“Ultimately photography is about who you are. It’s the truth in relation to yourself. And seeking truth becomes a habit.” – Leonard Freed
Several months ago I came across a name on the internet, as one is apt to do. On Facebook or Twitter or one of the photo blogs that I check in with from time to time I found Vivian Maier. Which is to say a lot given that Vivian died in 2009 and lived a life of obscurity as a nanny to Chicago area families for nearly 40 years. She was not well known to the families she cared for and she remained unknown as a photographer till a couple years after her death. What is remarkable, and the reason why she has exploded in the world of photography, is in her lifetime she shot more than 100,000 frames of film at the time of her death her negatives filled box after box with boxes still of 700 rolls of undeveloped film.
A few days ago I had the chance to see the documentary Finding Vivian Maier in a small, sold out, theatre in Vancouver. It is a story of her life, as well as it is known, and it is the story of her discovery as a photographer. An author, John Maloof, in seeking old photographs for a book project, purchased a box of her negatives at auction in 2007. It took a few days to really get into the work, but once he did, he was able to recognize he had found something remarkable and started sharing his find with the world. In 2009 he launched a blog, Vivian Maier – Her Discovered Work and the world started to take notice, and Vivian took hold of Maloof’s professional life.
Maloof’s film presents Vivian as he discovered her through the people who remember her, the children she cared for, the families she worked for and what developed was a slightly disturbing portrait of a women driven by her obsessions whose behavior became increasingly erratic as she aged. Vivian was intensely private, and though she often photographed the children in her care it is uncertain whether these photos were ever shared. She walked a lot, and photographed what she saw with an alarming clarity; the best of her work perhaps comparable to the street photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson and akin, more locally, to the photography of Fred Herzog.
I’m not writing to summarize this film, rather as an invitation to seek it out. Vivian’s photography is revelatory and although she spent so much of her life creating portraits of others, her own was often incomplete even to those who knew her best. We traverse life meeting those with shared interests and colleagues with similar ambitions but I wonder how complete these pictures are. In an era where the capture of an image comes with increasing ease it is too simple to reduce photography to the press of a button or the activation of an app. There is certainly more to a photograph than what it portrays and there should be no doubt that there is more to a photographer than the act of making a photo. In the end there maybe as many stories going on behind the lens as there are unfolding before it.
Photography Can Change the World
Two days ago, National Geographic launched a new page dedicated to the photography and photographers who’ve shaped the magazine. In one of the first posts, this video, The Photographers on Photography, some of the best recognized names in photojournalism, and perhaps least recognized faces, speak to the power, capacity and responsibility of photography. If you’ve ever wondered why or how a photographer can put themselves in harm’s way, or continue to shoot when a scene turns to something less savory; this short video addresses many of those questions.
The Editors at Proof describe Proof as National Geographic’s new online photography experience. Launched to engage ongoing conversations about photography, art, and journalism. In addition to featuring selections from the magazine and other publications, books, and galleries, this site will offer new avenues for our audience to get a behind-the-scenes look at the National Geographic storytelling process.
The Video: The Photographers on Photography
The Web Site: National Geographic Proof
Thursday Night at the Pump Track
Yesterday was a tough day. As I shot, I saw little in the camera that excited me, rather, a lot that filled me with anxiety and doubt. Early on I had a mentor who said “I’d rather be lucky than good.” I never understood that. I always thought that if you were good enough you’d never need luck. I never wanted to rely on luck, to leave certain things to chance; when I got it right, I wanted to get it right not because I was lucky, but because I am good.
When I wrapped last night at the Rockshox Pump Track in Whistler’s Olympic Plaza I was feeling neither good nor lucky. I wasn’t looking forward to the arduous task of choosing my least bad images to share with the Crankworx photo team. It turns out being lucky isn’t so bad. I came away with a few images from last night that I am happy with. Not to say there aren’t a lot of images bound for the bin, because there are, but rather, I am grateful for having something to show that I am reasonably happy with.
But maybe luck is a outcome of experience, maybe it’s true that the harder one works, the luckier one gets.
I saw the trailer for Chasing Ice more than a year ago. I was immediately drawn in by how visually striking the imagery was and the innovative way in which cameras were tasked to document the remote places featured in this film. Chasing Ice documents photographer James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey project which, with great objectivity, turns the lens on glacial recession across the far north.
