Monday, June 30, 2008

Carlinville, Illinois

Rob Haggert posted the other day about toy cameras and the Holga--my absolute favorite toy camera of choice. See the post.

As for me, I am currently in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois visiting my mom, who recently moved here. The commissioned shoot for my friend, that brought me out this way in the first place, went well really well. We took the redeye to from LAX to O'Hare on Friday night. Got in just before 6am and drove the 4+ hours to Carlinville, Illinois---population 5700 according to the sign. Carlinville is truly small town America-- and if you take exception to the flora, I think I could have been in just about any small town east of Colorado.

Nick, Rob (his brother and a close friend of mine), their mom, Janet, and I arrived at the house around 11:00 am where their younger sister Katie, and dad, Phil were already there. Nick and I did a walk through of the house and it was immediately apparent that there was plenty of to shoot and any associated stress of wondering just what the heck I was going to shoot immediately disappeared. The house is over 130 years old, sits 2 stories high with 10 foot ceilings---it had plenty of character. Beers were cracked and mimosas poured sometime before noon---and I thought, okay, so this is how it's going to be.

I started my first shot sometime around noon---using my Holga, lomo, RZ, and an old 35mm Mamiya Sekor (the one with the uncoated lenses). Nick is a big fan of my Holga images and asked me to bring that sort of nostalgic feel to these images. He stayed with me throughout the day, breaking away periodically to sit and hang with the family. We continued shooting exteriors as well as a portrait of the family too until about 7 that evening.

Sunday, I got up just past 6 am to check the light on the front of the house. The front of the house faces East, and when we arrived the sun was fairly high overhead. I shot it the first day, but I wanted to try and get a more front lit shot of the house as well. Unfortunately, the morning was socked in with clouds, so instead, I lit for another family portrait on the screened in porch. By 9 am we had finished that shot and Nick and I moved on to set up for an interior portrait of his mom and then a separate one of his dad. The sun busted through the clouds sometime while setting up and we got the front of the house hero shot (with the morning light this time) and also finished both portraits as well.

All in all, I was in Carlinville for about 28 hours, but somehow it felt much longer (in a good way)--and complete. I never felt rushed and we were able to cover more shots than either of us had initially imagined. Most everything I shot was on film, with the exception of the individual portraits of his parents.

Here's a rough jpeg [quickly processed using my laptop -- no real monitor for color/density corrections] from the images of his father---Phil, that I wanted to share...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Checking in...

Things have been pretty busy recently, which is great. I know when my office is messy, clean laundry sits on my bed for days on end, and I'm generally out of the many different staples in my pantry that life is probably on a bit of an upswing. I had 2 shoots last week that took up a lot of my time. And I've been trying to knock out a new portfolio to bring with me when I head out of town for about 2 weeks -- leaving on the redeye tomorrow night. In fact, if Samy's were open right now, I'd probably be absorbed in printing and cutting down new images for my book, but I've got another 45 minutes or so to go.

On Wednesday I shot an up-and-coming pop/club/dance/ singer on Interscope records -- Lady Gaga. It was for a small, no budget magazine, but I own the rights to the images, so I figured it was worth the gamble for syndication purposes. I had a great team of hair, makeup, and a great assistant and we powered through four setups in about 90 mins including some makeup and wardrobe changes. I'm pretty stoked on the images and will probably use a couple in my portfolio once they are touched up and printed. Saturday was a shoot for a small catalog that I've been shooting for just under a year and this seemed to be our best shoot yet, so that was nice too.

As for my upcoming trip, I'm pretty stoked on it. A friend of mine has commissioned me to go to his lifelong childhood home and photograph the house before it is sold. He's a painter and a bit of a sentimentalist and he asked me to shoot it for him and his family. It's a great chance to get out of LA for a bit to do some shooting and to have it paid for, which is even better. So, we leave tomorrow and head to Carlinville, Illinois for a couple days. Serendipitously, my mom just moved to another part of Illinois about five months ago, so I'll spend a week with her, and then head to Chicago for the 4th to see friends and hopefully put together some meetings with ad agencies in Chi-town before I come back to LA.

