Pictures at an Exhibition-Mussorsky, 1874 and Emerson, Lake , and Palmer, 1972

So I’m teaching a workshop in the Architecture and Allied Arts Department of the University of Oregon, Portland Campus this summer. White Stag, for those who know Portland. Nice plug, huh? If I knew the phone number for registration I would have included it, but I’m not that together. I was scheduled to teach one last year too, but as only 2 people enrolled, it was bumped. It was gonna be interesting, sort of seeing yourself through your photography. Had a cool quote from Portland-native Chuck Palahniuk and everything. Yes, the Fight Club  guy, so how could it miss? It did. One week, 3 credits! I would have taken it. So this year we decided to be a bit more practical. The Use of Light and Color. Should mention, light and color as a way of furthering the communication value of the photograph. Assuming there actually is something you want your photograph to say. Being in advertising photography for most of my career, the basic message of my photography has been: #1-buy this and you will be a better, more desirable person, #2-buy this and you will be admitted into Who’s Who in America or at least the Kennedy Compound where you’ll be able to get away with murder so to speak, or #3-buy this or the entire world will come to an end and you’ll be blamed. Often it worked, it was my contribution to our society and the economy. Ooops, did I just take credit for the economy?

Anyway, to prepare for this course, which currently has only 2 people enrolled (forever the optimist that I am), I went through our storage facility and dug out several cartons of photo and art books. I’ve only lived here for 4 years, hence many, many things are still in cartons. I found several true gems. East 100th Street by Bruce Davidson, Sleeping Beauties: Memorial Photography in America by many really sick photographers of the Victorian Era, Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski, Some Women by Robert Mapplethorpe and on. Then, unexpectedly, I found the most meaningful and influential book to me: The Story of Painting for Young People by Janson&Janson. A first (and for all I know, only) edition from 1952. My parents bought it in 1952 of all things. Now my parents were wonderful to me, but we went to amusement parks, not museums. My Dad owned a luncheonette in The Bronx with his dad, my mother was a receptionist at a coal and steel company, also in the beautiful Bronx. They were hard-working and loving parents to me, but I have no idea how that book got into our 3 room apartment. Yet as a young child I was fascinated by it. Never read a word other than the captions, but the pictures! Now some of it must have had to do with the bare breasts and butts, the brutality in so many paintings of the Crucifixion, and the little tiny weiner on the baby Christ by Raphael. But then the period changed and Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Caravaggio appeared. Or almost appeared since their paintings had as much or more to do with light and color, than subject matter. I had to get into the picture to see it. I saw more of the subject because less of it was visible. And then the Ah-Ha moment came to me in the late 50s. I was so touched by these paintings, I would become a photographer and make people buy things so that the entire world would not come to an end!

Kidding aside, I never forgot the impression these paintings made on me. Vermeer in particular, Rembrandt right behind. In high school and college I never took an art class. I studied physics, a totally different approach to light and color. Do I wish I had studied art? Naw, because I did with my eyes and heart and some deep part of my brain, when I was just a young person. After all I had The Story of Painting for Young People right in my living room, next to the tropical fish tanks and the black and white TV.

And by the way, I soon graduated to the bare beasts and butts of National Geographic. Just a normal kid.

 


The Leader of the Pack-The Shangri-Las, 1964

Vroom, vroom. That’s how the song started. Teenage love: good girl, bad boy. He rode a motorcycle, imagine, a motorcycle. Times change, a recurring theme on this blog. Today everyone and their aunt rides a motorcycle. I rode motorcycles when I was younger. I love motorcycles. I was never in a pack though, and certainly not the leader. Vroom, vroom. OK, now it’s 30 years later and I’m in my studio. I remember it was a beautiful spring day and the studio was glowingly bright. A call came for me and I took it just off set. It was a guy from Carmichael-Lynch in Minneapolis. Jim Keane. Now I always had a problem getting work from Minneapolis, they had good photographers there who worked in my area, so I wasn’t very excited. Jim was soft spoken and got right to the point. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in shooting the new Harley-Davidson campaign. Vroom vroom! Naturally I told him I couldn’t think of much I would prefer to do, it sounded very exciting. They wanted to put the motorcycles in sets to work with the very simple, yet evocative headlines. A garage, a church, a bedroom. Sounds just like what I liked to do. We talked for about 15 minutes. I felt compelled to tell him, reluctantly, that although I loved motorcycles, I had never shot one. He told me it didn’t matter, they weren’t interested in seeing every nut and bolt, they wanted to tell a story with the sets and with the light. That is why he called, that was why he wanted me to do it, that was why they were not triple bidding the job. Just me. Are you kidding!! It was a time when you could never work out of your “known” area, and every job was triple bid, numbers scrutinized to the penny. A dream come true.

