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Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Things to be Thankful For….

Nov 30

In Thoughts at 11:50pm

Anybody who knows me a little bit knows this is my favorite picture. Its my oldest daughter Caitlin, about six months old, trying to walk. She couldn’t quite get the hang of it right then, but trust me, she already knew walking was where it was at. She saw that people who could walk could get places faster, and she was definitely interested in that, even as a tyke. Heck with this crawlin’ shit! I’m gonna walk!

Wasn’t too long after this she indeed was walking, and very soon thereafter, running. She has pretty much lived her life (she’s 23 now) with the pedal to the metal.

Much to her old man’s consternation. She has had, well, a tumultuous early life, let’s put it that way. She pushed the envelope, her’s and mine, and we have had some tough, angry times. But its not all on her. (Never is, right?) I’ve been a here and there dad, being a roving photog. We used to use the term “magic daddy” sometimes when she was small. She would go to bed and I’d be there, and wake up, and I’d be gone. Or vice versa. Sometimes when I would be home, I really wasn’t. Tired or distracted, we’d snuggle for a bedtime story, and once, I just said, “You know, sweetie, dad’s so tired tonight I don’t think I can get through even one story.”

She reached over a tiny hand (she was about two) and patted me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry daddy, just do the best you can.”

I put alot on her, of course. Between being gone, and also kind of making her my daughter and my son. Got her scuba certified when she was 12. Took her on her first night dive three dives after her cert. Trust me, when the ocean gets inky black, it can freak even some experienced divers. She was unfazed, and fascinated.

She rode a horse like a bat outta hell. Coming back from camp, she allowed that she had won the competition where you stand on the horse’s back, barefoot, holding the reins. I didn’t really want to know. She once broke her arm snowboarding, and sawed off the cast after about a week cause it was “bothering her.”

She kind of just knows. She can sit at the tiller of a boat and know how to drive it. I let her drive my pickup on the NY State Thruway and points everywhere when she was 15. (Yes, its true. I’ll never be the cover subject of Parenting magazine.) I put both her and her sister Claire on a dog sled years ago for a joyride and Claire got seriously cold. Caity opened her jacket, untucked her shirt, took Claire’s boots off and stuck her sister’s feet next to her skin, and then just folded herself on top of Claire. She just knows.

She’s a pretty good grip. She can handle a c-stand and ratio a pack. She’s been to the Eddie Adams Workshop at least seven times. But she has no interest in photography. She kind of grew up in a photo hothouse. Her mom is the DOP of the New York Times. Her dad is, well, her dad. She has chosen a different path. Can’t say as I blame her.

But she’s a tough kid. Cool under pressure. She’d be good to have in the foxhole with you when the chips are down.

Two days before Turkey Day, she was leaving her boyfriend Ryan’s house early in the morning, and she hit black ice. Her car slid right off the roadside where there should be a guardrail and plunged down a 40′ ravine, rolling over twice. It came to rest upside down. Caity was left hanging in her seatbelt, also upside down, and covered in blood. She was lucky to still be conscious. There is no sight line from the road to the ravine, and no one saw her go over. She could have easily bled to death at the bottom.

She unbuckled her belt. And was collected enough to grab the oh shit handle above the passenger door and with both feet, bust out the passenger window. She clambered back up to road, still spilling blood everywhere. She doesn’t remember walking back to Ryan’s house.

At the hospital, she got 3 stitches in her hand. All her cranial wounds were left to close on their own. Cat scans were negative. She was stiff and sore, but told me she was thinking of going to work that day. Wiser heads prevailed.

As I told her tonight, maybe the best genetic gift I gave her was a hard head. I’m very thankful for that.

More tk….

The Javits Center

Nov 2

In Seminars & Workshops, Thoughts at 6:56am

Photo East was great. It always is cause I see lots of friends and colleagues I never get to see, and I had some good classes, but man, was it busy. There were folks sloshing around everywhere in the Crystal Palace of the Javits Center on the far west side of Manhattan. It really sits there like a space ship in the middle of kind of the only stretch of streets in NY, NY where there just ain’t much of anything else. That’s why I guess they can get, you know, like $5.75 for a bran muffin. Hey, some fiber in your diet’s worth it.

