. Dale's Donuts was merely taken with a Canon G-12.

Monday, July 25, 2011

New York Times Photo Blog

Today was special. I learned that images from my ongoing project Lakewood: Portraits of a Sacred American Suburb had been posted on the New York Times Photography Blog. This is a result of my interview with James Estrin, staff photographer for the New York Times and co-creator of Lens the New York Times Photo Blog, at Santa Fe Review in early June. It just goes to show you work hard at something and stick to it good things eventually happen. This business is all about consistency and persistence, simple as that. Oh, I would also like to thank Kim Nowacki who did the interview and wrote the article accompanying the images. I think she did a fine job.
Cheers All.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Horse

The Horse is short for Horseman, my recently purchased 8x10 camera. I got a very good deal, yet it's a very expensive camera. One sheet of film and process is a bit over $20.00. Think about that $20.00 for one exposure. How much is a digital exposure? Crazy, crazy. But there is something subtly special and compelling about the feel of the image. Of course there is the fall off, i.e. the look of the background as it fades away from the point of focus. I have a 300mm/5.6 lens and if I dare to fully open up and I am near my subject the background beautifully obliterates. And the texture, which I have always loved, is so rich you can taste it.
My goal with this camera is to find something special to use it for. It must be something more than just a subtle quality to the image. I'm searching for something magical. It make take many more views and film to find what that may be, but I'll continue to, carefully, search. It's a bit "Catch 28." To find what's special I must burn film, which costs a fortune. Tom Paiva, a connoisseur of all thing large format, says it's rare that a client will pay the cost to shoot an 8x10, but that does not stop him from using it for his personal work. Can the average person tell viewing it on a monitor? It's highly unlikely, but in photography, do we always opt for the practical? That's it for now. Moving forward my goal with this blog is to write more frequent yet shorter posts. Cheers to all, and it's good to be back.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Street Photographer

I love street photography, and shoot much more of it if I did not live in Los Angeles. But, to shoot street you have to walk streets where there are pedestrians. When I take good street images I'm feeling the street. It wasn't that Cartier-Bresson was just quick that made his work so profound, more importantly I believe he had a spiritual sense of what was about to happen. The man was in harmony with the street.
I also like the thrill of taking photographs of people knowing who might get pissed if they see me photographing them. And most people, unless their concentration is focused elsewhere, sense when a camera is pointed in their direction. I believe people have an evolved sense of alertness when they're being spied upon, perhaps it's an instinct, similar to animals that are preyed upon, that evolved when humans at close range were always attacking each other.
In February and April I was in New York and Boston and here are some street images. Oh, and these were shot with M-6 with the 35mm. I can't imagine shooting street with a fucking Canon. It's so obtrusive.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What I learned at PSPF 2011

This was my second year attending Palm Springs Photo Festival, and I am certain it will not be my last because I probably learn more in this week about photography and myself than in the course of the year. The difference for me from this year to last is I took Frank Ockenfel’s workshop, which was cut short a day because Frank had a job in New York that could not be rearranged. To make-up for Frank’s early departure Jeff Dunas offered us a day of studio lighting with Nels Israelson. Also new for me this year is arrived a day earlier to attend a meeting of stock photographers sponsored by Blend Images. After a portfolio review last year with Sarah Fix, the creative director of Blend Images, and showing an interest in stock photography, she invited me to attend. It was their spring meeting to give their photographers the opportunity to network and hear discussions on all things stock photography and the trends of the their business. Sarah is one of the nicest people I’ve met at PSPF and I’ve come to learn that stock photographers are some of the coolest and least pretentious shooters I’ve met since becoming a photographer.

Because much of my time and energy was consumed by the workshops I was unable to attend any of the symposiums and I could not commingle and network as much as I would have liked at the festival’s hub in the Hyatt Regency. Nevertheless I learned a lot, so hear goes.

