“There is no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love; there’s only scarcity of resolve to make it happen.” -Wynn Dyer
What does it mean to make something? I’ve been struggling with this most of my professional life and this can be confusing considering all the things we “make”. From Love to A Living and many in between, these are things made and depending on where you are in life, can take on disproportionate significance. On Friday morning my friend, and artist, Rachael Ashe tried to make sense of Make at CreativeMornings/Vancouver.
Years ago a mentor explained to me why he described what he does as making a photo, rather than taking a picture. It was a thought provoking conversation and one which has never left me. It also changed my self perception and how I view the work that I do. It was revelatory; the idea that a photographer makes a photo rather than takes it and with this revelation I became a maker of things, rather than a taker.
Artist Rachael Ashe is a maker. Working largely with paper she creates paperscapes of positive and negative space by carving away what has become superfluous from her canvas. More recently Rachael has produced a number of laser cuts of some of her work and if I won Lotto Max, I would have a house filled with these pieces.
More about Rachael and her work here:
More about CreativeMornings here:
Lots going on over the last month; but work is like dinner, it’s better to be looking at it than for it. It has been an interesting several weeks of photography including a snowshoe race, shooting trail running, road running and some personal work, a Ms Teen pageant and on going work on a cookbook project for a local restaurant client. I’ve also had the chance to hear and hang out with Photographer Ian Ruhter who has been in Vancouver for a number of local speaking engagements and wet plate demos, if you aren’t familiar with Ian’s work, have a look at the first video he and his crew produced about a year ago: Silver & Light.
Two weeks ago I ventured into the trails above North Vancouver with Ultra Trail Runner Gary Robbins to work on some profile pictures which would serve double purpose for both my personal portrait work and Gary’s need for some new Profile content. Gary took us to a great little trail hub that provided an opportunity for a variety of looks and we finished with a couple of head shot style portraits fitting for a trail runner and event manager. In looking back at this work and the photos that will follow of both Gary and Elaine, I see characters in their environments. These are studies of people in the places they are most comfortable.
By now the room that surrounds Elaine at her Piano will be very different. I haven’t seen it yet, but I understand that the shelves are nearly clear of books, packed and bound for new shelves in a new space in a new home. With lees than a month on the clock before Elaine and her husband Ken move into their new home I felt it was important to make a photo of Elaine at her piano in the house she has lived in for close to 30 years. I believe the spaces we inhabit, whether we choose them or they are chosen for us, become a part of who we are. I can’t wait to see Elaine’s new space, but I am glad we were able to get one last look at the old one.
One more look:
My space is subject to a perpetual cycle of cluttering and uncluttering. It is never static and often feels like a bit of a disaster. My workspace is often surrounded by piles of paper, folders, files and business cards and equipment transiting from one bag to another between shoots and assignments. One day I will make a self portrait of this chaos when I am brave enough to share, honestly, the state of my desk.
Movember has become a cultural phenomena in Vancouver with men indulging in a month long mustache fest and women indulging in Magnum PI fantasies to get them through. In fact mustaches raise money, lots of money, destined for men’s health issues and in November it becomes hard to turn around without seeing a friend with a lip warmer. Last year Movember Mustaches raised more than $125 million world wide for men’s heath initiatives with a special focus on men’s cancers. It’s still too early to tell what the 2012 numbers look like, but these men, and the people who have supported them through the month deserve great credit.
I dropped in on some friends at the end of the month to shoot a few Mo’rtraits in part to show my support beyond any donations and as an opportunity to add to my portrait project from which I have posted several studies since last spring. There is a different set of challenges when photographing people you know well or reasonably well. Knowing someone is to have a set of expectations of the outcome. Is the person in the photo the person that I know? I photographed Stephan and his business partners last Friday morning in a very quick shoot of less than a dozen frames of each of them. In fairness, Steph and his partners are also friends, family and clients of mine and I have photographed all of them before in a variety of social and professional contexts. When I look at this photo I see beyond the nights out, the weekend bbqs and the work we’ve done together; I see something contemplative, thoughtful, quiet and something suggesting relaxed.
The idea to shoot a collection of Mo’ Bros came to me late in the month and I hope in 2013 I will be better organized and get a few more people on board for a Mo’rtrait. If you’re thinking next year is your year to grow a push broom, Ned Flanders, Tom Selleck or Errol Flynn, let me know, I want to make your portrait.
More about Movember here:
Movember & Sons
So very cool to come across this video today about celebrated photojournalist Steve McCurry shooting the 2013 Pirelli Calendar in Rio at Nikon Rumors. The Pirelli calendar is pure school boy fantasy and is about as far from the work McCurry is known for as imaginable and yet it seems long overdue. McCurry is a master portraitist and looks to be taking the famously risque calendar in a decidedly new direction while celebrating the women he’s photographing. I will let McCurry explain in the video.
Never commercially available, The Pirelli calendar may be the most coveted “girly” calendar in the world, distributed only to Pirelli clients and dealers with few, if any, made publicly available. Over the years, however, there have been several books and more than a few magazine articles fueling the notoriety. What sets this Pirelli model apart from drug store bikini calendars is high production values featuring iconic locations, creative art direction, and truly great photography. Some of the better known photographers who’ve shot the calendar over the years include Annie Liebovitz, Herb Ritts, Mario Testino, Bruce Webber, Terry Richardson and, most recently, Steve McCurry.
I could go on and on; just watch the video (It’s safe for work!) When you are done with the first video, have a look at the promo piece.