Whilst wandering through the swirl of ones and zeroes mixing it up in the Javits ozone, I wondered how many PPE folks might recall the guy the place is named for,  Jacob Javits of NY. A tailor’s son who became a Senator, he was by all accounts a devoted public servant, a champion of civil rights and a remarkably decent man. He helped shaped NY and its future with intelligent stewardship, moderation and common sense advocacy, traits tough to find in the political hubbub of today. I don’t claim to have known him, but I did photograph him, in his waning days, those days when a case of ALS was inexorably gaining the upper hand. He fought the disease with grace and dignity, two traits that marked his political life.

Shot it in 1984, when I was really still a pup shooter. I can remember the light at camera left, a Norman 200B with a Chimera 3×4 softbox, Nikon F3 camera. I remember him being affable, though he really only communicated with his eyes. He was nattily dressed for the photo, though I suspect he always was, photo session or no. His silk neck scarf partially hid the respirator tube he depended on at that point. He attempted a smile here and there. I worked alone, and quickly.

The photos I shot that day won’t stand the test of time. In fact, they already haven’t. Average snaps of an above average man, encased in plastic slide pages for over almost 25 years. But I remember the day, and the man, and that human intersection that occurs on a photo assignment. I remember my battered 200B, very dependable, and the equally dependable F3, with its distinctive shutter noise. I remember, too, back then and now, the sense of boundless possibilities that start dancing in my head, most destined to go unfulfilled, whenever I pull a camera out of a bag. The adventure begins! Sometimes it ends gloriously, sometimes rudely, sometimes not at all, and sometimes with me just about begging for it to be over. This one ended simply, quickly, quietly. A job, nothing more.

But it reverberates, every once in a while, in my head and surely no place else, when I wander the Javits, past the memorial sculpture of him and his office chair, and then into the aisles, where in the midst of jonesing after the latest in high speed circuitry and supergig flux capacitors, I think of a small slice of a day in a life long since gone. For me, this has always been about stories, and memory.

My personal hero and mentor, Carl Mydans, former staffer at LIFE, impressed this on me. During a lecture, he put up a picture he made during the Cuba missile crisis of a U.S. destroyer forcing a Russian cargo ship bearing missiles to turn around on the high seas. The picture, by all measure, was average. A record frame from the air of two boats in the water. Then Carl, in his stentorian, made for radio voice, read from his caption book. He described the weather, the time of day, the hum and crackle of the radio transmissions, the stern voices heard on the ship radios, indicating there were to be no compromises, turn around or be sunk, the faces of the young servicemen with him watching tense history unfold a few hundred feet below them. Carl, whose book, Photojournalist, is a must read, described the completeness of the moment, down to the wind in his face, his exposures and lens choice, and this simple photo of a crucial pivot point of our time, all in his Bostonian accent, clear and authoritative.

(Carl grew deaf in his later years, so that amazing voice grew correspondingly louder. The day I was fired at LIFE, I bumped into him right at the juncture in the hallway where the business side and the edit side of LIFE joined. It was of course, a business side decision to ax a great deal of the edit staff. Carl grabbed both my arms in his hands and told me in no uncertain terms how despicable he thought all this was, how unnecessary, how short sighted, how etc. etc. My smile grew wider and wider as he grew more descriptive about the greedy bastards, because I knew those words and that voice were echoing all the way down the hall and into the oblivious sanctums of those who only see numbers.)

In the fog and burble of the Javits Center, I can still hear his voice.


Notes, Thanks and…. In the Beginning, There Was Greg….

