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Archive for September, 2009

Early on a Monday Morning….

Sep 14

In Stories at 1:54pm

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Monday always comes early, right? Been having zero dark thirty Monday calls since I picked up a camera. Today, 3am. Out the door at 3:45. Start of the week. Cab ride through dark streets to another plane. Not even the sanit trucks are out. Upside? No getting stuck behind school buses.

Years ago, it was simpler and more complicated all at once. I lived in the city and, like a lot of shooters, used a car service to get to the airport. Mine, believe it or not, was called Ding-a-Ling. Swear it’s true. It being the time of magazines having more than a couple nickels to rub together, photogs would routinely travel heavy—15, 20 cases of stuff—all on the airline. Hence there were times I would order up two or three Ding-a-Lings. The assistant and I would load and roll, a little Ding-a-Ling motorcade to the airport.

Airlines back then would grant a shooter a media rate for excess bags without a Papal fiat. You could get all your stuff on board for about $25 a pop. If you knew the skycaps, and I did, a quick Benjamin would make all your bags disappear into the hold of the plane, and no one would bat an eye. Those days, wisely, are gone.

In addition to the skycaps, I of course got to know the drivers, and there was one guy who I seemed fated to ride with more than others. He drove #22. He was an older gentleman from Queens who was born to be a NY cabbie. He had a big time NY accent and an even bigger inquisitive nature, not to mention the gift of gab. After a few rides he knew if you were up or down, if the baby had a fever, what you did on vacation, if things were going well at the office, and if you got along with your mother-in-law.

Which I did. She’s an ex-mom in law now, but she’s a nice person who used to visit on the weekends when my oldest, who’s about to be 24, was just a baby. She lived in Brooklyn, with her other daughter, who we can call Mary, along with Mary’s husband and their two young boys.

It was a Canarsie house with lots of frenetic Brooklyn personality, so in other words, it was mayhem. The boys were small, but growing like weeds, as boys do, and were bouncing off walls, as boys do. Given the challenges and vicissitudes of modern life, grandma found herself being mom a good deal of the time. Cooking and cleaning and homework and all the nuttiness of raising kids was back on her plate. She couldn’t just spoil ‘em and give ‘em back at the end of the day. There was always talk about everybody moving out and giving grandma back her house, peace and quiet, but it didn’t happen. Despite her energy, she was really wearing thin.

After visiting one weekend, she got good old #22 to go back to Canarsie, a pretty long cab ride. Given the gregarious nature of the occupants I have to imagine the conversation was lively.

And that very Monday, I had one of those early calls. I threw my stuff in the trunk, and, still in my morning ether, settled into the back seat of, you guessed it, #22. I was barely conscious, ‘cause Caity, at the tender age of six months, had decided sleep was boring.

My friend the driver twisted in his seat, pulled his glasses down to the end of his nose, and looked at me with world weary, knowing, New York eyes. He didn’t say hello or good morning. He arched his brows and brought his finger up up by his face, the way one does when one is about to utter an undisputable, immutable, truth. “Mary should move out! It’s not fair to your mother-in-law!”

In so many ways, New York is a small town…..

Nigel and Me, Still…..

Sep 10

In Thoughts at 6:11pm

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Up early today. Nigel’s gained some weight lately, and when he nestled himself on the bed last night he proceeded to snore so loudly I coulda sworn somebody was trying to start a large diesel engine right there on the blanket. It’s okay, though. He’s my bud. He’s a bit paunchy (Annie gets defensive and simply says he’s “big boned”) and a little tentative, ’cause I think he’s got some arthritis in his forelegs.  I bought him some steps I’ve put around the house so he can get up on stuff easier. He won’t use ‘em, though, being male and proud. He still jumps, even though it’s gottta hurt. That’s the deal with guys. We look at something and think, I can still do that, and then our body tells us different.

Same thing here. In addition to being up early, I’m grumpy ’cause I’m fasting. Annie worked out a week for me while I am home to kinda kick the tires and change the oil, so the whole week is doc’s appointments. Feeling like I’m spending a great deal of time flat on my back on an examining table, looking upwards through a 16mm full frame fisheye at a bunch of googly eyed, well meaning folks who look me over, ask some mildly embarrassing questions, purse their lips and frown a bit, then make notes on a clipboard. (I chuckle inwardly. In this ten minute examination these folks actually think they’re gonna find out what’s wrong with me? Heh, heh, heh.)

(My buddy Bill at Geographic is having a field day with this. He mentioned today that all the questions are designed to create a baseline before they harvest the organs.)

