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Archive for October, 2012

Wheels Up….

Oct 30

In Stories at 10:25am

Sitting in Atlanta Airport, a very familiar place, and trying to get home. This all started because of a capricious, nasty girl named Sandy, an evil child of Mother Nature. I started my trek in Copenhagen, where, looking back at home, and knowing trouble was closing in, I started making changes. I moved my flight up, as best I could. Re-routed, changed the itin, threw a dart at the wall, and Delta got me to Atlanta. Grabbed a hotel, and made my way back to the airport this morning about 5am. They said, incredibly, a flight to Westchester County Airport was gonna go. Pinch me, I’m dreamin’!

And, of course, I was. So I sit a bit, and have now placed my bets on Hartford and a flight that goes (???) in a couple hours. If it goes, I go. If not, I’ll continue to conjure a path home. My bag? Well, that puppy’s in for its own version of “The Incredible Journey,” one of my favorite books as a kid.  I have confidence I will see it again, in a few days, or, perhaps more.

Here’s the thing. I’m pretty calm about this stuff. Resigned, perhaps, but also, it’s just another turn of the page. Whenever travel goes smoothly, I’m surprised. As I look out the window here in Hartsfield Airport, there are so many moving parts out there on the tarmac, all churning and chugging at once, I’m amazed anything works, at all, ever. And there are worse things than cooling your heels at an airport like this, which is basically a super sized mall. Sandy has done her worst to the folks on the ground who took the brunt of it. It’s heartbreaking to see the floods, the fires, and lost homes.

Part of the zen I have about travel is that I’ve done a lot of it, to be sure. My current account at Delta puts my history with them at about 1.6 million miles. They have their moments, to be sure, but they are basically a good airline. I’ve flown on airlines that are not good, and on flying machines that have definitely spoken to the virtues of a long walk.

I got on one such plane in Mogadishu, Somalia. I was working there, and the calendar was veering close to Christmas. I had gotten in on a Red Cross plane, but getting out on one of those was doubtful. The holidays were approaching, and the Red Cross personnel naturally, rightly, had priority on the limited seating over the lowly journalist. My guys, the Somalis who were translating and protecting me, told me they could get me out on a drug plane. They were strong with the Aidid clan, and that particular warlord controlled a dirt airstrip south of Mog where gutted Cessna prop planes would fly into Somalia with bales of khat, which the Somalis chew voraciously. It’s a plant which, when masticated, gives you an all day buzz. Which is an advisable thing, if you live in a place as strife torn and bereft of hope as Mog.

The “airport” itself was a cluster of dust, noise and third world chaos of Spielbergian dimensions. People were swarming up to these planes, trying to stuff goods, mail, and notes onto them, to try to get word to relatives in Kenya, which is where the planes would head back to. I struck a deal with a pilot, fought my way through the crowd, and threw my stuff in the back of the plane, which was stripped of seats to make room for what was basically enormous bags of weed.

People wouldn’t disengage from the plane. The pilot stepped forward on the small gangway, and struck the nearest person to him with two roundhouse blows that sent him reeling backwards into the crowd. He simultaneously shouted orders to his co-pilot to start the props, which he did, right in the middle of this swirling mass of people. The plane became like the center of an explosion, with engines roaring to life and people radiating rapidly away from it in a 360 degree pattern, like so much fast moving shrapnel. He slammed the door shut, slipped into his seat, and pushed the plane down the runway. A few seconds later, we were airborne.

I had been a month in Africa. I slumped, exhausted, on the floor of the Cessna, relieved to be going home two days before Christmas. The co-pilot twisted in his seat to look back at me. I looked back and raised my hand, and said, into the din of the props resounding through the empty shell of the plane, “Excuse me, I ordered the special meal?”

He tilted his head, and I think he was possibly thinking of shooting me. But then he smiled and turned back to the controls. I hit Nairobi Airport, walked to a counter, and found a flight home. More tk….

In Copenhagen…

Oct 27

In In The Field, Rambling at 2:24am

Which remains one of my favorite places. Folks here have always been remarkably gracious and welcoming, and the city is beautiful. Tivoli is a toy-like dreamscape, a looking glass you can disappear into in the midst of the concrete trappings of the city, much in the way Central Park is at once a greensward and a safety valve in New York. When I lived in the city, during the lunatic, tumbling free fall that often constitutes a day of work there, I would find, suddenly, that I just had to go to the park. I often had the sense not so much of walking there. Rather, it was more like pulling a rip cord and getting abruptly snapped out of the tumble and thus into more of leisurely, wafting drift, so pleasant in and of itself you didn’t much care where you would alight.

