Cats

I have a long history with cats. Just can’t say “no” to cats. Funny, someone once told me that the difference between cats and dogs is that dogs say “yes” all the time, cats say “no” all the time. Well, whether that is true or not, I just can’t say “no” to a cat. That’s why at one time our family had about 45 cats. Yes, all had names, all came and went as they pleased, all had distinct personalities. Many contributed to my on-going project, aptly named, “Death By Cat”. What they brought home, I recorded. Not for everybody, for sure, but a way to memorialize the victims. The opening photo is of Ying, one of my main collaborators.

But really this is about another cat. Grey Cat. He showed up at our house many years ago, a big, grey tom cat. He hung out and slept in our barn at night. He wouldn’t let anyone near him, but was very willing to eat whatever we fed him. Slowly, he became more friendly but wouldn’t come into our house. He also got bigger and bigger. And by bigger I mean fatter. In fact very, very fat. He was like a grey basketball that had no bounce. Since he seemed more and more vulnerable to the other outdoor night creatures, I had a studio meeting to see if anyone objected to a studio lump…I mean cat.

At the time I had a great bunch of people at the studio. Jana was the devilish ring-leader, with Jonathon, Colin, Dominic, Alex, and several others cycling through. Jana said “sure why not” and everyone agreed. So I caught Grey Cat and brought him in. Everyone freaked out! Jana couldn’t believe his size, his belly actually dragged on the floor. And of course, Grey Cat freaked out. He ran, I guess it was sort of like running, into the prop room and disappeared under the shelving. He never came out. You could look under and he’d just be watching you. He was fed every night and every morning his food bowl was empty. Still he never came out. One day when we weren’t shooting, we were just working away, which meant hanging around Jana’s desk bullshitting when Grey Cat came out of the prop room. No one could believe their eyes! He was thin and svelte, muscular and about 10 years younger. He was socialized as well. He spent the rest of his life watching over the studio and sleeping in my office.

So that was Grey Cat. But really this is a post about the wonderful people who have been part of my team over the years. Many, many more names should be mentioned and will be down the road. I owe much of my success to them. I’ve been lucky to know them, to work with them, to travel with them, to learn from them, to teach them. My life is richer because of them and I want you all to know it.


Paris, Trance. At least for me.

Speaking of Paris, let me just say, I love Paris. And, here’s the surprise, I love Parisians, in fact, all the French. Parisians to me are New Yorkers who: 1-speak French, 2-eat better, 3-know wine, and 4-get four weeks vacation in the summer. They are not falsely polite, not one checkout person at my local supermarket ever asked if I had any nice plans for the afternoon. Not one! Not one in five years! Going to my local Boulangerie was like an undercover mission, hoping not to be discovered by the horrible woman who owned it. Aah, but the baguettes were worth the risk, to say nothing of the croissants! I was born in The Bronx, but I sort of grew up in Paris.

I often worked for a magazine group which included “Decoration”. Everything was run through the Director of Photography’s studio. Studio Astre. It was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Astre, and they specialized in shooting wedding dresses. He was the photographer, she was the stylist. By this I mean, he told the models exactly where to stand on the permanent X painted on the floor, while she pinned the gown to the seamless paper in a perfect circle. All of this went on while they engaged in a furious, shrill, loud argument. Most of which I could never understand, no matter how good my french got. Yet I learned a lot when I shot there. This was because on day #1 Mr. Astre talked with me about the “system” at the studio. I was often hired to do the tabletop stuff for the magazines. Sometimes it was beautiful home accessories, but sometimes it was horrible wedding gift ideas. The stories that had gifts often meant 3 spreads, each with 15-20 gifts. Hopefully, artfully arranged. So far, so good. Then Mr. Astre told me the policy of shooting just 3 sheets of 4×5 per shot…and only 2 sheets of b&w Polaroid. His fee for running the show didn’t include film expenses, so the less film shot, the more profit for him! OK, the challenge began. Next he showed me the 20,000 watt/sec ancient Ascor strobes. Now Ascor strobes of that vintage looked like a weapon of mass destruction, and they were! Many stacked metal boxes with immense connectors joining them in some combination who’s secret was known only by Merlin and Niels Bohr, neither of whom were around for consultation. So I could see this would be an up-hill battle. Then he told me that the model lights hadn’t worked for years! The studio had no windows, no daylight. That was a plus. I would turn off the house lights, look through the camera under the dark cloth and fire the strobes. The more I did this the better I got at seeing what the whole mess was going to look like. I never used more than 3 sheets of film and dared not to ever ask for an extra polaroid. So studio Astre taught the 28 year old me many things. Don’t waste film, some vulgar French expressions, and Cootie Williams. They had a record player with about 6 records. I must have listened to the Cootie Williams album 100’s of times. I still like it, and I still love Paris.