The bid went in, the job awarded. We started pre-production. A ferry ride to Staten Island Harley-Davidson to measure the bikes, take a close look. That dealership was old-school. A bit run down, a bit dirty in the corners, an open door policy to the shop. In a word it was great! It reeked of history and heritage. And oil. It was from back when Harleys had kick starters, and since the Wall Street phonies couldn’t start ‘em, they didn’t buy ‘em. Measurements taken, back to the studio, 236 W. 21 Street, and the unfortunate news that the bikes wouldn’t fit in the freight elevator. There were very few rental studios back then and our budget wouldn’t allow us to go to Silvercup Studios, so it was a dilemma. We explored taking off the front end. No. Putting them on top of the elevator. No. Asking landlord to give us 1 month lease on the vacant storefront in the building. Yes. So we moved downstairs for a month, cleaned it up (enough), and once the bikes arrived, hired a nightwatchman, as there was no alarm. There were 7 new Harleys. Seven. Everybody couldn’t keep there hands off them. Everyone sat on them and got dreamy looks. Vroom, vroom. Even a Fat Boy, made famous by Arnold in “Terminator”. Now that was one cool bike.

Jim arrived for the pre-light day and after talking on the phone so many times, he was just who I expected. Soft-spoken, smart, collaborative, and completely comfortable. Jim  was in his late 30’s with two little girls. He bicycled to work everyday in Minneapolis, which was very green back before green was discovered. A lovely guy. The shoot went just about flawlessly. Except for no air-conditioning  and a New York City July. We had a great shoot, did lots of funny group shots with the bikes. They are in a box somewhere labeled “group shots”, but I have no idea where. Before leaving for home he asked if I would do the last ad in the campaign, a running bike shot. Again, Jim surprised me because a running bike shot is another skill set all together. We shot it at the abandoned, sort of, Floyd Bennett Airfield in Brooklyn. It was late September by then. Everyone was happy. Jim, the very nice Harley client-lady, and me. I was thrilled. I had a great time on this campaign. I hated it when it was over, bikes gone, make-shift studio gone, Jim gone.

Around Thanksgiving I called cause I hadn’t seen any of the ad proofs. When he answered I teased him about being too busy to send me proofs. He told me that soon after getting back to Minneapolis, he passed out at a stop sign biking to work. It turned out to be inoperable brain cancer. I was stunned and speechless, he was quite upbeat and talked about getting through this. Jim died around Christmas. I couldn’t stop thinking about his wife and girls. I felt I had never adequately told him how much his trust in me meant. How much I liked him, not just working with him. How much I would miss him even though we had known each other only 6 months.

That year the Harley campaign was an ADDY finalist, up against an American Standard campaign I had also shot for Carmichael-Lynch. Jim and the Harley campaign won. Vroom, vroom.


Glory days-Bruce Springsteen, 1984

Times change. It’s a fact of life.

I recently attended a presentation, slide-show (Power Point?), and ego trip by one if the true icons of commercial photography, Jay Maisel. Now when I was a beginning photographer, Jay’s name was up in lights. Along with Pete Turner, Hiro, Joel Meyerowitz and many other photographers who are sort of unknown today. Celebrity is fleeting in this industry, today’s icons are tomorrow’s dinosaurs. Jay’s work was marvelous. It combined a straightforward view of moments and color. He shot with very long lenses on 35mm cameras. He influenced the work of so many photographers, and rightly so. His background was painting and once at a presentation I was giving at the Maine Photo Workshop in 1986, Jay remarked during the Q&A, that one of my images reminded him of a Matisse. Go Jay!! In fact the entire project was based on the work of Matisse and Balthus. And it was all shot out of normal perspective before Photoshop was even a glint in Mother Adobe’s eye. Enough self-congratulations, this is about the icons of commercial photography, not me.