This is a documentary that demonstrates my first covenant of photography; you have to be passionate not only for the medium of photography but also what you turn your lens to. James Balog describes photographing ice as an experience close to that of a portraitist like Irving Pen or Richard Avedon finding infinite differences in familiar subjects. Clearly Balog maintains a fierce passion for what he does and for what this project represents. After a career spent documenting the natural world, Balog sought out a way to document environmental change that had few visual references beyond the nightly news video loop of drought, fire and the growing phenomena of extreme weather. The Extreme Ice Survey Project created a visual metric for climate change that is indisputable.
Chasing Ice is really two stories, that of Balog and his team and that of the profound rate at which these glaciers are changing. My blog is about photography, and I try to keep it at that, but whatever your position on global warming, it is impossible to deny that change on a global scale is happening. Whether or not you believe that the endeavors of human kind are at fault for this change are immaterial to the fact that glaciers are receding at an unprecedented rate and all that water has to go somewhere.
I believe that documentaries are portraits, they are revealing, suggestive and sometimes inspiring. Chasing Ice is no less a portrait of Balog than it is a position on climate change. We are invited into Balog’s home, family and hospital room where he is prepped for one of a series of knee surgeries that the photographer hopes will see him through his project. For those of us with 9-5 jobs, it might be difficult to understand this kind of drive or resolve; it can appear selfish, obsessive, even insane to those of us who maintain very narrow zones of comfort. This is the nature of photography at it’s best, it takes us places that we might otherwise fear to go and it takes people like Balog and his team to take us there. Photographers take risks so that others don’t have to so we can all better understand the world we live in.
Chasing Ice is available on NetFlix and on iTunes, but if it comes to a theatre near you check it out on the big screen, it’s worth it.
Check out the trailer here:
James Balog’s Ted Talk presentation:
I’d like to think that I am at the mid point between two event weekends, but I’m not. My head is spinning because it’s already Thursday and last weekend feels like it was a month ago, which is about how old my last post is. In my defense, May and June have been busy months and though I have had to withdraw myself from some events I was keen to participate in due to injury we now we are into the dark heart of summer event season. It’s on.
I’ve taken on a greater role with 5 Peaks Trail Series and I am super excited to see where it takes me and while I continue to shoot the 5 Peaks BC events I now get to help guide the look and feel of the photography from our other events across Canada. This really kicked off last weekend and while I was shooting the 5 Peaks BC event at Alice Lake Provincial Park in Squamish, BC other photographers were shooting in Alberta and Ontario.
It’s also been a busy period in the Photography community. Recently The Chicago Tribune let go of it’s whole photo staff electing to outfit reporters with iPhones and employing freelancers as necessary. I want to address this issue, but I am still processing what this means, and how I feel about it. This is an issue for another post, or a year’s worth of posts, but for now, I have to let it go. After ‘retiring’ myself from photography late in 2008, I have obviously come back to it but I have come back to an industry deep in transition and very much reflective of Chris Anderson’s Long Tail model. Social media has created a voracious market place for content and the event community is being forced to reevaluate how to use photography and how to pay for it. Photography is no longer a value add, it can no longer be simply a revenue stream, it has to be more. Event photography has to interesting, creative and engaging because, in the era of Social Media, every photo has become a tool of outreach and branding. At it’s best photography should be sharing an experience that others want want in on.
Saturday in Squamish was a little wetter and a little colder than I had anticipated or prepared for. I definitely failed my Boy Scout training as I left the house in Vancouver unprepared for the conditions in Squamish but somehow I managed through. I even left my shoes on the roof of the car, finding them still there at a stop en route. Squamish is an ideal venue for trail running and Squamish trails are heavily used but also built and maintained by their users. In humping my gear down part of the course known as Credit Line, I came across a trail builder working on a couple of ladders to clean up a section of climbing. I was just as surprised to find out he had no idea that there was an event that morning as he was to look up and see almost 400 runners descend on him and his section of trail repair. Squamish offers an awesome variety of technical trails for runners and mountain bikers, lots of ups and downs under 300 foot trees, this is West Coast trail running at it’s finest, all that’s missing is a salmon bbq and a keg of west coast pale ale!