The Shootist

I’m a good shot on the shooting range. Better than average even with my variable focus eyeglasses. At a carnival I once won a gigantic Pooh Bear for my daughter by getting the crossbow arrow completely inside the miniscule red star. It did take me two shots though. So with a handgun, a rifle, or a crossbow I’m a good shooter.

With a camera I’m a lousy shooter. I just suck. That’s because with a camera, I’m not a shooter, I’m a photographer. I’m proud of being a photographer. I hate the description of a photographer as a good “shooter”. I always have since I first heard the term in Chicago of the ‘80s. I was working on location through a big catalog house and people kept calling the other photographers “shooters’. I find it demeaning and insulting. Shooters shoot at things. Photographers bring something of themselves to the photographer. Even commercial photographers. I’ve been lucky in my career to have people want my input on what we were creating. They wanted my vision. They wanted to hear me say “ let’s put your kitchen appliances in a sculpture garden” or “the TV should be in a completely empty room because it’s the first thing you unpacked when you moved in”. Those were the most fun, but of course some clients were gun-shy, but none ever turned me into a “Shooter”. Yeah, it’s cost me some clients, but that’s OK.

Then there’s the opposite side of the coin. During the years I worked in Paris, I often heard “you’re the artist”. Always “the artist” to the French, until they didn’t like what you did! I had one client who didn’t like how I shot their furniture. At one of the typical Paris breakfast meetings at chic cafes, he told me, because of my defense of my point of view, that I made a better lawyer than photographer. Although trapped deep in a banquet, I walked out.

Well, I don’t consider myself an artist. I paraphrase Edward Weston: “Being a photographer is good enough for me”. Me, too.

 


Falling in Love Again

In December 2008, Portland was treated to the biggest snow storm in 30 years. Depending on who you asked it was between 16-24 inches. It was a great time to stay inside except I had accepted a job for Portland Monthly Magazine shooting 5 vintage movie theatre marquees. This had to be shot at dusk or later. I had a hard time getting myself out there to shoot. The house was warm. I wasn’t working with an assistant which made it easier to procrastinate, no one out there waiting for me to show up. So I put it off a few times. And a few more. By now the snow had stopped and it was melting. So I found my way to the Bagdad Theatre on Hawthorne, sort of like Portland’s Bleeker Street. I parked and got out my cameras and tripod. When I found the POV I wanted, the tripod was just off the curb in a slushy puddle, as were my Doc Martens. It wasn’t very cold, but very damp. I had been given little instruction by Hector Sanchez, the Creative Director at the time. Just told to do something unorthodox. So there I was, out in the falling light, shooting the theatre and something happened. I fell in love again. I realized that when I was looking through the camera, I was totally happy. The world went away. It was just fun. Unfortunately Hector hated all the photos, and the story was “demoted” to the web pages. I actually don’t know if it ever ran or not. I know that I realized I am happiest when I’m looking through a camera.


The 21st Century

Hello from Portland

So I’m entering the 21st century…I now will be blogging. Stories from the past. Stories from the present. Speculation about the future. Whatever seems fun, whatever seems relevant, and sometimes, whatever I just feel like saying.

Actually I’ve sorta been blogging via Instagram. As I get more and more into it, I like it less and less. To me it should just be about vision. Low fidelity vision. Take it with your iPhone and post. No stupid filters to make the mundane interesting, just what you see. No images from your library, Photoshopped beyond belief. No images that make you think you are now living on Neptune. And most of all, no inane comments from inane people. Most of the comments are just ego strokes. “Beautiful”, “wonderful”, and my favorite “amazing!!!”. Does anyone remember what amazing really means? I am amazed when I look up at the night sky, not some cute photo of someone’s cat. And, I LOVE cats. Don’t comment on my photos. If you like them, understand them, or resonate with them…then “like” them. That’s enough. I like to follow Daniel Root, Cirof, Laura Jennings,and Hornbecker on Instagram. Their photos are no bullshit.

I have the same trouble with Flickr and Tumbler. I’m not even sure how they are spelled. To me, they are just a place to be stroked. Same comments apply. Do you need justification of your work by people you don’t know?  People who may have absolutely horrible taste, or just want you to stroke them back? Years ago, Lloyd Ziff told me “there is no such thing as good taste. But there is bad taste.”I recently heard about a Master’s of Photography thesis where the candidate put his work on one of these sites and then edited by choosing the one’s that got the most positive feedback. In my old-fashioned mind I thought that was ludicrous, just ridiculous. I know when my work is good and when it isn’t. I’ve always been my best critic and I believe in myself.

So as you can see, I’m entering the 21st century…but sort of kicking and screaming. I’ve never been easy, so don’t expect it here!