Jay is a “real” New Yorker. After almost 4 years in Portland I had almost forgotten the word “Schmuck” until Jay used it repeatedly that evening. He showed 980 photographs, and that is not a typo, really 980. His work is spectacular, but really we only saw about 98 photographs 10 versions of each. There were some real gems, but also some lumps of coal. It was sad for me to have so many young photographers watch this presentation and not realize what a genius he was…back in the day. I wanted to go up to him afterward and as one native New Yorker to another say, “Hey Schmuck, one word of advice…EDIT”. The kids, the under 35 set, thought it looked a lot like stock. That was a testament to today’s digital cameras (left to their own devices they take pretty, vibrant pictures) and the kid’s naivete. Jay’s work is so much more than simply pretty pictures. It’s about a lifelong vision and the ability to know the moment that that vision is truly realized.

But this is not a criticism of that presentation. It brought me back to thinking about the photographers who influenced me at the beginning of my career. Jay was one, Avedon was another, so was Hiro and Penn. But the strongest influence was a photographer I never met, Phil Marco.

When I was living in Paris and shooting a lot of table top, someone, I don’t remember who, sent me a calendar of Phil Marco’s table top photography. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. Although I was completely bowled over by the images, I only remember one. Well, I sort of remember it, I’m not completely sure. It was an eggplant sitting on dark brown/black earth with a couple of tiny puddles of water, like after a rain. It was dark, and soft, and you could smell the dampness. It captivated me. How could he do this in his studio and completely transpose me to an emotional, perhaps unreal, feeling of the essence of growth, farming, whatever. Then I saw it! Sort of to the side of a puddle of water, in the shadow, was a cricket. Holy shit, a cricket! Hardly noticeable, it wasn’t meant to be a photo of a cricket, but to me it was the most important element in the photograph. It took me to a different place. It really makes no difference if I accurately remember the composition of the photograph, I remember that cricket. It had the most profound influence on me. It made me put “unnecessary” wall outlets in my sets, aspirin bottles on window sills, and, when allowed, prescription bottles on night tables. Half-empty glasses of water in inconspicuous places are in so many of my photographs that we used to carry a special glass in our grip kit! At the time you would see a lot of photographs with a telephone (land-line, of course) with the receiver placed on a cushion, or an old Walkman with the head phones beside it. Boy, that was some real deep narrative going on! Nowadays I see lot’s of old film cameras used as props. What a joke!! Get Grandpa’s old Rolleicord and have it carelessly placed on a side table, maybe sitting on top of a copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh. After-all The Illiad is so last year. Phil Marco’s calendar made me realize the utter importance of props which don’t call attention to themselves, yet make a picture real. Props you feel rather than see.

Thank you, Phil Marco. I owe you.


“You Can’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover”-Bo Diddley, 1962

I’ve been flirting with the world of Fine Art Photography since I moved to Portland. It’s interesting. It’s different. It’s heady and it speaks a different language. Sometimes it is mystifying to me. And then I try to reverse the thought process, and see the world of Commercial Photography from the “other” side. We wear black (never), drive fancy cars (not any more), hang out in herds at the most chic restaurants (never in a herd and never really chic), and are superficial and close to illiterate (damn, I hope not!). But I’ve been known to be cranky about the world of Commercial Photography, and  now is one of those times. Sometimes we lose sight of what we do, and who we are.

 

I’ve seen many things change in the course of my career, including my waistline! And my hairline. But those were inevitable I suppose. Genes, gotta love ‘em. When I started you could call Art Directors and get in to see them. Easily. Once in, you could wander the office and seek out other Ads, show a new piece of work and hang out a while. No Art Buyers, no Print Producers. The portfolio was made up of some large transparencies and some b&w prints, all held in place by a simple art box. Nothing precious. No white cotton gloves needed. Sometimes (most times), the Ads would hold your 8×10 transparencies up to the window to see them. Occasionally, if you had done a still life on a white background and the office was suitably located, the Empire State Building would appear in your still-life! I always favored the ad agencies that were near the Chrysler Building because, really, what product shot wasn’t improved by the addition of the Chrysler Building?

