Archive for the ‘Jobs’ Category
Led this year to the hospital project…..
Post Sandy emergency medical response on Staten Island
For a photog, the path of the generalist can be a fraught one. You are never the first shooter called, for instance, because you are never the regarded as the “best” at anything. You’re never the best action guy, or still life expert. You don’t do celebrity enough to have Tom Cruise or Beyonce on speed dial. You barely know any Hollywood publicists, and many of the ones you might have met you couldn’t stand. You might shoot the occasional wedding, but given the fierceness of that market, you’ll never be real player. You don’t know a musk ox from a Jersey cow, so that rules out wildlife. And you just flat out suck at landscape.
I’ve basically just described myself, really. My entire career has consisted of a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. The generalist. My answer over the phone when someone asks me if I can shoot something is “Yes, of course.” The shakes start when I put the phone down. I liken my wonderful predicament as being like that of being a pretty good utility player on a baseball team. I don’t handle any one position the best, but by golly I can play a bunch of different spots pretty well, and hit the cutoff man when the game is on the line. Most of the time.
This had led to many photographic adventures, to be sure. The most recent, and certainly one of the most memorable of my career, arrived on our doorstep earlier this year. I was commissioned to create a book, a visual poem, if you will, to the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System. What an amazing job. It touched on many, if not most, of the skills in the photog’s bag–human relations, sensitivity to situations, hitting deadlines, run and gun shooting, remote camera photography, lighting, and all manner of off the cuff, impromptu camera work. It also confirmed what I have always preached–the camera is a visa. In this instance, one to visit the astonishing world of modern medicine.
Jeff Barasch, the president of Onward Publishing, rang up with the notion of doing this job in the fall of last year. We share a history together at the Time Inc. publications, and, via Jeff, I was introduced to the amazing staff of NSLIJ, who organized the 25 day shoot. We shot at pre-dawn, all through the night, in the snow, in high tech operating rooms, in delivery rooms, in the ER. It was one of those “all in” jobs, the ones that stick with you, not just while you are shooting, but while you are at breakfast, in the shower, driving home. After every day in the field, you always feel you could have done better, so you get home, charge batteries, download cards, and roll again before the sunlight, determined to engage at a higher level. And, at this turn of the page, it was handy enough to be a generalist, because almost everyday, the job demanded a different skill set, or another approach.
Ambulance moving through Manhattan
Having a photog pop into, say, a delivery room, is, while not a medical miracle, certainly a logistical one. Permissions, understandably, are required. Delicacy at the camera is needed, perhaps even more than a working knowledge of the relationships between f-stops and shutter speeds. I’ve done many medical coverages for the Geographic, so I know my way around an operating theater, but in these intense rooms, your first and always quietly asked question is, “May I stand here?”
Doctor and nurse work in concert during open heart surgery.
The staff of medical professionals I met on this job were nothing but extraordinary, daily marshaling the combination of humanity, compassion, expertise and technology needed to meet the nearly overwhelming medical needs of a metropolitan area such as New York and its surrounding communities. It was one of those jobs where, photographically, you rarely came away empty handed. There was always something, a medical marvel, a simple human interaction, a victory story, something, to turn your camera towards. I wanted it to keep going, truth be told.
A young girl regains hearing in both ears via cochlear implants.
Teamwork in the Bioskills lab.
Checking chart in operating theater hallway.
The healing touch of animals.
Morning coffee for the residents.
24 hours post op, first steps.
And, heading home, with a new life.
A very worthwhile job, a lucky one to fall to the generalist, the camera jack of all trades. Thanks to Jeff, Justin Colby and the gang at Onward for thinking of our studio, and of course to the folks at the hospital, especially Cecelia Fullam, whose foresight led to the creation of the book. And to Barbara Mlawer, Robert Castano, Ken McMillan–thank you for putting up with some of my nuttier ideas.
There were some intriguing, ad hoc camera and lighting solutions involved in this job, and I will diagram a few in blogs to come…..more tk….