I learned that Frank Ockefel beyond being a prolific image-maker is a photographer’s photographer and a philanthropist of spirit. I learned from him that with a bit of resourcefulness and less than $50.00 worth of lights purchased at Home Depot I can make a very provocative portrait, that if I wanted to get out of my creative box I had to suffer, and that if I wanted to get better I needed to delete my ego and embrace being a beginner… I was delighted to learn that my slideshow entry “Lakewood: Portraits of a Sacred American Suburb” was one of the 4 finalists. Ultimately my project placed behind the winner Angela Bacon Kidwell, but for the entire week many of my colleagues approached me with compliments. I don’t believe I have ever been more touched and honored…. As there were highs there were lows. There were no book deals or exhibitions offered by the book publishers and gallery owners I respectively reviewed with. I sense they appreciate the merit and quality of my work, but they don’t yet believe Lakewood will help pay their rent. And the curators I met with weren’t jumping out of their shoes either; one even suggested I try to exhibit my work in the Lakewood Public Library. I am still discerning if this suggestion was an insult, however; I intend to do exactly that. My two best reviews came from those I least suspected, photography reps: they see Lakewood as being more editorial than fine art. I can’t really argue with that, and I got the impression from them that if the work was tweaked a bit here and there it could be commercially viable. Wouldn’t it be swell if I started making money because of Lakewood? Talking with some of my colleagues we are still assessing the review process. Is it worth money? Is it for everyone? How many should we do? All of us agree we get something out of reviews: we learn not just something about are work but ourselves. More often than not the reviews are frustrating, because as my Wisconsin friend Mike Rebholz told me they seem to always want something you don’t have. That written, upon hearing this criticism I have gone out and sought those missing photos which have in turn added depth to my work. And one last thing Tom, you numbskull, when you pack for Review Santa Fe in June bring a recorder… From Nels Israelson I relearned the Inverse Square Law and that all lighting is a corollary of that law, that dramatic lighting works on everyone as long as you or someone you know is good at retouching. That with the continuing advancement of digital technology, the exception being fine art, dots on a screen will eventually replace dots on paper. It’s the Wild West and you have to continually reshuffle your deck and there is no such thing as a pat hand… From Todd Hido’s presentation I learned that art is nonstop and to constantly play and tinker with my vision, from Arno Rafael Minkkinen to make every thing I love into a piece of art… I learned to never have more than two drinks the night before I have reviews… I learned from Martin Gisborne that I would have saved myself hours if had used Aperture to make my slideshow presentation rather than Final Cut…

I learned to never ever test a new camera while trying to see the world differently… I relearned that Jeff Dunas is a pretty cool guy even if he can’t remember that I photograph Lakewood not Lynwood… I wish I would have learned more from Lee Varis’ Photoshop class but I was too tired and too hung over to take my face off the table-$95.00 for naught. I learned if I was not madly in love with and incredibly dependent on, Sydney, my wife I would volunteer next year because there are a lot of nice girls wearing blue t-shirts at PSPF. I learned that I have a group of colleagues that truly wish me well, and I would like Brad, Svjtlana, Nancy, Laurie, Tom, Mike and Mike, and Jamie to know I feel the same about them.

See you at PSPF 2012

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Yesterday evening was the critique in Brian's portrait class for our assignment on the human condition.
We were assigned to make a portrait inspired by the film Bodysong and make a documentary/contemporary portrait that reflected something personal to us about the human experience. For two weeks I struggled to find an original theme that resonated with me. I racked my brain begging for an idea that was not contrived or cliché, then as with most of my concepts it evolved by happenstance. In this instance it was a combination of events: music from a ballet I attended and the inspiration of another student's Christian devotion.
I made a portrait of Joel. I brought him to Mother's Bay in Long Beach, a still saltwater bay to simulate a river for a baptism. I tested my own faith with a camera I have had very little luck with, a Holga. To increase the contrast and the angelic texture of Joel's skin I used a red filter, and I captured the image above. I am very pleased with it, although there were a few in the class who thought this image was staged. Well of course its staged, many photographs are staged. However, the question is does it work? I believe this one does.
I printed it on some old grade 3 Oriental Seafull I've had sitting in the darkroom for over ten years . Of course it was a bit fogged, but I was able to make something out of it. The texture of the paper remains very beautiful. But after becoming fairly proficient at photoshop, it is amazing how much easier it is to manipulate what I want on a monitor than in chemistry. Still I argue the quality of an analog print remains superior.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Stolen from Brian Doan's Blog

a few good quotes

“ Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.
– Imogen Cunningham

“ If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up.
– Garry Winogrand

“ I always thought good photos were like good jokes. If you have to explain it, it just isn’t that good.”
– Anonymous