Oct 22

In Friends, News, Thoughts, Upcoming Events at 8:41am

Lessee….bunch of stuff….this just in, from David Hobby….many thanks to him from one half of JoeBob….me and Bob Krist did have a punch up on the new 900 video, and we’re thinking of doing a tag team guest appearance now on WWE;-) I loved Joe Bob’s reviews. Just loved ‘em. My kind of movies always scored well, in other words, those kind of movies where stuff blows up, the women are as fast and sleek as the cars, and there is a subtle exploration of the nuances, depths and shadings of the human condition…you know the kind of movie I’m talking about….sort of a “Harold and Maude Meet the Killer Bugs from Ice Planet X” type of thing.

David’s onto something with that chainsaw. I think I’ll put it in my cargo bags, and it’ll be the first thing I bring out on location when I get to someone’s house. Kind of an ice breaker, ya know? More on that tk…

Many thanks to Scott Kelby for the mention of the Geographic cover story this month. I’ve shot for the yellow magazine for over 20 years now, which is wild to think about. For me, it’s just humbling to share ink with folks who have gone before, like Jim Stanfield, Bill Allard, Sam Abell, Jim Richardson….list goes on. More on adventures with Wilma, our striking cover subject, in blogs tk.

Ahh, location work. Shooting the spread above, we slid into a Spanish national park at sunrise, because it offered the only glimpse of the type of rocky terrain Wilma and her cohorts most likely experienced in their day. The cave where they found the new Neanderthal DNA, about 30 klicks away, is now surrounded by deciduous forest. I was a tad nervous, as we unloaded things, cause we did not have a permit to shoot in the park.

I’ve snuck into more places and shot pictures from more spots that I ain’ supposed to be than I can remember. Nothing unusual about that. Most photogs wouldn’t have a portfolio to show if they actually listened to the word “no.” And there are lots of folks out there with the word “no” already teed up on the tips of their tongues. I call ‘em the walkie talkie assholes. Give somebody a 3 week course, a flashlight and a walkie talkie, and they can ruin your day. But I digress.

I was more worried about the light. Sunrise was not looking good. Pulled out an Elinchrom Ranger pack, which is my field light of choice. Gelled it warm and slapped a tight grid spot on it. Made some decent pix, but there was no rationale for this warm golden light hitting Wilma’s face, while the rest of the world was obviously gray.

But I should remember this morning the next time the light don’t work out, but, being a photog, I probably won’t. A slice of sunrise came through a break in the Eastern clouds, and hit the rock face behind Wilma. It was all I needed. I got about 10 frames and we were done.

Then we decided to move Wilma and give it another go, as it were. She is, well, not a delicate flower. She is 200 pounds of silicone wrapped around a steel frame. The best way to lift her is to circle round back, crouch a little bit, throw your arms around her ample pelvis, and basically give her a good, hard shag. Up she goes off her pedestal, and then you can trundle her, rather ingloriously, wherever you want.

We were in the process of doing this when around the corner came a patrol car with two Spanish National Park rangers in it. “Hola!” “Yes, she is naked!. But she’s not real!  No, its not what you think. See? She’s not inflatable!” The whole thing had to have looked hinky and kinky at the same time.

Luckily, one of our party spoke fluent and evidently persuasive Spanish, and engaged the officers while I told Brad to take the shot cards and put ‘em someplace the sun don’t shine. We were allowed to leave, along with Wilma. I miss her, actually. When she was wrapped back up in bubbles for her drive back to the Netherlands, it was quite emotional. I told her it would be alright. Even if we never see each other again, we’ll always have Spain.

Photo East is coming up, and the toy warehouse will be spilling all over the Javits Center in NY, with widgets, gadgets, biddybops, thingamawhooziewhatzis, fast glass, smart cameras, whopper hard drives, and a lot of yakkin ’bout pictures. I’ll be doing some of it myself, teaching small flash on Thursday morning, doing a couple stints in the Nikon Booth, and signing some posters for Epson.