Another in a continuing set of blogs, parsing out a current National Geographic story on UAVs published in the March issue.
The way it was shot….
The way it ran…
When I tell some folks, who might be just starting to shoot jobs for money, that a client like Nat Geo sees every frame I shoot, they tend to blanche a bit. Every frame? Like, even the ones you don’t retouch?
Yep, good bad or indifferent, every frame goes to the magazine. Was like that in film days, and remains true now. (I say this as being a general rule of engagement with the yellow border gang, without knowing if some isolated photogs out there have a special arrangement with them. That could be possible.) But, for the workaday shooter in the employ of the magazine, you shoot it and ship it.
Which means of course the raw file. No PhotoShop, no retouching. The pix drop out of the camera onto a hard drive and thence into a FedEx package and onto 17th and M in DC. Most of your images are in fact like a stone you drop down a well. There’s a long period of silence, then a distant splash as they vanish from sight forever. Sometimes though, quite wonderfully, they don’t just drop unceremoniously out of the camera. Some actually strut outta your picture machine like a Vegas showgirl in full plumage, resplendent in seductive stilettos and fishnets, and all so sparkly and spangly they utterly bedazzle the bespectacled editors at the Geographic, who, I suspect, are a group who don’t get out much. They win their audition in stylish fashion, and thus gain entry, in all their colorful glory, onto the pages of the magazine. That happens to a rare few, actually.
But honestly, “dropping out of the camera” is a good description for most of your efforts. Thud! Mine in particular often bear a rough similarity to a bunch of rapid fire rabbit turds. There’s a bunch of them, they smell bad, and they get left behind.
They get left behind for good reasons, of course. The astute picture editors at Geographic are a pretty visually jaded bunch, having had many wonderfully stirring images pass their eyeballs. I can only imagine what goes through their heads as they plow through a take. (“Christ, another beautiful sunset. What was this asshole thinking?”) They seek only those images which impart difference and information in a truly distinctive way. If it’s just plain pretty, it generally closes out of town.
I thought I might have had one of those rare, meritorious, worthy of ink images with the frame atop the blog. It features one of the ” 50 best inventions of the year,” the Nano hummingbird, which flies and hovers just like a hummingbird and bears a video camera onboard. It is in the class of mini UAVs that are currently being experimented with and developed. The inventor, Matt Keenan, of AeroVironment, is a pretty brilliant guy, so, I thought, let’s get him with the machine. That was harder than you might expect.
Here’s the basics. It’s a programmed double exposure on a D3X. In brief, it’s got two small flash exposures, operating on different channels, during each exposure, a pair of LED lights attached to the bird (my suggestion), and a focus shift in between those exposures. First exposure was at a fast shutter speed. Second exposure was on bulb.
First exposure: A channel one deal, with a 24″ softbox on the Matt’s face, and then various hard flash splashed around the warehouse room to establish some sort of depth and context. These have various gels, and there is an ungelled flash rimming him. Shutter speed, 1/250 of a second. Didn’t want any cracks or slivers of light in the big room to bleed into the photograph. For the subject, he simply has to stand there, and look at the camera, UAV controller in hand.
Second exposure: On the same piece of, uh, film. Change channels on the commander to two. Two speed lights rigged to light the little birdie off to camera right. A main and a backlight. The hummingbird, LEDs alight, takes off from the inventor’s feet, and flies in its herky jerky way over to semi-hover in front of the camera lens. Focus has been shifted from the human to the bird. Click. Camera processes double exposure. Check LCD. Re-do. Digital definitely facilitated this. If I had to shoot this on film, I’d still be there. Each flight was between 5 to 10 seconds, and the LEDs carve a pattern in the blackness.
Here’s Cali and Drew in position for lighting purposes, with Drew doing his best hummingbird imitation.
Of course, the hummingbird we worked with was a singular prototype, so we were lucky to get a picture at all, and the thing didn’t break. And, being a prototype, its flight path, as you can see above, was on the unpredictable side. (It has evidently made great strides since this time in terms of endurance and precision of flight.) And of course, yours truly just flat out missed it a couple of times, as it buzzed its way past my ear.