Tivoli has the same feel for me. Plus, throw in the coffee, the pastry and the beer, and well, these folks got it going on.

One of the last times I was here was shooting for FedEx, and we scouted and shot in this kind of twofer arrangement that has come to be as Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmo, Sweden have forged closer ties. Separated only by a very cool looking bridge, there is a lot of back and forth between these two cities,  in terms of people, commutation and culture.

I had, blessedly, a truly wonderful art director  I was working for during these campaigns, and she literally pushed and prodded me to see differently. I’m a pretty lumpy traditionalist with a camera in hand, meaning I often observe certain rules of the road, like composing in thirds, focusing the camera, balancing and saturating the exposure for good color and the like. Kind of what you do when you grow up photographically as I did, shooting for mom and dad’s magazines, like LIFE, Nat Geo, and SI. I don’t get too many calls from Hip Hop Weekly. In fact, I don’t remember a single one.

But she encouraged me to break out a little bit, literally shoot from the hip, and handle the camera and the frame more casually than I had generally done. They wanted the look and feel of the pix to be more of a snap, a quick look at the brand, which was often not really overt in the picture.

It was fun, simply moving and shooting through the day, looking for light and trying to construct what would appear to be a chance encounter with those very familiar letters and colors on the packaging.

Of course, shooting in a city and culture that is very at ease with itself, and doesn’t ruffle or fuss about much, is wonderful, but does have its moments. We scouted a brand new subway hub in the city, looking for potential locations, and found some good angles we determined we’d come back to and shoot over the ensuing couple of days. The recently constructed metro stop we liked was perfect, with all sorts of silvery textures, a gleaming new emporium of commutation. Thing was, when we returned, one of the major areas we had in mind to shoot, was newly adorned with the below.

I remember looking up at this very sizable ad and doing a head tilt. I mean, this isn’t the kind of billboard you might see on good old Interstate 80 heading past Moline, fer chrissakes. As I’ve alluded to before on the blog, Europe is generally, wonderfully, much more blase’ and frank in their sensibilities about things of this nature than, say, a good deal of America. This particular ad roughly alludes to the fact that it was, at that moment, World Cup time, and the menfolk would be so ardently, utterly consumed by football that their female counterparts would be, at least temporarily, quite lonely, and thus left to, uh, their own devices.

Such are the vagaries of location work. We found another angle. More tk….

And now, the weather report…

Oct 23

In history, In The Field at 8:44am

The weather is always with us as shooters, right? Unless we’re still life folks, and click away unhurriedly in a studio, to the strains of Bach or Brahms, safe from the howling elements. (I personally would rather try to shoot frames in the teeth of a hurricane than do still life, by the way. I suck at it so badly that I have great admiration for those who do it well. I’ve tried on occasion, with abysmal results. How can a thing give you more trouble than a person?)

My history with weather is a fractious one, indeed. Just ask my buds Alan Hess and Earnie Grafton in San Diego. I go there as often as I can, and whenever I do, I think Alan just starts nailing plywood boards over his windows. Earnie, a durable, talented, former military shooter who’s now with the San Diego Trib, has shot his way through a ton of shit conditions over the years just looks at me and shakes his head. I think he thinks that way back in Ireland. long ago, the local hag (Cailleach, in Gaelic) cursed my family tree with the rain. Earnie is sort of mystical about this himself, and every time I show up in SD, he tries to break the curse by the mutual imbibing of the holiest of waters–beer.

The curse was in full throat roar recently in Tampa, though, so the suds aren’t working. I was down there to shoot a video for Kelby Training on….well, I can’t even remember what we were going to do originally. I could say I was going to teach a class stemming from my latest book on PhotoShop, entitled, “The Layers of Hell,” but you would know that I am lying. Anyway, whatever we were going to do went rapidly away, and our hopes for a sunny Florida shoot went swilling down the sewers along with a whole bunch of Tampa topsoil. So, as you do on location, we rolled. Shot through the wind and the weather, sat in cars, tried to keep the cameras and the models dry, went inside, shot into the wee hours, sought cover, and cursed the rain. The result actually, was one of the more fun shoots I’ve ever had in Tampa, to be honest. Standing out there on a dock, getting pummeled by the backhanded breezes of an offshore hurricane does inspire some lunacy, and some ad hoc decision making in terms of what to shoot and how to shoot it. The Kelby folks, a generally solid group of relatively normal people, actually got a little dizzy themselves in the midst of the mayhem and went running off the deck into the deep end with the video below.