“I’m at war with the obvious.”
– William Eggleston

“Unless a picture shocks it is nothing.”
– Marcel Duchamp

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Evening with a Master

First I apologize for not posting something in some while. Preparing for New York, being there when the thermometer rarely rose above thirty degrees, then recovering from the trip consumed a lot of time and energy. To add to my excuse I was very sick before we departed, so I simply did not have the energy to blog. However, I promise my dedicated followers, all fifteen of you, in a future post to write in detail about my New York experience.
On this post I 'd like to write about my evening hanging out with Tom Paiva. I first met Tom at a photo critique at Ann Mitchell's home about a year and 1/2 ago. Tom is a very successful photographer who is commissioned by variety of creative directors all over the world for his acute compositional eye and ability to produce superior work; however, his passion is to use one of his many beloved view cameras to photograph prodigious manmade stuff in the stillness of the night. It's awe inspiring to view his work. On first inspection you notice how harmoniously he composes his views of massive structures of metal. On second glance you become aware of his precise use of ambient lights as if he strategically places them to illuminate his image. His awareness of the temperature of and color emitted by each source of light allows him to compose their opposite and complementary colors into kaleidoscope of hues. He works with the colors of the night as Eggleston does with those of the day. Unless he is obliged to shoot digitally, due only to the budgetary concerns of his client, Tom exposes his images on sheet film. In addition to being an excellent photographer, Tom is a lover and collector of all things view camera. He has an arsenal of lenses and cameras acquired over the years from colleagues, E-Bay, and camera shows that allow him to fine tune his work for any possibility. I've always been wary of too much camera gear fearing that it would alter my style. However, this evening I learned from Tom that a different tool can enhance rather than detract from one's vision.
Recently Tom has embarked upon photographing abandoned auto dealerships, please see his blog. So the other night Tom invited me to join him in making images of abandoned capitalistic waste. Serendipitously I happened to know of a couple of nearby vacant lots, so we agreed to meet at my house. Tom arrived around 3:30, in the afternoon, and gave me a little show and tell. He displayed his newest toy, and boy it's a doozy: a massive lens once used to take recognizance photographs during WWII. What's facinating about this lens is that its glass is made with radioactive elements, so as Tom says it's not something that will slip through airport inspection undetected. Tom has rigged the lens so it mounts onto his 4x5 Speed Graphic. The lens is super fast and that coupled with the the Speed Graphic's ability to tilt and shift can create an affect that makes a typical landscape image appear as if it's a still life. The famous photojournalist David Burnett has used this set-up to create some amazing unreal images.
After the demo we drove to a nearby abandoned dealership where I bought my first truck. He agreed that it was a perfect location-"plenty of patina"-unfortunately, it was heavily gated and Tom wasn't interested in trespassing. Yet, let the record show that I was up for some fence hopping. Of course I only had to get my 4x5 Super Graphic over the fence, Tom's weapon of choice this evening was his Toyo 8x10.
So we headed north to Norwalk to another abandoned dealership that Tom had been commissioned to photograph when it opened. But, no luck there either. The dealership hadn't completely shutdown and was not that interesting. It was too new, and hadn't any character. It lacked texture, or as Tom noted, "patina."
It was getting late and if we didn't find another dealership soon our evening would be without. I knew of another abandoned auto dealership in Carson, so off we sped in hopes of capturing something. We arrived at the lot with just a little atmospheric light remaining. I got out my Super Graphic and Tom his 8x10. And as quickly as you can set-up an 8x10 camera on a tripod Tom had lined up his shot. I attempted to set-up mine, but I immediately realized how unprepared I was for night shooting. Lesson 1: when shooting at night bring a good flashlight, duh! Also, my Super Graphic is not yet second nature to me, and it's one thing to not be completely familiar with your camera during the day, but quite another in darkness. We were just on the edge of loosing what remained of the sun's affect on the evening sky. And in my case it didn't help that 20 minutes into setting up my shot I realized I opted for the wrong lens. However, on this evening it wasn't important that I make an image; I was there to observe and learn. Once I had the correct lens I needed to raise my camera, and rather than extending the legs of my tripod I lazily raised its neck. Tom looked at my set-up, cracked a grin, and kindly told me that the passing cars would create enough vibration to shake the long neck of my tripod and blur my views. For a ten minute exposures this can be a problem. There were many other tips and anecdotes that Tom shared as we stood by and waited for his camera to complete its nearly half an hour exposure. He pointed to the pink clouds and told me there is only one type of transparency film that truly brings out those colors. He informed me that the deep blue hue of the night sky is only revealed in an 8x10 negative and that for long exposures, especially with 8x10 film, he's learned that he must pull the dark slide and let the film acclimate with the night air's cool dampness so the film doesn't buckle in mid-exposure.
After shooting we concluded the evening over a couple of beers and Mexican food. Photographing can be such a lonely endeavor, so it was nice to share an evening with a friend and colleague. I noted something interesting about Tom's demeanor throughout our afternoon and evening together. He didn't seem to be bothered that we had missed the best light, or anxious in pursuit of it. He accepted what was there and worked with it. In addition to all of Tom Paiva's technical and creative skill and knowledge, as with all masters, there is more than a teaspoon of zen in his mix.
Finally, the evening reinforced what I've known, but it was good to get another dose of it. If you want to be a successful photographer you have to be extremely dedicated. And if you wish to see your work in museums and be considered a master, making memorable magical images best be your single most important cause.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So much for New Year's resolutions