But we got the deal done, and shipped it, un-retouched to the mag. It ran, as I hoped it would, but only as, really, the second exposure. In the published version, the focus is on the bird, not the inventor. Which is okay by me. Once you surrender a picture to a magazine, it is under their purview, not yours.
So….here’s your chance to art direct a bit. Cropped version? Uncropped version? Which do you prefer? Which tells the story better?
Just like the opener, you never know exactly where it’s going to come from.
The latest issue of the National Geographic is out now, migrating through the mail and on the newsstand, and in it is my long suffering story on UAVs, or, unmanned flight. I say long suffering in that it kicked around the publishing schedule a bit, as sometimes happens, finally finding a resting spot in the month of March.
It was an interesting and difficult story to shoot, as they all are in their own way, but this one had the extra fillip of balky technology and temperamental flying machines. We shot a range of these contraptions, from winged drones the military flings into the sky by hand (think of a quarterback slinging a sixty yard Hail Mary as the game clock winds down) to tiny, bug-like flyers with wings based on the anatomy of a bee. It was also the first story I think I ever shot where I couldn’t, because of technical difficulties, shoot the central premise of the coverage, which was the notion of a UAV photographing another UAV in flight. More on that later.
I had been a pretty decent photographer for a long time, churning out coverages for mags like SI, Nat Geo and LIFE, and just generally living a life through the lens in fairly typical, routine fashion. Phone rings, get on a plane, bring back some pictures. I mean, I got noticed every once in a while, mostly when I messed up. Being a general assignment, problem solver type magazine photog can be a little like being an offensive lineman on a football team. Do your job, nobody notices. Screw things up, and you’re in the highlight reel. I mean, some people cared, every once in a while. For instance, my mom occasionally would ask, “Joseph, what is it again that you do?”
But then, I asked some folks to take their clothes off for some pictures. And not just anybody. I asked some of the world’s most famous athletes to doff their duds. It was 1996, and man, that just flat rattled some folks, and they started asking, “Who is this guy?” So here’s a kernel of advice. If you ever want to get noticed as a photographer, undress the famous.
I ended up on the Today Show, GMA, CNN, getting all sorts of both press and air time, with everybody asking about how it was done, with some winking and nodding to exactly how scandalous, forbidden and naughty it all was.
How fast and far we’ve come in such a short time. Now, it’s almost a rite of passage for the supremely athletic to bare all of their magnificence for the camera. The ESPN Body issue rivals the SI Swimsuit issue in terms of notoriety and anticipation, and, wonder of wonders, it actually photographs athletes, with all sorts of sinew, attitude and body ink. It hews much closer to the zeitgeist than the beach cuties can ever hope to, no matter how much body paint you throw on them, or how floss-like the attire. The ESPN crowd is all raw flesh and power, shot with an edge. Looking at that issue, you’d never know ESPN was owned by Disney.
But in ’96, in anticipation of the Atlanta games, when I went to Dan Okrent, my managing editor, and told him I wanted to shoot these folks nude, I did so with a nervous gulp. Luckily, Okrent was smart, knew the value of a picture, and was a pretty ballsy ME, which was not the case with lots of Time Inc. editors. He looked at me and asked, “You can get these people to take their clothes off?” I said yes. “And you can shoot it in a way I can run it?” Again, yes. “Okay,” he said. And I had one of the biggest assignments of my life. It was an act of faith and daring on his part to be sure. Time Inc. is a pretty conservative, publicly held company, and of course, LIFE was freakin’ Disney in print. We were going to get complaints. We were going to lose subscribers. He still said, “Do it.”
So I went in search of the best of the best. Below is famed long sprinter Michael Johnson, still the only male to win both the 200 and 400 meter races in one Olympiad.