 

Then, in the Roaring ‘80s portfolios changed. Leather cases appeared. Custom leather cases. Gucci, even. The b&w prints were ceremoniously burned ’cause color was where the advertising world lived. Messengers cycled your portfolio at breakneck speed to the Art Buyer who requested it. After that who knows what happened to it, but it always reappeared, hopefully with a layout soon to follow.

 

And then, the Digital Age was born. Portfolios were made up of precious IRIS prints. Very expensive IRIS prints. Break out the white cotton gloves. They were beautiful, printed on $250,000 printers, and the inks were water soluble. One AD with one glass of water…ooops, sorry, well, you weren’t right for the job anyway. Now as expensive as the prints were, they were nothing unless bound in custom leather covers, embossed with your name. Leather fit for a Bentley, at least. Then it was fitted into a custom Gore Tex carrying case, zippered and velcroed to protect its precious little cargo. I succumbed to this for a while. My leather was green, sort of British Racing Green. Then I came to my senses, at least I think I did, and convinced my agents to let me put together a print portfolio with a simple double-ply, raw cardboard cover. I signed my name on it with a Sharpie. My cranky, contrary self mentioned to them that this was a personal statement: if the work inside sucked, the leather didn’t matter, and vice versa.


“Private World”- New York Dolls, 1973

“Oh, it’s a process”. Process. It’s one of those words that have become so common in the last 10 years. Like “awesome”. Awesome, a word that means awe inspiring. Today someone’s haircut can be referred to as “awesome”. Ridiculous really, yet I use it all the time. I also use “process”, which is what this is all about, something I’ve noticed about my photography over the years. My process. This is about my commercial work, so you artists out there, see you again soon. Let’s get down to business.

 

I’m a slow starter for someone who likes to get up really early. Let’s talk about a big commercial shoot, on a set, in a studio. It’s the day of the pre-light, something becoming more and more rare in today’s economics. An entire day to “just” light the set. Sounds luxurious and generous. On paper. It’s also the day that the carpenters are probably still installing the finishing touches, the scenics are still painting, the stylist is still dressing, the assistants are still unpacking any rental equipment, the producer is starting to worry about the numbers, and the AD is trying to explain to the client that this is part of the “Process”. Coffee is being consumed by the gallon, the craft services table has remnants of breakfast and I’m hovering over it despite my need to lose some weight. I’m patient, and I’m not nervous. I like to let the talented people I have assembled for my shoot have the time they need to do their jobs. If the budget had not been slashed to ribbons, everyone would have had enough time, but that’s a long forgotten dream now.

 

The lighting begins in due course with carpenters, stylists, and scenics still on set. Not necessarily that easy to do, so we start with whatever is seen through the windows. I like to have translights shipped from LA because I’ve had the most success making the outside seem real with them. But they are often really large and unwieldy. And expensive. So after coffee, selection of music (which I generally leave to Ray these days), and time spent just talking with the assistants about new cameras, new programs, new Photoshop techniques, new apartments, new motorcycles, new restaurants, new personal dramas (their’s not mine) , and anything else new we come up with, the translight goes up. Translights are about the easiest thing in the world to light, so it takes about 10 minutes. Now we can resume our conversations.

 

The caterer brings lunch, the assistants are starving. I’m not and since we’ve actually started lighting the set, I usually don’t notice. The object for me is to light the set as it would be lit naturally, if it existed outside of Studio World. I had decided where the light would come from much earlier when the set was being designed. In essence I had decided what would be South. Move over Bush, I’m the Decider here in Studio World. I want to be able to shoot anywhere in the set without relighting, to move around freely if I want to. Of course that hardly ever happens. The set is designed for the ad we are shooting, and since it is print, it doesn’t exist outside of the original camera point of view. This was exploited in a bizarre Andersen Windows campaign, which showed the studio beyond the confines of the set, but that was the exception. Eventually I give in and break for lunch, or, more often than not, we rotate through lunch, two at a time, with me grabbing something alongside the camera. Lighting continues. Lighting continues some more. Problems arise, either with some set detail, product detail, the inability to get the client off a conference call to give an ok on something, or just some disappointment nagging at me because it ain’t looking that good. I fumble with the lighting some more, make it better or make it worse. Then the clock nears 6:00 PM and we have to secure the set and get out of the rental studio before we incur OVERTIME, the budget killer!