What can I say to these rational, logical, disapproving folks? That I know I shouldn’t have done half the shit I’ve done? That I know it wasn’t great for me to breathe carbon dioxide gas for a week at one of the world’s largest nickel mines in Siberia? I know it’s not a good idea to get kicked and punched, shot at and tear gassed? I’ve had stitches and surgeries, been baked in the desert and frozen in the arctic and arrested at gunpoint. I’ve climbed around towers loaded with microwaves. I’ve smiled my way through meals in faraway places that I knew were gonna ricochet through my system like a pinball in an arcade game. I’ve drunk stuff of indeterminate origin that I knew had microbes that were gonna chew their way through my inside wiring like gremlins on holiday. I’ve worked around disease and radioactivity, picked my way through mass graves, blacked out at 9.2 g’s and hung off of and outside of clanky, rusted flying machines that had no business staying in the air, but somehow, with some spit and glue, did. I’ve parked myself for hours covering concerts in front of walls of woofers with enough decibel horsepower to flatten a city block, never mind a flimsy pair of eardrums. I’ve done the macho, bonding ritual of hoisting flagons of native brew that would make straight sterno look like a fruit smoothie.

And done much of it carrying anywhere from 20 to 60 pounds of gear, sometimes much more. So my knees sound like somebody’s opening the front door of an abandoned house in a horror movie, and my spine is about as straight as the Pacific Coast Highway. And my mind? Let’s not go there.

So what do I say to these well meaning, helpful medical folks? How do I explain that 30 plus years ago I threw myself into the mosh pit of a shooting career because I had no choice? That, just like any photog, I did ridiculous, ill-advised stuff just cause I wanted the picture so badly? And that there are a bunch more of us out here, camera in hand, just as nutty? (Hell, I’ve got colleagues who have done such wacked stuff it it makes me look like a frikkin’ librarian.)

How to tell them that I’m up for more? That my best pictures are still out there ahead of me? They may be right around the corner, in plain sight, or still years away, hidden inside some project or notion that ain’t even in my head yet. I might need to fly or climb to get them, or run after them, or limp, as the case may be.

But, just like Nigel, I won’t use the steps…..more tk.

Drew Hits the Big Time….

Sep 9

In Links at 8:00am

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Yep, Drew is the guest blogger today on Scott Kelby’s blog, which is definitely the bright lights and Broadway of the blogosphere. Very well done article, though Drew is typically modest about his accomplishments both as a shooter and here at the studio, where he is invaluable. Not only does he do the day to day grunt stuff, he’s also very forward thinking and technology oriented. For instance, the new look of our blog, website and our relationship with Livebooks is a direct result of Drew being proactive and looking down the road for the studio. Largely because of his presence, we are taking baby steps in the video direction. Real tentative right now, but learning a lot and having fun with it.

Not too long ago, he was drumming in a rock and roll band. Wisely, he’s abandoned that unstable lifestyle to adopt the lock solid, clear path security of freelance photography. We’re all the better for it here at the studio. More tk….

Photog of the Future?

Sep 8

In Friends, history, Stories at 9:04am

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I like it. I’ve certainly lost weight, and have the lean, mean look required for success in the intensely competitive arena of the photographic marketplace nowadays. Strong, elongated, prehensile fingers, and at first glance, it would seem, opposable thumbs which are always useful. This of course was conjured for me by the irrepressible Mr. Hobby of Strobist, who recently mentioned an article on the HSD in this month’s Digital Photo Pro.  He’s done things like this before- taking my face and placing it in the movie poster for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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This is great. David and I spoke last week and I told him such ramblings fit perfectly with two goals I have for the rest of my career: A) Never take myself particularly seriously; and B) Have fun.

Not the first time David and I have gotten a touch, well, goofy, witness our Dubai antics (Shot by the equally goofy Bobbi Lane)…..

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Of course this type of activity–a creative imagination plus a bent sense of humor plus knowledge of Photoshop plus access to the internet does create a climate the nuns used to warn us about. You know, “idle minds,” etc. We were urged to go to confession for having an idle mind, which, when you are talking about the mind of a 10 or 12 year old boy, is never particularly, you know, idle. I never really feared confession, to be honest about it, ’cause the priests I would be confessing to back in the day seemed to be in such a perpetually booze fueled state of serenity that virtually nothing you could say to them in the confessional was overly troubling to them, and they would mete out relatively light penances. You would, you know, confess all sorts of goings on in the typically X-rated big top of the youthful male mind, and they would come back with a gin fumed mandate to say five Our Fathers.

Five Our Fathers seemed cheap admission to the realm of my imagination, truth be told. Kinda like paying a nickel to go to a particularly colorful peep show.

I digress. What the ever prescient DH has actually construed with the Gollum idea above is, I think, nothing less than the….Photog of the Future. Hear me out.