A word about Epson and Dano Steinhardt. I ain’t exactly Moose Peterson, JP Caponigro, Jay Maisel or any of these kind of master printer/shooter guys, but Dano continues to be an enormous source of faith and support for my studio, year after year. He is one of those guys who stays in the background, facilitating photographers, showing them the latest and greatest Epson stuff that in turn makes their stuff look great, and all the while, one of the best kept secrets in the industry is that Dano is one helluva shooter. He makes incredibly beautiful imagery out of things most of us walk right by. I think the key here is seeing photographs. He sees. And then he distills all the jumble and cacophony that attends just about any walkabout of modern life into clean lines and stunning symmetry that makes sense, not to mention beautiful pictures.

Same thing can be said about Kriss Brungrabber and Mark Astman of the Bogen Corporation. Their commitment is unflagging in support of photogs, and photographic education. If we decide to do something together, we do it on handshake, and its a done deal. Good people, and Mark in particular, who has been out on a bunch of my workshops, is a striking presence as a photo subject. Sort of a William Holden who knows everything about Elinchrom flashes:-) I’ll be hanging in the Bogen booth a bunch, with my buds Bill Frakes, Drew Gardner, and of course, Moose.

Strikes me a whole bunch of the yakkin’ about to occur on the West Side of NY is gonna be about light, and lighting, which means flash. Hmmmm…..interesting thing, this flash stuff. Lots of folks playing with it, yanking it around, trying different stuff, myself included. It’s all good, some of it is even really good. But it gets me to thinkin’, always a dangerous thing.

I really feel alot of the conversations about flash and light we’re having nowadays wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for Greg. When I say “Greg” I mean Heisler. To me, he’s always been one of the one name photogs, up there with Annie and Avedon.

Greg changed the way we all see. He burst onto the magazine photo scene in NY, oh, about 1980 or so, trotting out Norman 200B’s, gels, camera work and color that popped our eyes, stopped our hearts, and made for legions of imitators, myself included. He started working for Geo, LIFE and doing annuals for outfits like RCA (Remember that name? Remember the dog and the victrola?) and doing special projects like Day in the Life Australia.

His take outta the land of Oz just flat out flattened folks. He brought to the pages of that book color and drama that had legions of experienced shooters looking around and going “Wassup???” And of course the next question was, “How do I do dat?”

In the years since, Greg has shot about a bazillion TIME covers, and done it all, from the movie lots to the halls of state. No one has done it better, or with more panache and versatility. He single-handedly changed magazine photography by introducing a “look” (I might call it style) that all of sudden re-directed the missions of magazines and editors everywhere.

Olympic athletes have been one of his fortes. I’ve been involved with Olympians to a degree as well. You know, every four years, you get a call and start working with these amazing athletes. Its been fun to do.  And every four years, like clockwork, I have had my ass kicked. I would shoot somebody, think it worked real well, and then Greg bombs into town for a day, no less, and leaves with this ass kicking TIME cover. Frustrating. Maddening. Inspiring. Head shaking. In a word….Greg. A look see at his website is a must.

As Good As It Gets

Sep 23

In Thoughts, Travels at 12:03am

I joshed a bit the other day about our precarious place in the tachycardiac economic universe, prompted by yet another edition of the ongoing black humor fest Bill D. and I have been engaged in now for, oh, about 20 years. Things are admittedly a bit terrifying of late, which in its own way is reassuring.

Hear me out. Engaging in anything creative pushes the meter anywhere from uncomfortable to risky to flat out screaming bejeesus anxiety attack status. Just does. Couple that with the uncertain (now there’s one way to put it) nature of being a shooter and trying to make a living at this, especially now, and you can see your way to terrifying real easy. But, when has this not been terrifying? So there you go. At least that hasn’t changed a whit, and immediately we’re back to reassuring. Stable, even.

Whew! Nothing like a big, fat juicy rationalization or 30 or 40 to get you through the day!

As the bhagwan says, the only constant is change, and that dude is definitely onto something.