 

Then the whole reason for this unneeded, perhaps boring to you photographers, how-to-shoot–a-job happens. The most important, and unusual part of the “Process”. That inner nagging, which hasn’t left me, ramps up as I’m falling asleep. No, I’m not in a cold sweat, I’m not pacing the floor, I’m not even having a panic attack. I see how I want the lighting to look, I see that some fundamental changes have to be made. Perhaps a new “window” light-source has to be introduced. Sometimes all the lighting has to be completely changed, redirected. Sometimes it’s a simple small camera move or a contrast change. It doesn’t matter. But I fall asleep knowing we have work to do in the morning, and it’s going to be alright, certainly better. Now this isn’t mysticism or the guiding hand of a higher power. It is not Black Magic. It is part of my “Process’. Most times it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it emphasizes something I’ve discovered over my career: the only thing harder than starting is starting over.


And God Created Art Directors

 

Art Directors are funny people. Funny people. Wild and wacky. Not always “ha-ha” funny, but always funny. Some are literally so funny, they can disrupt the shoot by telling stories. Let’s hear it out there for Craig Mierop. When we worked together he was a talented AD, but his stand-up was truly outstanding. I had to ask him to stop, we were getting nothing done.

 

Talented ADs make you a better photographer, no two ways about it. They make you see things you didn’t see before. They are unrelenting, as they should be. Precise. Viewers of the big picture. Jim Sebastian, the quintessential hyper-talented AD, taught me more about light and composition than Ansel Adams ever could. We were shooting once in a cold, cold barn. All the lights were outside lighting a big set through wooden louvered windows. Some of the strobes were on cherry-pickers coming through, essentially, third story windows. Quite an intense situation. The barn had been turned into an enormous contemporary, eclectic living room. With a black sofa! As we got close to shooting after about 6 hours of tweeking props and lighting, on what I hoped was going to be the final Polaroid, Jim studied it with his loupe for a very long time. Now that was a good thing, meant final decisions were being made, and I was hungry and freezing. Jim finally looked at me and said, “don’t you think the front of the sofa should come up about a third of a stop?” It wasn’t really a question. We’re talking about the black sofa here. So I had to figure out how to lighten the front of the sofa without losing the integrity of the entire lighting setup. I did it, how doesn’t even matter. It took a long time. As always Jim was right and it was a better picture and I became, incrementally, a better photographer because of it.

"Let's open up the..."

 

Now there are other stories of funny ADs that come to mind. ADs usually believe that anything is possible, and it usually is, but not for their budget. At least not easily, for their budget. I was shooting a very odd campaign for a cigarette company with an agency from Chicago. The layouts juxtaposed strange objects with the cigarette pack. One layout called for several baby ducks, several live baby ducks with the pack. (Now aren’t you happy cigarette advertising has been outlawed!) I was shooting the whole campaign on 8X10 film. So it was slow. As always with animals on set, I asked everyone in the studio to not interact with the ducks, only the duck wrangler lady could even talk to them. Everyone complied, but the ducks were not terribly cooperative. Finally the AD came over to me and loudly asked “have these ducks been trained?” Now I didn’t know what to say, but I couldn’t help myself. I simply told him there hadn’t been time to train them, they were born yesterday! I really just wanted to laugh hysterically, it was one of the most inane questions I was ever asked on a job.

 

For some television manufacturer we were shooting down at two Weimeraners watching a TV. You couldn’t see the screen, but it was supposed to be the only light source, lighting the entire set. (Now aren’t you happy television company advertising has been outlawed!)  OK, so far, so good. I was pretty busy, I’m usually very hands-on. The AD was hanging around showing family photos to the client, my stylist, my assistants. This was long before family photos were carried on iPhones, they were individual 4X6 prints. Everyone was pretty interested which managed to annoy me a bit. When I regained control of the set, I asked my first assistant what was so interesting. Seems his wife was prominently featured in every photograph, in her sexy bra and panties. Except for the one where she was breast=feeding their new born, She didn’t have a bra in that one. Now this isn’t the funny part of the story. This was just the color commentary. We had the dogs in place. The TV had been hollowed out and a plexi was placed inside with about 8000 joules of strobe. The plexi was all paint splattered so the light would feel like an unseen scene. As we got close to shooting, 8X10 Polaroids were flowing freely, the AD asked for something that would have been better asked of a Quantum Physicist. This is because the indiscreet AD was asking if I could make the light coming from the TV, seem like individual pieces of light, discreet pieces of light. Ironic, isn’t it? He wanted to know if I could “like put a fan in front of the light, shoot while it was spinning, and get the light broken up between the TV and the dogs”.  We then had a heady discussion of whether light was a particle or a wave. The dogs sided with me that light was a duality and traveled far too fast to accomplish this anyway. We shot without the fan, the dogs were coming up on overtime and a pee break. That was the end of a truly bizarre shoot. And I never saw his snapshots, either!