It’s been a heavy news week. So much happening in the world and with this week’s news in North America focused on Boston I was happy to come across this piece via Rob Haggart. While I seek to be topical, the macabre doesn’t always need the contribution of my two cents. There has been an amazing volume of photography out of Boston in the past week, and if you are keen to get a sense of what it might feel like to be the most wanted man in America, check out Alan Taylor’s In Focus Gallery at the Atlantic. Like many of my friends and colleagues I have been glued to the news out of Boston because so much of my life is spent in and around running events. In fact, one of my colleagues and his wife, were at the finish line in Boston about an hour before the event and for what felt like hours I was among many waiting for a text message or status update to let us know they were OK.
Today I hope you’ll make time to have a look at something a little lighter. When I try to remember the first photography that captivated my interest I think back to a number of icons of the medium. I was drawn to the drama and adventure of conflict photography, the outstanding work produced by the staff and contributing photographers of Powder Magazine who took crazy risks sharing the world of big mountain skiing, and the body of work shot by Annie Leibovitz from her time at Rolling Stone. I used to keep and hoard magazines for the content, retrospectives, anniversary issues and photo issues in piles on any flat surface in my room. Leibovitz wasn’t the only photographer shooting Rock and Roll, there were dozens, maybe hundreds, even thousands of photographers who have made iconic contributions to this archive of popular culture. Who Shot Rock And Roll is an exhibit featuring work from this medium. Produced by guest Curator Gail Buckland for the the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2009, the exhibit has made a four year tour around the United States and a stop at the Auckland Art Gallery in New Zealand.
Who Shot Rock And Roll started off as a book project for Buckland and later spawned the Exhibit featuring nearly 200 works by 100 different photographers from 1955 onward and has since been made into a short documentary film produced by the Anneberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles released in 2012. Above is the trailer for the film and what was my initial point of interest. This is really an examination of how photography contributed to the our understanding of Rock and Roll. In it there is a wiff of suggestion that these photographers, much less well known than their subjects, were legend makers. Listen for Henry Rollins as he suggests that “The right photograph can say so much, as much as maybe as the band’s best record.”
I’ve always wanted to go on tour with a band, at least for a few weeks, to document that experience. With time my collection of magazines have become a library of books, and until I get the chance to go on tour, I will have to content myself in these pages.
Anneberg Space For Photography
Who Shot Rock and Roll on Facebook
I sometimes get nostalgic for places that I’ve traveled to or worked in, even places that I didn’t particularly like or connect with. I find myself nostalgic for work that I used to do because time and memory have conspired to help me forget the challenges, the disappointments, the mental, emotional or physical costs of doing the work I once did. At some point time has kind and I have been able to let go of less favourable memories and experiences instead remembering the explorations or the absurdity of certain experiences. Even though there is a body of work behind me that I can’t imagine I would ever go back to, I sometimes catch my self wondering how I could have done things better, or differently, or thinking about that time I found the coolest coffee house Las Vegas, New Mexico.
I had the chance to hear Ian Ruhter speak at two events in Vancouver last week, even getting the opportunity to shoot a few frames of him myself and it was with this in mind that I asked Ian if he ever missed shooting Snowboarding. Ian was quick to answer and it without hesitation, he said no. There was no contemplation and he went on to explain how heavily invested he is in what he is doing now. I connected with the first video he and his team produced a year ago, but their new video, When Dreams Collide, feels so much more.
When Dreams Collide is a very personal document and very revealing of it’s subjects, not only Ian, but of Photographer Chase Jarvis, Snowboarder Peter Line and Hip Hop artist Ishmael Butler. One thing I found so compelling was the sharing of such intimate details of each of their struggles to pursue their individual passions. Somehow in describing how he had to rely on his wife’s tip money to process film humanized Jarvis in a way that was truly refreshing. Struggle is humanizing, it’s humbling and I believe that it makes us stronger. Ian was asked a question at one of the discussions last week by a young photographer, just out of school, about how to make it work when you feel like you can’t afford to move forward. He was very pragmatic in his response and while others on the panel reached for pretentious answers, he talked about shooting by moon light when he first started in photography, because that’s what was available to him. Be creative, his message read to the audience, persevere, work with what you have and have access to.