Of course, I complicated matters even further by initially insisting I shoot the thing in 8×10 B&W. Blessedly, my first subject was an amazing athlete who since has become a good friend, a three time Olympic fencer, Sharon Monplaisir. She was so wonderful, and beautiful, she made my job easy, as I struggled on the first outing to find the style of the job, and wrestled with a behemoth camera. She was truly a magnificent subject, and thankfully I’ve worked with her a couple times since that first encounter.
A few years later, I shot her in the studio, and again, she was an amazing physical presence. She joked with me. “Joe, are you ever going to shoot me with clothes on?” We’ve always had a laugh when we have worked, and she remains one of my favorite people. When trying to launch a project like this, your first encounter is critical to the mood and feel of the whole deal, and as I said, she made things easy. Working this job convinced me very quickly that in many instances, I would have to work faster than the 8×10 would allow me, so the rest of the assignment was mostly done with medium format.
They weren’t all easy, to be sure. Jackie Joyner Kersee, a truly historic American athlete, was very dubious. But I had worked with her before, and I simply tried to maintain a calm on the set. I wanted to shoot her from the back, and she eventually agreed. Given her significance, the picture below is now in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
When Linda Somers crossed the finish line first during the Olympic time trials for the women’s marathon, I whisked her away to an impromptu photo studio I had created in the parking lot, asked her to take her shoes and socks off, and quickly shot a picture of the bottoms of her feet just after running 26.2 miles, all the while chattering away in reassuring fashion about how I wasn’t just some guy from New York with a foot fetish.
This was where I was going with this job. I wanted to see the Olympic body, unadorned with clothing to be sure, but mostly to show how the physique responds to the stresses of achieving athletic excellence, to see what price going farther, faster and higher than anyone extracts from the human body. So, while the above picture is “naked,” it’s certainly not racy, and it is informative. Your feet are in tough shape after running all that way. It takes dedication, and a pretty high threshold of pain.
Below, I shot American fencer Cliff Bayer again in 8×10. (What was I thinking?) Take a look at his right, or fencing arm, and see how much bigger it is than his left.
But then, there are athletes you just want to see, because they are truly, the epitome of human form and excellence. Carl Lewis, seen below, could easily have laid claim to being America’s best athlete, ever.
He showed up at the shoot with his mom, and all of his gold medals, save the one he buried with his father. Carl is an Olympian who became a bit of a lightning rod for some controversy, and took a lot of hits in the press, but I worked with him numerous times and always found him to be a gentleman.
Gail Devers, at that time the world’s fastest woman, had a big personality. Sprinters can be much like their explosive sport. They come at you, hard and fast. Gail was very generous in giving me this picture. She just flexed, and I framed. Shot in ten minutes, available light with a fill board. First place in portraits at the World Press Awards that year. Weird. It was an honor to photograph Gail, by the way. She bounced back from Graves disease, and the possibility that her feet might even have to be amputated, to become the fastest female in the world. Her long nails were her signature.
I shot the arm of Jeff Rouse, Olympic gold medalist in the backstroke, because I was fascinated by the powerful sweep of his arm as it pulled him faster than anyone else in the pool.
And Gwen Torrance, a lovely and amazing sprinter, was so dedicated to her workout routine that she refuse to leave the Emory track stadium at midday. I had to construct an impromptu set of walls with black material so she would have a bit of privacy amidst the lunch crowd at the stadium as she posed for what became one of the covers.
And then of course there was the water polo team. Athletic power to be sure, but also a bit of humor.
I shot super heavyweight lifter Mark Henry, all 435 pounds of him, by putting my strobes behind him and letting a bunch of reflected light wash around his massive frame. Then, I came in close to see a hand that could help lift hundreds of pounds into the air.
And diver Mary Ellen Clark, clenched into a tuck, was trying to make the team as she was struggling to overcome an onslaught of vertigo. She went onto win the bronze medal in 10 meter platform diving.
Amazing bodies, to be sure. But so amazing in other ways as well. The drive to be excellent. The mental toughness. The refusal to quit. That, I think, is why we celebrate these folks every four years. Hats off to all the Olympians as the Games close.
And then of course, there’s the body issue. More tk….