I grew up shooting for mom and dad’s magazines. You know, National Geographic, LIFE, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek. Change has hit those books hard and they have come in for some rough sledding. LIFE of course, after giving Lazarus a run for his money, finally gave it up for good. When I was a staffer there, I would always note that it was appropriately titled, seeing as it would reincarnate endlessly. And, of course, “Death” didn’t test well.

Nat Geo is still kicking, and bless ‘em, they’ve kept me a bit busy this year. I tell ya, though, I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve been in the field and somebody said, “Oh yeah, my mom and dad used to get that. The attic was full of old issues.” That usually produces from me a strained smile that is more akin to a grimace than an expression of shared joy and reminiscence. Much more likely now, though, you get, “National Geographic, dude, cool! When’s this gonna be on?”

No, no, young person. This is for the printed page. It has no buttons or blinking lights. You don’t turn it on. I hear that from a teenager and my D3 feels like some parchment and a quill pen.

All this uncertainty is okay, though. I’ve been fired from almost every job I’ve ever had, so by now, I guess I’m comfortable with not knowing where the next assignment or check might be coming from. I was fired from my very first job in journalism in NY, at the NY Daily News. It was fun while it lasted. I’m still friends with some of the gang there, though the real classic old characters have long since shot their last holder.

My bud Johnny Roca, a terrific street smart shooter and all around NY original is still there, 35 years in. Quintessential ladies’ man who had a phone booth of an apartment in Tudor City with nothing in it but a circular bed and an entertainment system. The whole staff would live vicariously through John and his tales of leggy women in the windswept dunes of the Hamptons, where he would regularly seclude himself for much of the summer.

One year he had copped himself a good chunk of freelance work  and bought a convertible Mercedes. He called me up. “Joe, Joe, you can’t believe it. I got women diving in the car with me, they’re diving in the car. It puts out a male scent, I swear to God.” He would tell tales of his exploits and a bunch of the photo guys’ eyes would glaze over in rapture. Of course it wasn’t that tough a crowd to impress, as many had, you know, a house in Massapequa, a battle axe for a wife and their groins had stopped working sometime during the Truman administration. Their idea of really cutting loose on a weekend was to pop open a brewski and fire up the weed wacker.

I don’t have 35 years in anywhere, having been fired from the News during the Pleistocene Era, and, from that point taken, well, a different road. Not so much a road, really, more of a cow path. But back then, I was bent on being a newspaper guy. Johnny and I would ban together as apprentices in the studio, waiting for a spot on the street to break open. We would pass the time by complaining to Al Pucci, the lab manager, about our schedule. Al was a lovely, decent man with one helluva stutter. (Think K-k-k-Ken in A Fish Called Wanda. “Otto tried to k-k-k-k-kiss me….”) It was one of those painfully wonderful moments in life that would occur when Bill Umstead, managing editor, crashing the night owl at 5:30 would scream over the newsroom intercom about where the hell was his page one, and poor Al, also on the blower, under pressure, on deadline, would attempt an answer.

The silver lining in this of course was that, if page one was not ready at that moment, Al’s crafting of a response would give the printers a bit of extra time to slosh the print through the fixer and slap it on the drum dryer.

The printers were a cool bunch. Union to the core, and utterly unflappable, seeing as one of the chemicals in regular employ back there in the dark, right next to the dektol and the hypo, was Johnny Walker Black. (Does wonders for a flat neg.) They had unique skills. Soon after the night owl went to bed, the presses would start to roll, and literally, the entire building would start shaking. At that point, getting a sharp print meant that the enlarger had to be oscillating at the same frequency as the print easel, and boy these guys had that down pat.

They spoke their mind, too. Bobby Hayes, master printer and ex-jar head, was hammered a great deal of the time, and come one newsroom Christmas party time, had a brisk exchange with Mike O’Neill, the exec editor. The News would give out Christmas bonuses every year, based on length of service, but it was ridiculous. Guys with 30 years in would get, like, 300 bucks. O’Neill, a glad hander who spoke like his mouth was full of marbles, was working the crowd, and had the occasion to wish Bobby Christmas tidings. Bobby was appreciative. He thanked Mike for his bonus, but added something along the lines of, “Usually, when I get fucked, I like to be lying down in a dark room.” O’Neill mumbled something like, “Sorry to hear you feel that way, Bobby,” and meandered off in search of some egg nog.