The elements are always with us as photogs, right? We gather our gear in the morning, squinting at the sky like some sort of Crocodile Dundee armed with cameras and glass, wondering what the clouds will conjure in the afternoon. Moose Peterson is actually quite amazing at this. He’ll gather a bunch of folks around him and say something like, “Well, the wind will pick up later and ricochet off that far canyon wall and drive the afternoon cumulus towards that cleft in the rock. The sunlight filtering through that cleft will give the clouds a nice shimmer. This will happen around 4:10 pm, so set your cameras on aperture priority at minus 1.3EV and go to continuous high as this phenomenon will only occur for about two minutes.” He says this type of thing with such authority that people just nod in response and start adjusting their machinery without ever cocking their head to the side and wondering aloud whether if that was the biggest bunch of bullshit they’d heard since the last presidential debate.

Of course, though, he is so damn good at this, he’s often right. I was standing next to him, and he told me the light would hit the waterfall just so, and everything would be alright. It did, and I got the only decent landscape picture I’ve ever shot.

My history with weather and the National Geographic is a sorry, almost punitive one. They sent me (just once) to the magnificent beaches of Cancun to observe Spring Break, that sun drenched celebration of tequila fueled hormones. I came back with this.

This was perhaps deemed, well, cheeky. So it was back to business as usual, and they sent me to Siberia, in February.

And I spent a dismal but necessary night in the local drunk tank, where the depression caused by the ongoing darkness gathers in sad, rough fashion. The drunks stumble out of the bars, and flop onto the icy walkways. Police patrols haul them in, restrain them, and let them sleep it off, lest they be stiff as a cord of wood in the morning, and just as dead.

On a more uplifting note, I did find my way into the ladies’ locker room in a mine, where the darkness problem is obviously exacerbated by the endeavor at hand, and watched as these shift workers bathed themselves in the salubrious wash of UV light, before heading home through the bleakness outside.

These Russian kids do the same thing at school, where the only evidence of the sun is painted on the walls, and they can perhaps dream of its warming rays and the resplendent promises of the rainbow.

Funny, I do the same kind of dreaming myself…..more tk….

Manhattan, High and Low…

Oct 22

In Fun at 8:59am

Worked in Manhattan this past weekend, which was one of those amazing fall weather weekends in NY. Had a Nat Geo Expeditions class up at Top of the Rock, and also walking all over the city, which remains one of my favorite things to do with a camera in hand. Interesting, the mix of the city. You see the all the glitter lights from way up top, but, down on the street, it gets a tad more gritty.

I don’t know why Manhattan’s pigeons like this particular stoplight at 59th and 5th, but they are always there. It might be all the horses and carriages immediately below. (Horses are sloppy eaters, evidently, and leave a lot of feed on the street.) Or maybe they just know it’s a pricey address with a bunch of social cachet.

More tk….

Shuttling Through the Years

Oct 16

In history at 11:06am

It ended as it began. And, for me, further proof, as if I needed any, that I’ve been shooting pictures for a long time. The shuttle Endeavor just got towed through the populous streets of LA, to it’s final viewing place at the California Science Museum. (The staff of the LA Times put together a terrific time lapse. Check it out here.) Back at the beginning, the shuttles were also towed, out in far more sparse areas, on their transits from being constructed and tested in Palmdale, over to Edwards AFB. I shot the first three launches and landings of the space shuttle program, staying at the Days Inn in Cocoa Beach, and listening to Shirl the Girl at the Mousetrap with my bud Hank Morgan. We’d then hightail it to Orlando Airport, fly to LA, pick up cars, and head for the desert, hoping the shuttle would stay aloft even longer than the planned mission, so we could accumulate more day rates. And, being that freelance day rates for magazine at that time were a whopping $250 a day, you needed to garner a bunch of those puppies just to stay afloat. So, we would fervently hope for bad weather, so the fellas up in space would just have to go around again a few dozen times before landing.

As the young guys here in the studio noted, neither of them were born when I made these pictures. They mentioned that one of these days soon I’ll end up in a museum. Of exactly what, I’m not sure. More tk….