I believe that sometimes creativity can come from distraction not concentration. While busy in the fall with assignments, Sarah Ervin, a model told me she coming into town for a couple days and would like to work together. As a photographer it’s important to pursue personal work. It’s the work that reminds me of being seduced by the darkroom at fifteen. I was in a dark place at the time and my immediate thought was to let that energy drive me. I was taken by the notion of shooting still and motion creating beauty story in low-key lighting. I can light high key beauty with my eyes closed but it’s a challenge to light beauty darkly. Now I had two days to produce this, which meant putting together a good team, clothing, accessories, and hair & make up stylists. Having spent most of my early career working in fashion, I knew what I wanted for changes and can be a bit forceful yet persuasive in getting what I’m pre visualizing. The location I wanted was a dilapidated barn, so I scouted several during a storm and was chased off of one property. You have to plan the work and work the plan. Being resourceful, I called a homeowner that lived on acreage with an eclectic taste in art and architecture. I had my location on hold. The plan started to come together and I booked the team, which makes it a commitment. I prepped gear for shooting still and motion with one assistant who could pivot well. Being a tech weenie at heart, I prefer building my camera rigs and handling lighting. My skill set and the team gave me the insulation to focus on directing Sarah into her into this dark character, an apparition haunting my set. At the end of the day the team was stoked to be part of it and I was stoked to be a pat of them. I was very grateful for still being in love with what I do and that’s what made this project a success for me. I was honored that the editors at Illusion Magazine accepted the motion spot on their Webby Award winning site. The project picked up traction- K5600 Jokerbug Lighting contacted me to use in PDN.
Sissy walked into to my studio with a swagger and disregard for the establishment. She’s tough in the ring and knows exactly what she wants with an undeniable confidence. I was asked to shoot her for a National Rodeo Association. My job was to capture an image for a PR release. Typically, my objective is to capture an apparent appearance but with this subject, something struck me different. Most people have a preconceived notion of how a rodeo queen should appear. I found a different way. Her clothing options she brought, quickly spoke to me and gave me inspiration to see her through different set eyes. I quickly put aside choices, making an edit of her wardrobe and accessories on the clothing rack, which would play well to her beauty while not taking away from her “Thick Skin”. There were textures, attention to details, and style reminiscent of couture fashion. After talking to her she became more comfortable and opened up which inspired me to change my approach in lighting her. She needed to be outside in daylight under a large overhead diffusion with negative fill underneath her to cut extraneous light. The background was artificially lit “Hot White”, then I pulled back camera back a bit to reveal set to invoke a sense of a fashion shoot. This image was successful because of he collaboration of a team and ultimately having Sissy leaving wanting more and expressing that she really had fun.
Every day I strive to accomplish capturing those uncanny intimate moments of someone’s life. Sometimes you simply don’t. Ultimately the folks who see the work either respond or don’t. I did two treatments with subtle yet complex color and black and white treatment, having pre-visualized the two upon initial consideration of the assignment. It’s my job to capture an uncanny intimate moment with a subject, a fleeting moment, if you will. I was honored to have been asked by Ree and Jun Kaneko to shoot their portraits in my studio. Jun enjoyed reading my books on Avedon and Ritts and we talked about Francis Bacon’s paintings and how his work reflected his tumultuous life – what was in front of him. Jun has been instrumental in The Contemporary Ceramics Movement in America. Over the course of his career he has partnered with industrial facilities to realize large-scale, hand-built sculptures. He taught at some of the nation’s leading art schools, including Scripps College, Rhode Island School of Design and Cranbrook Academy of Art. Jun Kaneko has worked at several experimental studios including European Ceramic Work Center in The Netherlands, Otsuka Omi Ceramic Company in Japan, Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia PA, Bullseye Glass in Portland OR, Acadia Summer Arts Program in Bar Harbor ME, and Aguacate in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. He’s been based in Omaha since 1986. I spoke to a prominent collector of Jun’s work and asked him if the work found him or if he had found Jun’s work. He replied, “I found Jun’s ceramic sculptures and they complement the architectural design of my home in Borrego Springs, Ca. Having a Dango in your home is like having a friend in the room. His red hue is unparalleled in its depth and execution.” During the shoot, McMillian Magnet Photography students came for a studio visit, which I always love. Ree and June were patient while I spoke to the kids about the fundamentals of photography and how it has changed. I told the students to take risks, challenge themselves and embrace new technologies. “Life is game that moves as you play.” One morning after the shoot Ree poured me an excellent cup of coffee as I asked Jun what is inspiring him today. He told me he is going full circle back to Raku firing his enormous pieces in a well-suited kiln South of Mexico that he found through a recent connection. The pieces are smoky with a metallic finish. When you see Jun’s work you immediately identify with his perspective. This is indicative of any artist establishing a point of view. I felt in him a pursuit to constantly refine his technique while feeling like a master of nothing. He never ceases to stop learning in an honestly humbling way.