The above is an image from Ian’s presentation at CreativeMornings/Vancouver.
When Dream Collide
Watch When Dreams Collide:
A few weeks ago I posted a link and a video about famed photojournalist Steve McCurry and how he chose to shoot the last roll of Kodachrome to come out of Kodak. Today I want to share the gallery. For a lot of photographers, the content captured on this roll might represent months, years or even decades of work, but for McCurry, among the most experienced, seasoned and professionally accomplished in the industry he managed to to capture this collection on one roll. It is impressive regardless of how many test shots he made with his DSLR.
I would like to say that this is the standard for photojournalism, even creative content at large, but unfortunately I don’t believe it is anymore. While I believe that photography, enabled by an infinite number of new tools, has the capacity to be more creative than ever before, there is a lot of work seeing the light of day that leaves me wanting for something more, something better. Content has to be compelling on it’s own. Creative content is everywhere we look, but good content, great content is more rarefied, it is the product of skill and, in many cases, hard won experience. The standard for content should be set at this level, however unattainable, not by what is affordable, what is easy or what is accessible. McCurry’s work is the work of a professional, of a creative able to make a living and succeed because others recognized value in his content.
Please have a look at the complete gallery:
Steve McCurry: The Last Roll of Kodachrome
This comes straight from the ‘How It Was Used’ file. 2012 presented a number of new opportunities and experiences for me as a photographer, while none were a total departure from work I had done in the past, the clients were most certainly different including The Faculty of Medicine and the Department of Midwifery at the University of British Columbia. I was asked to produce some images, both for file, and for the above article that appeared in the Faculty’s publication this past December.
There is something voyeuristic about photography, we observe and in some cases do our best to avoid influencing what we are observing. It was fascinating to watch these women, students instructors and mothers-to-be, interact with each other, it was a window into a world that I would not otherwise get to see while doing my best to remain unseen. I was on site for about 90 minutes with an hour to move between the rooms in use for this class and it was an hour spent with an inside view at the practice of Midwifery. We shot in small rooms making the best use of the available window light and in the end it I was pretty happy with the outcome and the experience.
Above is the image as it appeared in the magazine and below is the larger view.
Winter is all around us in Vancouver these days. The past week has been foggy and cold and I am growing increasingly jealous of friends spending time in Hawaii, California, Key West and other places where you’re more likely to see an umbrella drink than an umbrella. Despite the weather I’ve started training for a busy summer of bike riding. and though I am still recovering from a car accident last fall, back and neck issues, I got out on the bike twice this past week and starting logging base mileage in preparation for feeling healthier and stronger in the weeks and months ahead.
January has been quiet and I’ve been spending a lot of time combing my Lightroom archive for forgotten gems, and images from travels long ago. Without having to reach too far back I’ve pulled this from last summer, from my week working with BC Bike Race, with whom I’ve enjoyed an event week operations role the past two years, and look forward to returning this July. BC Bike Race is a traveling circus of a bike event, with stage races in seven different BC communities over seven consecutive days involving nearly 700 people including riders, crew, volunteers and rider support. Base Camp is rarely quiet, even after dark with mechanics working around the clock prepping and repairing damaged bikes for the next day’s stage. It takes a pretty tight knit and committed group to make this happen from the management on down. This week has been a difficult one for the BC Bike Race family, we lost one of our medics this week when he was struck by a dump truck while in a crosswalk. Though I didn’t know Rollie all that well, he was a colleague and an integral part of the BC Bike Race Medical Team.
Riding between patches of fog and sunlight, yesterday, we enjoyed a social ride talking about last summer and the summer ahead. Back at the parking lot we shared a few thoughts about our colleague with the prevailing notion that we should never waste an opportunity to get to know someone. Rollie was a name, a face, a colleague to us, and so much more to the people who knew him best. I am sorry that I didn’t get to know you better.
The above is a image from a sunnier day last July at the start line of the Powell River stage of the 2012 BC Bike Race.
I’ve been looking for pictures of Rollie in my BCBR archives and was able to find only this, from Easter weekend in 2011, on the ferry home from a weekend retreat in Cumberland on Vancouver Island sharing a funny story with a couple BCBR friends. Rollie is on the right rocking the toque and sunglasses.