 

When ADs ask for the world, I try to give it to them. I know I’ll come away knowing more about the craft than when I started.


Surfing the RAID

The innocuous Raid. It's all in there.

I have always believed that life is episodic. I can track different paths I have chosen over the course of my life. I made the choices, took the paths, and really have never looked back. Well, I’ve looked back with  gratefulness at having made those choices, or in some cases, having luck and timing make those choices for me. In my career I see the good fortune of having met and worked with Tricia Guild in London and because of her, learning the meaning of “style”, and becoming a valid interiors photographer. Then Anna Wintour in NY, as well as Lloyd Ziff when he was at House & Garden. And then there was Jim Sebastian, who taught me more about the logic and elegance of light than anyone I ever worked with before. His precision, tenaciousness, and rejection of the “good enough” attitude made me such a better photographer. There will be more about Jim another time.

I was looking through my RAID storage and it was like looking at a diary of the last 10 years. I have some older images in there, but mostly the digital images I have shot in the last decade. I saw my kids grow up, pets who have died, people I love age, and a long history of my work all via the RAID.

Laurie working on her cat-top computer, Nick&Liv 2005, Megan died in 2010, Cooper died in 2011.

But this isn’t about the stupid RAID system. It’s about a group of people who have turned up, unexpectedly, as I surfed my professional history. They are in every picture in one way or another. Ghosts, easily overlooked, hidden  in the background. Bill Stockland and Maureen Martel and their entire gang! They were on the front-lines of every job, battling, convincing, cajoling Art Buyers and Art Directors. Letting them know that I was the best photographer for their campaign, their clients, and, finally, their careers. I wasn’t always the best choice for the job, but in the S/M collective heart, and in my heart, I was.

In the late ‘80s, I didn’t have a NY rep and things were really rolling. The Studio dealt with the agencies directly, composed each portfolio of 8X10 chromes (ever see one? just beautiful) specifically to appeal to the job it was requested for. I was repped in Chicago by the legendary Bill Rabin, and with every job we did, he urged me to talk to Bill and Maureen about hooking up in NY. I resisted, he reminded me that times were changing. I resisted and told him that time is always changing, after all, that’s the nature of time! He persevered and I went to see Stockland Martel. They were just three people back then, Bill, Maureen, and Pamela Lockhart. Bill loves to sell and he worked hard on me. He stroked my ego, telling me he couldn’t strengthen my career, but he could broaden it. Get me jobs I was overlooked  for at that time.

I resisted, and politely said no. Now, my wife Laurie had told me back in her food stylist days, that she had met Bill at some shoot, and that if I ever wanted a rep, he and I would get along well. She said he was an old hippie, like me, and had the right approach. Well, little by little, Bill Rabin, Laurie, and Bill Stockland’s persistence got to me. In 1990 or so, we got “married”. What a marriage! We rode through good times and hard times, we agreed and we disagreed, we sometimes fought like crazy, we tried to follow the markets and adapt. They prodded me, sometimes with no result, to stay fresh and vibrant. I watched as they were on the forefront of the industry, changing from simply being photographers’ reps to a worldwide brand. That was both good and bad in my eyes, as I liked my individuality. When a photographer says he’s with Stockland Martel, it gives them sort of instant credentials in the industry.

Bill Stockland amidst the chaos that would become the new S/M offices.