Anyway, back in the lab, Johnny and I would appeal to Al’s better instincts to make our skeds more regular and desirable and Al would simply say, “Y-y-y-y-you boys want a regular schedule? Get a job in a b-b-b-b-b-bank.”

Never did that, either, cause I suck at math. It was the freelance photo life for me. Until I got a staffer job at LIFE, of course. I got fired from that one, too. In the waning days, they brought in some dipstick of an efficiency expert to go around and see if corners could be cut. He came into my office and I fruitlessly tried to explain that photography couldn’t be metered on an efficiency scale, couldn’t be plotted or graphed and wages and hours and time spent didn’t necessarily add up to usable “product,” to borrow his term.

None of it washed, or even dented his numerically driven psyche. He tried to prove his point by singling out one of my pictures, and telling me, while jabbing his finger at it, that he just didn’t understand that photo.
I told him that was vastly reassuring. I was fired soon thereafter. Actually not. In Time Warner parlance, I was “riffed.” (Reduction in force.)

SI is still going strong, though not according to upper management who would have you believe that their poor magazine is the equivalent of the guy on the street with a tin cup and an eye patch. (They would try to convince you of this from their regular table at Elaine’s.) Steve Fine and Jimmy Colton, the bosses in photo, routinely do more and more with less and less, witness SI’s stellar photography outta Beijing.

Colton and I go way back. As kids together we were over in Poland for the first papal trip JP2 made to his homeland. Talk about doing more with less. Newsweek was always a distant second to Time in money and resources. As Jimmy used to say, “Time is a hospital and Newsweek’s a mash unit.”

I was designated as the courier to get  Newsweek’s last batch of deadline Ektachrome back to NY. Sheesh, was I nervous, sitting in the bare bones waiting room of the then Communist Warsaw airport, clutching a bag of about 200 rolls representing the efforts of some 7 or 8 fellow photogs. I was routed outta Poland to Zurich, where I picked up Swiss Air, first class. The home office knew the trip had been hell, and sprang for a seat up front.

Hot damn! First class on Swiss Air! The flight attendants were super nice, constantly filling my plate with fancy foods, even though I’m sure they were mildly bemused by having someone whose face more likely belonged on the side of a milk carton than in one of their first class recliners. That stuff, by the way, doesn’t happen anymore. Tough enough to get a day rate, much less a first class ticket.

Called Jimmy at the beginning of the Beijing Olympics, and told him my ruse worked. He was like, “What?” I told him I had circulated a rumor on the internet of a major sporting event happening in China, and SI took it, hook, line and sinker and sent their entire staff out of the country, creating a wonderful window for us lonely freelancers. We had a good laugh, but I didn’t get a job out of it. Last day I worked for them was last November, when I put Shawn Johnson on a balance beam in an Iowa cornfield. One day job, which produced the lead double truck for their Year In Pix female athlete portfolio last December.

Didn’t like what ran.

Would have preferred this.

What I really would have preferred is for the clouds to hold off for a bit longer, but no. Slogging a 300 or so pound balance beam outta the Iowa mud was one of the aspects of photography I don’t believe they dwell on at say, Brooks or RIT.

It ain’t the way it used to be, but what is? There’s never been any guarantees, or forgiveness, or for the last 10 or more years, fairness, in this industry. But here’s the thing.

We are out there, in the air, in the world. We don’t go to a cubicle farm everyday and stair at dismaying numbers on a screen. We make pictures. At the end of the day, we create something potentially significant that did not exist at the beginning of the day. We go forward, despite the uncertainty. Because this is an act of love and passion, which defies reason and prudence.