Sadly, I was unable to fulfill my desire to make a photograph a day in 2011. In the course of a day I was unable to accomplish all that I needed to do and make a photograph. I chose not to, in desperation, whip out the camera and take another photograph of my cats to maintain my requirement. I think that in the long run that would have been unfulfilling. Rather I intend to make at least one very good a photograph once a week.
I have been frantic this new year preparing for our trip to New York for the Power Portfolio Reviews in Brooklyn. Since I have been living in Southern California for the last twenty years I am not all that prepared for tons of snow, so I pray the weather will mellow once we arrive. I've reprinted my "Lakewood" portfolio using Epson's Exhibition Fiber, and I am very pleased with the results. The paper is thick so it can be handled without bending, and it's semi-glossy surface brings a nice punch to the photographs. In addition, I've also ordered a new custom portfolio for the "Lakewood" project, see mach up above designed by my friend and mentor F Ron Miller. Years ago we used to live in the same bungalow complex in West Hollywood. He completely gets my sensibilities, so I just send him the artwork and words and he arranges it beautifully. What I most admire about Ron's work is his knowledge and use of fonts.
I've put so much time and energy into the Lakewood it deserved a handsome portfolio. The label on the front of the portfolio is letter pressed and reads "Lakewood: Portraits of a Sacred American Suburb." Letter press is an old process that stamps the type onto a thick piece of of card stock. It's expensive, but it adds a second dimension to the portfolio. The work was done at Aardvark, the one place in Los Angeles that still does this process. The guys there were very accommodating considering the small magnitude of my order. I was there at "press check" giving the approval of the final layout and colors, then watched these well tuned machines over 100 years old create this beautiful label (see above).
Finally, yesterday in the middle of the Los Angeles River in Long Beach, with the help of Sydney, I photographed my nude self-portrait for Brian's portrait class. I made the photograph with my 4x5, so even with Sydney's help I'm not sure at all what it will look like. I look forward to seeing the results. I will post it, but I guarantee you it will be cropped. Cheers.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Photo per Day

4. 9 I 2011, Downtown Long Beach, 1st Saturday of the month art walk.

3. 7 I 2011
2. 5 I 2011, Alamitos Bay

  1. 1 I 2011

This year I intend to make a photograph a day then post at least one photo from each day of the year. However, on some days I will be shooting film, so it may be a month before I'll be able to post an image for that day on this blog. Or perhaps even longer, because I may shoot an image which may lie dormant in one of my Hasselblad backs until I get around to finishing the roll of film, taking it to L.A. to be developed, selected, scanned, cleaned up and adjusted, sized down and finally posted. Oh dear, it's so much easier shooting digital.
9 days into the new year I have not failed to make a daily image, however one image I shot on 3 I 2011 I accidentally deleted in Aperture. It was a photographs of some limes I took with the 5D Mark II @ ISO 4000. It wasn't very good. I just wanted to see what a digital image looked like at that ISO. I sure looked noisy on the back of the camera.
The first image made on New Year's day-above- was made with Sydney's Canon G-12 that Santa left in sock for Xmas that she so kindly let me borrow to make this photo at Badwater in Death Valley. Due to the recent heavy rains the brine pond was deep with beautiful reflections. I made other 4x5 images on 2 I 2011 with my Super Graphic and will post those later once I scan the film.

4 I 2011- I made images on film for my project: "Lakewood: A Photographic Journal of a Sacred American Suburb."

5 I 2011- I am working on a project for my friend Mark Shadrow's real estate website. In this project I make images at Long Beach's cool locations. This image is of Alamitos Bay seen from Naples in southeast Long Beach.

6 I 2011- Lakewood, see description for 4 I 2011.

7 I 2011- Another for Mark Shandrow's website in the Bixby Knolls section of Long Beach.

8 I 2011- Another for Mark Shandrow's website taken in downtown Long Beach during 1st Saturday of the month artwalk.

9 I 2011- Lakewood, see description on 4 I 2011.