So why this walk down Memory Lane? Because we got divorced this year. As in many marriages, we had grown apart over time. It was amicable, we all felt it was time. So after a period of  being single, I am now remarried! GREENHOUSE REPS and I are currently enjoying our honeymoon! It is sort of getting married again in many ways. First of all, I’m head-over-heels in love with them and their rooster. Beth Galton has been a friend of mine for about ever and she is  the best food photographer out there. Period.  Same with Marty Umans, except his food always looks like the perfectly timed portrait, which it is, often seeing the humor and irony in people.  Then there are the other folks who are busy setting the photographic trends other photographers will copy tomorrow. As for Robin and Gary, they are already legends in the commercial photography world, and Christine and Jennifer are hot on their tails.I have been given new energy by having new partners and new eyes. Gary and Robin are great to work with and we will be showing much new work, never seen before. This blog exists because of them, as well as my fledgling personal website. We care about each other’s future and I expect to grow with them, as I expect they will grow with me. A  new episode is starting.

So 20 years with Bill & Maureen, et al! All thanks to the urging of Bill Rabin. Great memories, we have been through a lot together. I have watched them change the profession of “photographer’s agent”. They have grown and responded to the changes in the industry, better than I would ever have done alone. We’ve laughed, argued, fought, made up just like in every “marriage”, and in the end I love them still (like in many divorces!). They are good friends and I wish them well.

A GREENHOUSE.

But that was then, and Greenhouse is now. We’re leaving on a honeymoon that I hope lasts forever!


0’s and 1’s, Yes or No!

Ray-O-Gram, 2011. Would Man Ray have approved?

If photographers were scientists we would still be looking at the night sky and wondering what those little dots of light were. As a group, I suppose like many groups, we are resistant to change. I remember when The Nikon F2 was introduced. What an uproar! “Why did they ruin a good thing?”, “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken”, “what can it do that my workhorse F can’t do? Then, everybody had one. The F3 came out, same reaction. Then the F4, blah, blah, blah. That seems to have changed in the digital age. Long lists exist for the new Canon which won’t be delivered until March, and based on past performance, that means July. Everyone wants the latest handheld photo computer, and by that I mean camera, to turn over the responsibility of figuring out how to take a good picture. But as cranky as this sounds, I’m on the waiting list. I actually like the Digital Age, and got my first DSLR in 1999. At first I would quietly mention on conference calls that I wanted to shoot digitally…art directors balked. Slowly, acquiesced. And now it is just assumed, since so many art directors only know digital photography.

 

But this brings up a question I’ve had for a while. If the icons of photography were around now, would they embrace the digital image? Would Cartier-Bresson  have thought “nice picture of a kid, but if I put a coupla bottles of wine in his hands in Photoshop…wow, a real winner!” How about Steichen’s 36 hour exposure of apples and pears? He took it on a darken porch so that the time and change in temperature would make the fruit move ever so slightly during the exposure. Would he have simply added Gaussian Blur in post, if he was shooting today? Would Ansel Adams have used an electronic greyscaleto get the perfect Zone System  to correct for a bad exposure? Today

everyone can take photographs as perfect and as boring as Ansel without even knowing the Zone System. Would Robert Mapplethorpe have used Transform>Scale to make his Penis Photos more startling? (Probably not, sort of like “coals to Newcastle”!)

 

I don’t know. I hope not, but maybe. Afterall, Edweard Muybridge was adding night skies and false moons to his landscapes in 1868. Of course, he is best know for his naked motion studies. The fact that he murdered his wife’s lover in a jealous rage, got off, and then immediately abandoned his wife and child  for Central America are just historical asides.

 

So, what do you think? Is it just the eye that counts? Does the artistic end justify the means? When you have your mind made up, let’s talk about Mozart? Would he have written his music on an electronic keyboard if one had been around?