And we make that occasional good frame, the one that sings, the one that lifts our hearts and the hearts of everyone who sees it. That well and truly is as good as it gets. More tk.

Blogging, From Both Sides, Part One

Aug 4

In Friends, Lighting, Thoughts at 6:55am

Tom. July 11th, in his backyard in New Jersey. Father, fighter, lover of photography.

In his words:

In March of 2005, after a long battle with nine herniations in my spine, surgery to remove two of them had to be done. The surgery was a complete success and as soon as I awoke from the 10 hour operation, I began to look forward to my life with my son, Jared. Finally, I would not be stuck to a bed, couch or wheelchair. E ven when I could not walk or play with my son or make him breakfast, I never let a negative thought in my mind. I had nothing but a positive attitude and knew what I was up against. Thankfully, the odds seemed pretty darn good in my favor.

It was perhaps just two weeks later, after the intense yet very successful surgery, that some very strange things started to happen. Severe cramps, shocks throughout my body, stuttering and, well, a buffet of conditions that are simply too long to write about. We were concerned not only with blood clots forming, but it seemed that something had gone wrong during the surgery. These conditions went one for months. I endured dozens of painful tests and numerous cocktails of different medications to see what would curtail these symptoms, all to no avail. Finally an MRI of both brain and spinal cord revealed to all of us that the trauma of the surgery had awoken a dormant condition in my body that carried the label “MS”.

Now, after three years of being a warrior fighting MS, I was losing. This was impossible for me to accept, as I have a 12 year old son to raise and teach all the things that he needs to know about being a good man. I want to show him how to treat people fairly , how to have passion for what he chooses (no matter what it is) and most of all, how to have kindness in his heart. But the MS was getting the better of me and I was giving up hope. Quite frankly, I was becoming tired of fighting it. It was both embarrassing and painful to have to tell my son ” no” all the time. I began to think of ways to fight harder and could not come up with anything. Being somewhat of a serious hobby photographer, I tried to turn my vision of fighting into a picture and failed continually. My pictures kept reminding me that I had MS, not that I was fighting for a cause to be able to raise Jared. Then I had a thought of making a picture, my son and I in the foreground with all my dozens of MRI’s behind us . To me, somehow this would say “no matter what, I will win and raise this boy”. The problem was, I had no idea how to take this picture.

Every morning I would wake up with this photo in my mind. I never felt more strongly about anything that would help me continue to fight and give me renewed strength and cause to go on.

Like so many photographers, I had recently purchased Joe McNally’s book, “The Moment It Clicks”. The idea came to mind to just write to him, share my vision and see if he could guide me into making this picture. I explained all of this in an email to Joe. At that point, I figured I had nothing to lose by asking. Several days later, I received an email back from Joe that very simply stated , “let’s do this”. One week later, Joe and his first assistant, Brad Moore , arrived at my humble town-home and began to set up an actual studio in my backyard. I couldn’t stay outside in the heat too much to watch. However, when I walked out of my home, it was as if I walked into an indoor professional studio that was part of the house. It seemed that, after some discussion with Joe and his studio manager, Lynn, he realized my vision exactly and they worked together to come up with ideas to make this picture. In order to execute this picture, Joe and his entire staff asked me the right questions and listened to my thoughts . They helped me turn my vision into a picture.

What Joe and his staff did not know is, that while I have the willingness to fight, I was losing hope. Living in pain every moment takes it’s toll. I was beginning to live in a very dark place.

I knew that this picture might give me a chance to turn my hope around.  It’s already begun.

I’m still pretty new to blogging, and truth be told, I enjoy it. I went to school thinking I’d be a sports writer, covering some basketball beat for a metro daily, trying to infuse the big biz of modern sports with a bit of old timey Frazier-to-DeBusschere-to-Bradley-to-Reed-SLAMDUNK-YES! feeling. You know, that kind of high school, chest thumping love of team that had your ear glued to a AM/FM transistor radio at night instead of your eyes glued to your physics workbook. (Thank goodness Clyde didn’t go away altogether. He’s in the broadcast booth, still boundin’ and astoundin’….)