Before I get out of here to go pick up more ink and paper and immerse myself in photoshop for the rest of the day I wanted to address something mentioned on Shawn Records Blog a little bit ago. In this post he says

"• band photography: is there a way to photograph a group of painfully self-aware 20 somethings in their hipster finest and not have it reek? Please, let's talk about band photography- show/share. My favorite band photo of all time is the inside jungle hippie photo from an old Three Dog Night album, but I can't find it online. I just remember it had a pregnant woman and a watermelon in it and, in a sense, is somewhat reminiscent of Justine Kurland's contemporary work."

I commented on his blog and figured I'd address it on my own. I've spent a good amount of time working with one particular band here in Los Angeles including going out on a couple tours with them for weeks on end. I think in the reportage sense of photography there's a lot of great work out there. Look at Jim Marshall for a real historical viewpoint. And, more recently, Christopher Wray-McCann has also created some great images. I'll even post a few of my own shots from being on the road with some "painfully self-aware 20 somethings in their hipster finest," and contend that it doesn't reek. Yes, I know, I'm putting my own work out there and saying it doesn't suck, but hey, if I thought it sucked, I wouldn't show it off anyways...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Interview with Heidi Volpe

Several weeks ago I asked Heidi Volpe, Art Director of the Los Angeles Times Magazine, if I could interview her for this blog. I sent her the questions and she went over them and then we made plans to get together in person. Last Thursday we got together (yes, Rob Haggart beat me to it) and went over the interview and I also got a chance to share new work with her. That Thursday things were pretty uncertain as to the future of the magazine, but we really didn't know exactly what was coming. On Tuesday of this week it was made public in the New York Times:
"The Los Angeles Times has made plans to transfer control of its monthly magazine from its newsroom to its business operations and to replace the magazine’s entire editorial staff, according to two executives at the newspaper."
Most of the interview took place before I knew about any of this, but Heidi took the time to go back over and elaborate on some of the questions after everything came to light.

Thanks Heidi.

(At the bottom of the interview are tears of jobs that Heidi and I have done together.)

Here it is...

Heidi Volpe is the Art Director at the Los Angeles Times Magazine and was the former Traveler Art Director at Outside Magazine. She has managed to turn the Los Angeles Times Magazine into a beautiful photo driven publication and was the first person in Los Angeles to hire me with some sort of frequency. She's also a kick ass mountain biker and a way cool woman to boot...

When we first met it was actually on the set of another photographer, great guy that he is, who had called me down to the studio to meet you. He told me not to even bring my portfolio, but instead to bring a personal project I'd been working on called Honk and also to bring some promos to leave with you. I think you and I spoke for about 5 minutes, as you were in the middle of shooting a cover. A week or two later I got a call from your office to shoot a story and I was pretty shocked considering you hadn't actually seen my book. Do you find that personal work or a personal project may indicate something about a photographer that you might not have otherwise seen?

Oh yes, we were on set with Art Streiber shooting our power issue, that was an intense day with no extra time. You see, I totally trust Art’s judgment. He has great respect for his crew he surrounds himself with quality people. I would do anything Art asked, if he asked me to jump off a bridge I’d at least consider it. Yes I think personal projects indicate somethings indeed. It shows initiative, drive. You are essentially showing me your craft your voice and how you visually story tell, not what someone asked you to do. It’s a good window into your eye. PLUS A big part of personal projects is having the ability to make something happen. Ideas are easy, making it happen is a whole new skill set, that and the follow through are huge indicators to me that someone has a vision and is commited.

How do you like to find new photographers? (promos? e-promos? recommendations by colleagues? contests? websites?)
All of the above are great resources. My favorite is when a photographer or a fellow art director or photo editor recommends an assistant as an emerging image maker...........