Obviously, lean and mean, as I have noted. Doesn’t eat much. Could probably subsist on a diet of rainwater and bark. Remember in the movie, he would jump into a stream, grab a fish, and just start eating it raw? So, imagine the Gollum photog gets booked into a hotel that has one of those aquarium displays with over-sized koi in some algae infested waterway near the reception desk. No bills for dinner! ( I’ve never completely figured out the indoor lagoon thing in lobbies. Why would you want to sit and have coffee and a bagel next to an under tended, foul smelling water display invariably complete with a drizzly waterfall effect that makes it sound for all the world like your table is right next to the urinals in the men’s room?) No matter. This raw fish meal practice would thrill the accountants at a place like Time Warner, ’cause it would cut T&E substantially. Not that it has gone up all that much. They haven’t raised the per diem there (last time I checked) since the 80′s, so you are still supposed to spend something like five bucks for breakfast, twelve for lunch and hoo boy, 25 balloons for dinner. Get crazy! This of course means that if you go to Denny’s for breakfast and have a French Slam and a large OJ, you’re on your own dime for eats for the rest of the day. Your per diem is just as burnt as the toast.

Gollum knew the secret passageway into Mordor, remember? That means the Gollum photog would be most likely devious enough to slide, unaccredited,  into virtually any presidential tight pool, at least for a few frames.

Clothing. Uh, minimal, obviously. The means no special wardrobe to be purchased even for extreme conditions, and certainly no dry cleaning bills. This type of expense has always nettled the accountants. The legendary story that rattles the hallways of the Geographic is of a shooter who was assigned to an extremely cold location and promptly went out and expensed a hugely costly fur coat. The powers that be of course bounced that piece of paperwork back to the wayward journalist. It was turned in again a week later, with the exact same total and a note that read simply….”Find the coat.”

That brazen display of contempt for the accounting process of course is mild by comparison to that of the China correspondent for Nat Geo circa the 40′s. I cannot confirm this, but legend has it this particular scribe received a telex from home base stating, “Mission accomplished, return to HQ.” To which he replied, “Confirm. Can I bring my junk?” To which home base replied in the affirmative. Several months later, an ocean going freighter with a full blown Chinese junk strapped to the deck steamed into the Washington ship basin and the individual in question lived on it for several years.

I never had the benefit of working in those days of shenanigans and largesse. When I came along, the accountants were slowly, Gollum-like, hissing in the ears of the powerful, and loopy, frivolous, “gifts for natives”  expense accounting (an actual category in the old Geographic daily log books) was  rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Closest I came to a whopper was during the first launch and landing of the space shuttle. Hank Morgan, David Strick and I were out in the vast nothingness of Edwards AFB, trying to figure out which corner of the sky the shuttle was gonna drop out of. Hank being Hank, said something endearing like, “So long, sucker,” and brought the hammer down on his rental. I plunged after him, which was a mistake, cause given the dust trail he was churning at 100 plus mph I could see absolutely nothing. But I figured as long as it was dust, it would be okay. If the cloud turned to flames, then chances are Hank met with something truly unfortunate, and I should slow down.

A tremendous crack reported from the undercarriage of the car, and while it still drove well enough, I noticed my gas level was heading south as fast as a dropped rock. Much perhaps, like the rock I had just run over, which plowed a canal in the gas tank wide enough push a supertanker through. Holy shit. David and I started pulling gear outta the trunk like crazy, thinking that a vehicle with a hot engine in the desert sun in the middle of a lake of gas had disaster stamped all over it. I called the car rental outfit and complained that their vehicle had malfunctioned and hadda get towed from somewhere in a couple thousand square miles of desert. They called me two days later, and hadn’t yet been able to find it. Yikes.

I started thinking then about how I could creatively use my expense account to incrementally cover the cost of a Buick Regal. You know, a few high priced dinners, lots of Manhattan cab rides, a camera repair or two…..Sheesh. They did find it, thankfully. But you know, if it was the Gollum photog, there would have been no rental car needed. Food for thought….more tk.

Mystery Photo….Revealed?

Sep 3

In Best Guesses at 2:14pm

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Had some traffic over time about the lighting grid for this photo, which we have used as a blog header. This was shot for Kelby Training, and re-confirms my fondness for seedy motel rooms. It is all small flash, but it is not all flash. It’s a mix of sources.

So I’m throwing it out there. Whoever wants to have a shot at this, and figure out the lighting plan, have at it. Person who nails it gets an autographed copy of Hot Shoe Diaries, and a Lastolite Tri-Grip diffuser.  Hell, I’ll even sign “Numnuts” on the diffuser, if you want. Remember though, everything I sign has a tendency to plummet in value, so choose wisely.

This ain’t a contest, and there’s nothing formal about it.  I’ve even talked in general terms about this pic in workshops, so it’s not like this is gonna be the search for the holy frikkin’ grail. It’s just that enough folks have pinged about this image so we thought it would be fun. We don’t get out much in our studio. More tk…..