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Archive for May, 2009

Mad Water Buffalo and Englishmen….

May 29

In Friends, Lighting, Videos at 6:52am

That’s how it goes, right? Or is it mad badgers and Englishmen? Mad dogs? Can’t remember, but that’s okay, cause Drew Gardner reminds us in his lighting video. Lessee, this video is about location selection, apparently dead fashion models, trees, tractors, Elinchrom Rangers, booms, C-stands, makeup artists, live badgers, animal trainers, fences, lighting theory and diagrams, water buffalo with naked women atop them, smoke machines, smoke wafting, backlighting, sidelighting, mood lighting, post production, and of course, the ring master who can control the action in all three rings of the bigtop of his brain, the aforementioned mad Englishman, Drew Gardner. Check out this teaser. Drew keeps his clothes on (thank you!), the model gets a bit naked.

Drew is a piece of work, as anyone who has encountered him knows. He’s got one of those singularly crazy sensibilities behind the camera that always pushes the envelope of what is possible. Thing is, he has always got a destination in mind, which is great, especially for somebody who likes a story line. He links these pix into a narrative. An admittedly hazy, madcap narrative, but a narrative nevertheless. Witness his epic fashion shoots with fashion models in 6 inch stilettos impossibly outrunning heavily armed Russian special forces troops. There’s a bunch of these. Makes me wonder what eventually happens? Stay tuned! Are they caught and brought back to a nasty prison for the outrageously overdressed? Do the SWAT guys propose marriage on the spot? Or do the young ladies turn on their pursuers and start wielding their Manolo Blahnicks as fearsome, unusual weapons, ala Go Go Yubari and her chain mace ball of death in Kill Bill, Part I? I want to know! Drew, next installment please!

This installment is a load of fun and information, and pushes Drew further down the road of his ongoing forest adventures, which are already notable, and involve, as always, fairies, nymphs, real animals, animals from story books, exquisite staging and styling, a Phase One back and a smoke machine.

Ahh, the smoke machine. Drew has not got your garden variety, take it out of the closet every Halloween and see if it works type smoker you can buy at Partytime for $19.99. No, no. He has got a state of the art, industrial strength, planet Dagobah type smoker. Think LA on a bad day, and you’ve roughly got what the forest looks like after Drew gets done with it.

Check out the video, and Drew’s website. Quite mad, indeed. More tk…..

Things Have Been a Little Strange Around Here, Lately….

May 28

In Rants at 6:00am

I spend a lot of time on the road, so coming back to the mail is interesting. I got this not too long ago, Hmmmm. A very big promo piece for a very big book called The End, by the excellent photog Rodney Smith. The blad contained text from Rodney describing these tough times we are currently experiencing. “Gone are the days of luxurious photo-shoots with gold-gilded Hasselblads and caviar-encrusted lunchtime snacks.”

Hmmmm. I don’t miss the above described days because I don’t remember them. Last time I checked, there was nothing at Subway encrusted in caviar, and I shot Mamiya for my 120 system ’cause I couldn’t focus a Hasselblad worth spit. The promo is, as I mentioned, huge, and lavishly presented. The accompanying, hyperbolic, hopefully tongue-in-cheek intro alludes to it being “the kind of book that will set the tongues of the artistic community wagging for a thousand years.”

The book will no doubt take it’s place in the ranks of stylish efforts, as Mr. Smith is indeed a stylish and successful photog. Again, from the front matter….”An unparalleled artistic masterpiece, this book is monstrously expensive and is being produce as a Very Limited Edition…. ” Further, the book “should only be handled while wearing white gloves.” And, “its profound imagery, compounded by its brain-teasing text, comes with a stern warning: Please consult your physician or therapist before perusing its contents.” It states that “every Smith photograph is a canny encapsulation of an essential cosmic truth.”

In addition to stylish and successful, did I mention ballsy?

The accompanying letter encourages the visual community to invest wisely during these times of economic duress. “In this period of economic crisis and hardship, we photographers must band together in support of our respective endeavors.” When Wall Street is a sinkhole run by people who are supposed to be managing your money but seem generally preoccupied avoiding doing 3 to 5 at a minimum security facility, and stuffing your cash in a pillow seems as good a plan as an aggressive mutual fund, what do you do? Invest in–this book! The early bird asking price is $650 including shipping, a substantial discount off the retail price of $750. The book is described as “worth its weight in gold.”