Any preferences or pet peeves when it comes to websites?

I hate fishing around how to navigate the site. Make it easy and clear. Sometimes I think sites can be over designed, take to long to load. There is nothing worse than the dead space between the site loading and your editor standing there after you had to this great build up and sales pitch to why this photographer is perfect for the job. I never try to talk after the close so that dead space seems endless.

With the emerging photographers group, do you prefer to meet with them before you would give them an assignment, or is that not really necessary?

Meeting them is good. Esp if it’s a portrait I like to see their social skills.

One of the things that is exciting for us here in Los Angeles is that, for the most part, you have drawn on a talent pool of LA / Socal based shooters. Is this done with deliberation or is it also based on budget constraints?

Deliberation. I want to support the community out here and debunk the gripe about all the good photographers being in NYC.

Speaking of budgets, originally the magazine was a weekly and then it switched to a monthly. Has that affected the choices you make when hiring photographers?

Yes, I have a little more time to think through assignments. Weeklies are high speed, always on to the next one. It was a love hate, b/c you had to be decisive, monthlies you can second guess yourself for while which can be slightly maddening as well.

Are you less likely to take a chance on a newer shooter simply because there are 1/4 of the amount opportunities that there were when you originally came to magazine?

Shooter. I hate that word, it’s sounds like you are gamesmen. You should say photographer. I still would take chances maybe not on bigger projects thou. I would start off with FOB then move them to features.

Are there major differences with what photographers can do in the post production arena when they are working for The Los Angeles Times Magazine (part of the Los Angeles Times Newspaper) as opposed to a magazine like Outside? Have you had any issues (problems) with photographers who might want to push those boundaries?

Yes. The line is very bright here. NO POST PRODUCTION. Period. End of story but since it’s the end of the magazine, and it’s going to the business side, I would think they would allow it because we don’t share the same ethics or integrity.

Your former colleague at Outside, Rob Haggart (, writes a lot on his blog about where he thinks the magazine and photo industry might be heading. Any thoughts on the future of the biz?

Do you have all afternoon? That’s a huge question to answer... Well I think what has happened here at the Times is a sign of the future. Profit is paramount and journalistic integrity is being shoved aside. Another surprise has been fuel costs. They are driving paper costs through the roof. It’s not only the distribution, it’s the fuel costs to run the manufacturing equipment. That cost is not being passed along to consumer, it’s absorbed by the company. Cuts ensue, unrealistic demands are made, it’s a vicious cycle.

Any books, movies, music, blogs, websites, environmental suggestions, or anything else you want to recommend to the readers?

When you are on a shoot, mark your water bottle, we are choking on plastic bottles. Use ftps, Usendit instead of messengers + fed ex if you can. Ride your bike more, drive less.



My incredibly talented riding partner

Scott Tedro the force behind Team Sho-Air



Ride safely!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Updates and what's up with the Los Angeles Times Magazine?

It's been pretty busy lately. I spent all of last week and some of the week before preparing images for re-working my portfolios for a couple of meetings I had. One of the things I do is to print everything 4x6 or 3x4 to scale (correct crop and all) and then I put those images on magnets and use magnet boards to work on layout. This might sound like a lot of work, and some of you might ask, why not do it on a computer screen, but since the images in a book are tangible prints, I find the most accurate way to see how the book is going to feel is to make smaller prints. I pick them up, move them around, and it feels very natural. Trying to get a feel for a 50 page portfolio on a computer screen doesn't really simulate the book feel, in my opinion. I finished preparing almost everything and actually swapped out about 15 prints in my portfolio in time for my Thursday meeting. Also had a shoot scheduled for Monday, cancelled, rescheduled Tuesday, cancelled, and now rescheduled again---so we'll see about that one.

In other news it looks like the Los Angeles Times Magazine (one of my most consistent clients) has been completely overhauled.
See stories here and here.

Two images I found while going through the archives in search of anything that might be usable.