Nebraska known as an arborist state is credited with establishing the national holiday of Arbor Day. The State is also known for agriculture and boasts some of the most fertile soil in the United States due to the Ogallala Aquifer. Antelope County, NE has the second densest population of trees planted during the New Deal’s Prairie States Forestry Project, nicknamed The Great Shelterbelt (1935-1942). The 1930s farming crisis (Dust Bowl), affecting more than 75% of America across twenty-seven states, the farming crisis resulted in inspired New Deal programs to regulate farming practices, diversify crops, and manage yield. In 1935 Franklin Delano Roosevelt further addressed soil and moisture loss with a massive shelterbelt proposing utilizing over 200 million trees to establish a 100-mile-wide, 1,200-mile-long windbreak from Alberta, Canada to the Texas panhandle. Sarah and David Karle, Professors in the College of Architecture an the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, approached me in September of 2014 to discuss capturing the current state of the tree belts in Nebraska. At the time they had been awarded various grants to publish a book on the subject. At first blush, I suggested traditional aerial photography in a high fixed wing Cessna to efficiently cover a county 24 by 36 miles in size. In January of 2015 we visited again in Lincoln to discuss strategy and schedule shoot days with respect to early spring weather. I brought up the potential challenge in producing the project during the fast and furious planting season. While they researched plot books documented current shelterbelt locations, I created an equipment list and located an experienced pilot in the area with the right plane. I explained I would need to shoot from 200 feet – 3000 feet of elevation in a high fixed wing Cessna, preferably a 172 model. In May 2015, we drove to Albion, NE and shot for two days, flying four three-hour intervals around dawn and dusk over two days. I always say “plan the work and work the plan” and sometimes find you have to embrace the chaos. Pre-production is key in delivering on an assignment. David and I came up with a plan to cover Antelope County in segments, flying East to West from North to South. We decided to coordinate the capture time with metadata of my camera and the cell phone app, Spyglass. It worked out very well. Our amazing pilot, Ken Schmitz, explained that wind direction and weather could effect our flight plans. We took his experienced advise into consideration and “worked the plan”. Naturally the morning of the first shoot day the weather did not cooperate. Through constant communications with Ken and monitoring the weather closely we flew up that evening and eventually completed the remaining fights without any problems. What I took from this assignment was the symbiotic relationship between agriculture and conservancy. Specifically how important it is for growers to remain good stewards of the land and continue to be mindful of the balance of the Prairie States Forestry Project’s shelterbelt planted to help agricultural practices. Historic images are courtesy of the USDA Agroforestry Center in Lincoln, NE.
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Canon 200mm f/2 L IS
- Hoodman CF & SD cards
- Zeiss Planar T* 50mm F/1.4 Duclos Cine Mod
- Zeiss Planar T* 85mm F/1.4 Duclos Cine Mod
- Schneider 28mm F/2.8 PC
- Kenyon KS-4X4 Gyro
- Cessna 175 Skylark
Black glass is the most challenging subject to photograph. It was actually the name of an intimating class while I was a student at Brooks. It has to do with making the incident angles of reflection your friend and not your enemy. On a cold winter day I got a call from an art director to shoot a custom classic “Muscle” car. He explained the scope, which included a wide shot, front, back, and some details of the exterior and interior. He wanted to see some options of cars and ended up choosing the only black one presented, a Mustang. Lighting and still life are two of my specialties so shooting a large black mirror was thrilling. Custom car owners don’t talk about how much they’re worth but rather how many hours they have into refurbishing them. Many of them weren’t that enthused about taking their “baby” out of winter storage despite a fee. I increased the fee, insured covered transportation, and offered prints to persuade them to let us use their car. Originally the AD told me we had roughly three weeks to produce the project. The next day he explained it needed to be done in three to five days during a forecasted Polar Vortex… At that moment you have to embrace the chaos and handle the situation. As he described the shot list I immediately began breaking down logistics in my head. I was going to need a studio or stage with at least 50- foot 2 sided cyc walls and a ceiling grid with trusses and plenty of breakouts for power. My source would be a 10’X30’ bank with twelve strobe heads and six power packs, all of which would have to be neatly dressed inside and above the light. When shooting cars, they are rarely actually started as it’s best to use vehicle wheel dollies and jacks to position the car in relationship to the source, once it’s rigged and taken out or up above. The studio I chose had what I needed; it was normally used for film production with massive black duvetyn stage curtains to cut all extraneous light and reflections. Cyc walls and floor were green for chroma keying and needed to be white along with red rosin paper to protect the floor. I had to build time in pre production to accommodate this along with rigging the light bank and pre-lighting. Time is a commodity that is non-negotiable and always a variable to deal with on any photo assignment. Well, it got the best of my very capable crew and me during the pre-light day as a wintery mix and rigging became significant issues. I had originally allowed for five hours that quickly turned into ten. More time costs more money and if you’re going into overtime cost was time and a half for crew and electric fees; I realized that I would be lucky to break even. As a professional, I draw from experience to maintain tenacity no matter the time or cost. Early on the morning of the shoot day I got a call from the driver transporting the car telling me his semi was not starting due to the sub zero temperature. I had two other options on stand by, but fortunately the car finally arrived. I had hired a vehicle specialist to detail and move the custom black mirror into position and we began the shoot. I crushed the clock and pushed the boards which provided more coverage which was a small win. At the end of the day despite a late arrival and many obstacles leading up to shooting, creative and client had fun and were pleased with the results. The key was listening to the AD and tactfully auditioning my own ideas during pre production. I tend to be hard on myself, always wishing I had approached it differently and usually end up being fine with the work then look forward to the next project.