There is an advisory about the book contained in the promo. “Its value will only increase with time, making it a prudent investment in these tricky financial times.”

It might be the way to go. I’m on the fence. I talked to my buddy Bill down at Nat Geo about it and tried to convince him we should pool our money on this. Problem is, he’s got what’s left of his dough tied up in bull semen futures.

Now here’s an entry in the “big is better” category. THE LAST MAGAZINE. Picked it up in Manhattan last week. (Downtown, where else?) For $15 bucks. Yep, 15 balloons. Geez, there are some big pictures in here. And I’m not averse to that theory, mind you. At LIFE we always used to say, “If you can’t make ‘em good, make ‘em big and in color!”

This mag has taken that theory and, well, enlarged on it. Many of these obscure, out of focus frames should have had a healthy chat with Mr. Delete Button, or at least remained on the hard drive until the authors had passed and thus gained a certain retrospective merit. (“He shot this during a time when he was struggling to find his vision.”) But somehow, they got loose, got fed reassuring burbles about how astonishingly fresh and new they truly are, and just like the monster in the first Alien movie, they got real big, real quick. The title of this mag is oddly appropriate. More tk…

Getting High….

May 26

In Stories at 2:13pm

Summertime, officially. Right here in NYC. This time of year comes round, and I love going to Manhattan again, enjoying the late light, and the kinda clear skies of May. It’s still cool enough, and the heat of August hasn’t risen up and shrink wrapped the city in a dirty brown, clinging smog.

It was about this time of year I shot this…..

105 stories up on the Empire State Building, the true grand dame of all buildings. Not the biggest, just the most storied. I have always loved climbing around up there. I’ve got this little niche…hell, it’s not even a niche, it’s more like an on again, off again hobby, kind of like a vacation type scuba diver who only goes in when the water is clear and warm. That morning, on assignment for the book America 24/7, I worked once again with my friend Tom Silliman, an engineer and fearless builder and climber of antennas. One SB80 by the way. My assistant at the time, a terrific shooter named  Alicia Hansen, had to bury the flash in her, well, under her, uh, chest, and shield it from all the other transmissions up there, cause they were driving the flash nuts.

I had met Tom shooting this….

This was one of those jobs. Had the bright idea of putting a different twist on changing a light bulb for a story called “The Power of Light” for the National Geographic. I thought to myself, okay, we can do this. I’ll take a picture of them changing the bulb at the top of the Empire State.  What could go wrong? Well, lots, as it turned out. First climb, I was competing with Ripley’s Believe It or Not television program, believe it or not. They had a chopper floating around out there, and had the notion of wanting to see the light come on and off while Tom was just approaching it on the antenna. Things went haywire with their communications, and, after slogging my way up the antenna to about where I was oh, 15 feet shy of it, the light shut off. I mean I’m hanging there in my harness, and the bulb’s dead. Had to settle for this, and crop the top of the antenna out of the frame. Wasn’t what I came for.

Crazy. Bulb’s dead, and there I am, wearing the only light in the joint, my headlamp. Shot from a chopper by a really good photog, Jim Anness, then of the Bergen Record.

Sheesh. I was not in shape for that climb. The antenna at that point is like a telephone pole at 1500 feet. It moves around a lot, and has climbing pegs on either side of it. As I came down the pegs, my hand cramped on one of them. Had to reach around the pole and pry my fingers off of it. Otherwise, I might still be up there, kind of french fried, hanging off the side of one of the biggest microwave transmitters in the world. I think they have a power setting on the antenna called “london broil.”

I got my chances up there because of a truly great New Yorker, Alex Smirnoff.

Alex was in charge of what they call the mast operations at the building. He was always approachable, and he instinctively knew that the Empire State wasn’t just a building. It’s the centerpiece of NY, an important piece of the history of the city crafted in limestone and granite, and it was built to be photographed. He had a job where the easiest thing, always, would be to say no. But being a gentleman who appreciated the beauty of the building, he said yes. I remember breathlessly trying to give him a rationale for a particular climb, and I heard him chuckling at the other end of the line. “Don’t give me that crap, Joe, you just like to climb stuff,” he said, in his kindly fashion. A great man, who sadly, has passed on.