I switched it up in school and ended up a photog. (Mom was not pleased.) I’ve had my eye in a lens quite happily for, oh, 25 plus years now. But life is funny. I wrote a book, and now I’ve got a blog. And I find myself writing about what I shoot, as well as tossing in a few sidebar rants and raves.

I met Tom because of this blog. When he floated the notion of doing the picture, I said yes, for lots of reasons. It might be a photo that would do somebody some good, for one. Of course, another is, plain and simple, I like time behind the camera. I love shooting pictures. Even in the middle of a hot one in Jersey in July.

The other deal always in the back of my head is the challenge of it. Could we build this thing at high noon, shoot CLS with small strobes ( a mix of SB800 and 900), make it work, make the lights trigger and get it done in a way that might come close to Tom’s imagination? I thought we had a chance.

I took it in steps:

Fix the sun so Tom could stand in shade, and my lights would have a prayer. Tabletop a 12×12 solid on 4 stands. SOP. Check.

Backlight the MRIs. Best way to backlight stuff like this is to first wash your background lights off a reflective surface (white no-seam is good). Use a cross light technique. Right side lights aim to the left side of the drop, and left side lights aim for the right. They cross over the middle that way, and hopefully produce a surface that is even within a third of a stop. (If you pump the background lights into their respective near sides, the sides get heated up and the center goes dead. Not good.) Likewise it is tough to just aim your lights at the plexi without first bouncing it off something big and flat. If you use 4 lights, you’ll most likely get 4 hot spots. It’ll drive you nuts. Re-direction is key here. Bounce ‘em and you’ll save money on all that Advil for location driven headaches.

Okay, seamless is up, and lit. Just like in the doc’s office, MRIs read best off of white plexi. Lynn hunted for a 6′ square, but tough to get and pricey, so we made do with two odd sized pieces butted together horizontally and seamed with clear packing tape. Bogen super clamps did the rest of the job, along with A clamps. Those two pieces stand behind the subject, about 2′ in front of the (hopefully) glowing seamless paper drop.

Arranged the MRIs, lit them with 4 bounced SB800 units, went to the camera, made an exposure, and hoped for the best. We got backlight. And, in intense sun, from about 30 feet, we got sensor pickup. Okay, hurdle cleared.

Next deal, light Tom. Boomed a reflected umbrella, with the skin still on it to control spill. Okay light, but got a splashy high light on the reflective MRIs.

Moved in a Lastolite panel, up high and between the umbrella and the plexi, and draped it in black material. That cut out a lot of light flying towards the background.

Now Tom. Quality of light works, but just works. Gotta snap him with a bit more edge. I’m constrained cause the whole bloody back of the picture is reflective. Okay, small source. Do this a lot actually. Snoot an SB unit (used to use blackwrap, now I use Honl snoots). Move it into the subject’s face as close as the frame will allow. Power way down to just a flick of light. (There’s a setting called “flick” isn’t there?) Little pop of light, and your subject’s face snaps to. You can just about see this unit, an SB900 zoomed out to 200mm, on the right side of my frame, just below the umbrella.

That technique is killer, by the way. You don’t really alter the quality of overall light in your subject’s face, but you do ramp up the contrast, and sharpen the edge where highlight rotates into shadow. Think of it as moving the contrast slider in Photoshop, only much more fun!

Closing with this one. Suburban scene. Tom, Jared, a wagon, a gate, grass, bushes, trees, and then, jarringly, the MRIs. Medical dispatches from the interior, telling Tom things he never wanted to hear. They stand there, silent, yet at the same time screaming like a siren in the midst of the backyard bird chatter. Through sheer effort of will and a determination to see Jared through to stuff like his first car, his first college class, his first good job, and maybe, a couple of grandkids, Tom’s gonna fight this thing. Hopefully, we made a picture that day that will hang on his wall and remind him that he’s still in the game.