What I Did on My Summer Vacation

The Oregon coast is rugged and beautiful. I didn’t get there this summer. Paris shared her romantic beauty with many, but not with me. The International Space Station beckoned me, but I had other plans. I had a great summer in Portland. Do I think Portland is better than the above mentioned? No, no, no! I stayed in Portland to shoot more than 70 restaurants with Laurie, for a book we’re doing on the food scene here. Just Laurie and me,  just us against the “food scene”. For me, it was like guerrilla photography, 2 hours per restaurant. Ready, set, go! I started by bringing all sorts of shit with me: strobes, c-stands, flags, laptop, reflectors. An entire station-wagonful of stuff. Once I forgot the cameras, once the CF cards. This station-wagonful of stuff got old really fast. In the 2 hours I had to shoot: at least 1 dish, the restaurant, the chef, sometimes a drink, and anything else time would permit. That’s a joke for my normal style of shooting. Then Laurie started writing for the blog Serious Eats, so we would usually shoot another dish for them. Sounds HORRIBLE, but it was great. I silently dreaded each shoot on the way to it, but wound up having so much fun! ( See: “Falling in Love Again”) Years ago, shooting for Martex with Jim Sebastian (more to come on him later), I used to refuse to scout the locations before the actual shoot. I liked the challenge of arriving sight unseen, being impressed or unimpressed, challenged, and then reacting. It was exciting. Well, this was the same thing. But there was a bonus I hadn’t expected…the Chefs and their portraits. The Chefs were great to meet, to listen to while Laurie interviewed them, and talk to before I shot them. They were such an intelligent, interesting, knowledgeable, eclectic group, connected by their love of food. Most knew each other personally, and several had been involved in the blossoming of the Portland food scene in the ’90s. I photographed them environmentally, generally in the restaurant not the kitchens. In general they had strong visual personalities, and so did the restaurants. Most liked it, some didn’t, but they all did whatever I asked of them. One was a complete asshole, but he won’t be in the book after all. Another was a pretty-boy, ego-maniac, he will be in the book even though his restaurant is just so-so (I didn’t just say that, did I?).

So what did I get out of all this, other than learning about guerrilla photography and a book? Well, it has been no secret that my adjustment to Portland has not been an easy one. And to be fair to Portland you can substitute the name of any city with a population of under 500,000. Especially the ones with 200,000 hipsters. Moving from NYC to Paris was an easier cultural transition for me, language and all. So this summer gave me an inside look at one of Portland’s true gems, it’s approach to food, to eating, to farmers, to a sense of purpose and responsibility. The chef’s were just great and they provided me with a greater understanding and appreciation of my “new” hometown. Working closely with Laurie on a long project that she was so passionate about was wonderful.

Laurie at Yakuza, standing in for a Chef's portrait

And we discovered Roost, a really wonderful restaurant.


“I Will”-The White Album

Craig, November 2, 1968

I’m listening to the White Album. For the under 50-somethings out there, it was a seminal album in 1968 by this pop group from England, The Beatles. It mixed some great, important music, with some foolishness, which emphasized the immense popularity of the Beatles at the time. It always reminds me of listening to it being played for the first time on AM radio, one album side at a time, uninterrupted. Three weeks before it was released! Unheard of in 1968. And I’m crossing the Throgs Neck Bridge to spend the night at SUNY Stony Brook with my then girlfriend, the beautiful Ellen Blevins. I had spent the day riding motorcycles with my BFF, Craig Lassen. Months before, Craig handed his Triumph Bonneville over to me, showed me the controls and said “go have fun, don’t come back for 2 hours, you’ll know how to ride by then”. No helmet law, no motorcycle license requirement, just a lot of caution on my part.

So who was this Craig Lassen? Like me he grew up in a working-class family. We both went to Tappan Zee High School. We both were on the baseball team,(I pitched, he was a catcher). He was not terribly Catholic, I was not terribly Jewish. We both went to RPI in Troy, NY. We were in some ways so similar, in others so different. I was on a track to be a physicist (which I would never have been any good at, at all), Craig just dreamed about living. He wanted to go out to Montana and just sit on a mountain and look around. We never got to Montana that previous summer, but just talking about  was like the first bit of light seeping out of an opening door for me. New possibilities, unprescribed by the past. He opened up my thinking about life. His influence broadened me in ways I didn’t realize for years. So I think back to Craig and a motorcycle mechanic, “Bultaco” Barney, and thank them for turning me into a photographer. I jumped track, so to speak, and decided to do something I loved. They gave me the advice and the courage to try. It was the same message that Steve Jobs gave people.

Back to my passionate night with Ellen. At 7:00 in the morning, my parents called to tell me that Craig had drowned the night before. My other close friend, Jonathon Adams drowned with him, in 6 feet of cold Hudson River water.

I think of Craig and Jonathon often, and I thank Craig for having been the best friend I would ever have.

I was never able to see Ellen again. Guilt is a funny, and powerful thing.