All this silliness began many moons ago, about the time I came to NY. I was a copyboy at the NY Daily News, a real rube in terms of NY press photography, but I was determined to impress my boss, Eddie Peters, and I requested a loaner of the Nikkor 15mm wide angle, the only one in the department. I was gonna climb the Queensboro Bridge with it, cause they were repainting it. Things were looser back then. I walked onto the bridge, talked the workers, told ‘em I was from the News, and started climbing.

This was also a good lesson in what I was worth as a photog. Eddie loaned me the 15mm, a very expensive lens, with considerable doubt in his eyes. This green, untested kid was taking one of the most valuable pieces of glass the newspaper owned. He looked at me, and asked if I would do him a favor. “Sure,” I said. He said, “If you fall, could you find a way to leave the lens behind?”

Got this…

I was off to the races with this climbing thing. Next up, the north tower of the World Trade Center.

At that time, no harnesses, no zorbers, none of the sophisticated safety stuff we have now. I had a belt and a rope, and, well, not much in the way of brains.

That climb up the tower was a one off, but I did return to the Empire State a number of times. Put Donna Weinbrecht, America’s freestyle skiing champion up there….

And of course, a long time ago, in the middle 80′s, on assignment for Geo magazine to shoot a story on gargoyles, I went up the Chrysler. Little did I know at the time this gargoyle would become like one of those “picture spots,” you know, like they have at Disney, markers telling you if you point your camera this way, a good picture results. This has become, over time, a very popular gargoyle, especially with photogs. Me being me, of course, I am hunched over with a flash meter taped to a monopod, getting the read from the strobes I have on a portico several stories below.

There’s that damn “safety” belt again. I tell ya, glad we got harnesses now. If I had fallen with that thing, it would have saved my neck but broken my back.

Got this, available light…

And this, later, with flash.

I know, I know, the available light is nicer…..oh well. Shows me what good it did to drag Speedotrons up there

Had some funny, stupid stuff up high as well….King Kong on the Empire State…

And this one up the old Coke sign at the north end of Times Square. That’s all some sort of lcd, led, computer driven display now. Makes sense. Musta been a bitch changing all these bulbs.

The weather breaks like this in New York, and I find myself looking up still…..more tk

Take Me to The River…..

May 18

In Seminars & Workshops at 7:00pm

Going back to my old studio building this summer and doing a series of lighting workshops. More basements. More loading docks, cracked windows, train tracks.  Warmer weather. We had a ball doing these last time.

Hit this link for workshop application PDF…

They’ll be running June 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30 & July 1.

We will have breakfast, lunch, and lights all day. Free parking. Everybody gets time behind the camera, as well as gripping for shoots, observing, talking, discussing, looking at gear and all manner of light. Minimal setups, maximum setups. We go at it all day long.

Last time, we worked high key….

We worked low key….

Lotsa lights….

We worked one light….

We worked character…..

We worked beauty….

We had firefighters…..

Boxers and trainers….

We did incredibly cute….

And sophisticated style….

Here’s what some students from our Winter ’09 session had to say:

“…My associate Karen and I did go to Joe’s seminar on Monday, the 19th, and it was spectacular!  I came away with so much information and so inspired to try new stuff, outside my comfort zone.”

“I wanted to honor your request for some feedback… problem is, I can’t really think of anything that could have been improved upon.
Things were beautifully organized.
The coffee was superb.
The facility was magical.
The crew were all top-shelf —  pleasant, accommodating and SO helpful…And of course Joe was dazzling. What a gift his work is for all of us. I had an amazing time.”

    “As I am thinking about yesterday’s workshop in the warm comfort of my Manhattan apartment, I continue to be amazed how all of you were dedicated to giving us a tremendous day. On top of that, rather than increase the number of participants, you increased the number of days…THANK YOU.”

    Hope to see you there…..more tk….

    Moving Fast….

    May 16

    In Lighting at 10:22am

    Been using more and more high speed sync. Gonna show some stuff later today here in Cologne that hopefully will demo the technique well. We have sunshine here today for the first time since getting here.

    Speaking of sunshine….

    Knocked this out in the desert last month. 1/8000 @ f6.3. Had a great time with some dancers out there and Drew had a blast with a Coolpix shooting this video….

    Keep you posted on today. Gonna try for a shot I saw yesterday but couldn’t get to….More tk…..