There is nothing inherently remarkable about this image other than what it means to me. It was shot neither on assignment nor in a conflict zone nor is it a product of adventure travel. I was in Dubai about six years ago and was invited on a day trip into a nature preserve outside the city with a client liaison. It was typical in every way from the large American SUVs we traveled in to the Bangladeshi driver and the “Bedouin Fest” and Hooka pipes that closed the night. We rode camels and bashed about the sand dunes. I can’t even tell you a whole lot of about the reserve. It was one of those rare time when I gave in to enjoying a very typical tourist excursion leaving the planning and execution to someone else.
I was given to understand this Bedouin fellow worked on a type of farm, home to camels, oryx, goats and the like which was a stop on our tour into the reserve. While others were drawn to the animals, I was drawn to this man and indicated that I wanted to make a photo, he smiled and I snapped off a couple of frames. If I didn’t know the conditions with which this photo was made it would feel to me that it could have been made any time in the last 40, 50 or 60 years. I am drawn in by his eyes and expression, there is nothing suspicious or threatening about his face. The only thing I see is what I want to see; a suggestion of Bedouin hospitality and grace.
I have been working on a personal project, 1000 Portraits, and a component of this work is to push myself esthetically and technically as a photographer. I’ve been playing with lighting and back drops and going back into my collection of photo books to help me reframe my understanding of strong portraiture. This frame is one of three favourite portraits that I have shot, and all three were shot simply and spontaneously without lights, reflectors, or backdrops. To me, in this photo, there is nothing but content, nothing except this gentleman in his dish dash with a keffiyeh wrapped about his head.
Well, to be fair, this was about a week before Poppy arrived. Despite my lack of presence on line over the past couple of months, something that I am trying to remedy, I have been shooting. Most recently product for a company which manufactures medical equipment and the Fall Classic, a 10km and Half Marathon on the University of British Columbia campus. Katie is a friend who came to me a couple weeks before her daughter Poppy was born and said “I have an idea for some photos, are you interested?”
We have since shot the after photos, with baby Poppy cradled in a way that mimics the way in which Katie holds her belly in this image. What makes this image for me is the subtle look on Katie’s face, her smile and the suggestion of love, anticipation and the wonder of expectant parenthood. This was a very simple set up, but I am in love with the results and hope that you see what I see in this photo. Oddly enough, the week this image was shot started with a family portrait shoot and ended with a shoot for UBC’s Midwifery Program which involved photographing a Lab session with Midwives to be assessing Moms to be. Looking forward to seeing these images in the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s in house magazine in about a month’s time.
When I left the house early Friday morning to mark the route of a charity bike ride stretching from Crescent Beach in White Rock to Chiliwack, BC about 100km east of where it began I wasn’t thinking much about making photos. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left the house with my camera with it never seeing the light of day, but I always remind myself that there is a lot to miss in this world and you never know what or who you are going to run into.
I can’t tell you much about the community of Yarrow expect that it sits in the shadow of the Cascade Mountain Range, has about two dozen businesses on the main street through town, offers a great sandwich at the Yarrow Deli and has been home to Hank and his barber shop since the 1940’s. Hank had a seat in the sun in front of his shop when we pulled into town and the sun seemed to light up his white, starched barber jacket. He was impossible to miss and after our lunch break at the town park, I wandered across the street to introduce myself and ask if I could make his portrait.
“I’m Hank the Barber, guess how long I’ve been here.”
We only had about five minutes with him, and I shot shot a few frames, but this was one of those times where I was grateful to have had my camera in my bag. I love this colour frame of Hank, but as much as it captures a certain light in his eyes, it is a reminder to me that some portraits are more than the face they capture. What’s making me crazy, days later, is how I overlooked including more of his shop in the frame given his shop is such a large component of who he is and his place in his community. Next time I will do better.
Every photographer or photojournalist has had assignments they seem to remember with perfect clarity whether it was last month, last year or a lifetime ago. I remember my time with Danny Casper with a clarity that is absent when I think of other assignments shot for the dozen or so different newspapers I have contributed to at one time or another. I remember the state of his poverty-worn home, a trailer as old as he, his story of what happened to him as a truck driver when he returned from his military tour in Vietnam. I remember his acute sensitivity to light as a result of the medication he was prescribed to treat cancer. I remember being in his trailer and having to dial up the ISO to 1600 on my Nikon D1H, a camera not known for it’s capacity in low light. I remember shooting this image of Danny in his doorway on my way out, camera still set at 1600 at f2.8. It was lucky I didn’t end up with something blown out and unusable. I look at this image, one that hangs on my wall ten years later, and I see the perfect portrait subject, unaware of the camera and totally unconscious of his appearance. This remains one of my favourite images from my summer in Spokane at the Spokesman-Review in 2002 and remains my favourite of the portraits I have shot. No mater how strong technically or creatively appealing any portrait since, Danny Casper is the bar by which I measure any portrait I make and at the worst of times Danny Casper is the mirror in which I see myself in 20 years wondering what has become of my life.
So far this personal work, The Portrait Project, has already proved to be a learning experience. While I am still working on the parameters that will guide this work over the next few years, or it’s duration, I am trying new ways of presenting work both here and on my Facebook page. Years ago while I was an intern at a daily paper in Washington state, an item in the entertainment section popped out at me, it was a quote from actor Edward Norton in which he suggested that as a photographer I can do what I do in my room, but as an actor he required an audience. In no way am I comparing myself to Norton but in truth I haven’t thought as highly of him since. Photographers make images to be seen and shared and spoke about, debated and critiqued beyond measure and praised beyond reason. Photographers seek to share the world. We have forgotten that before the internet the way we imagined the world was informed by photographers and writers traveling and reporting back what they saw and experienced. What if Mark Twain had never left his room, or Steve McCurry had never left his? Could McCurry’s elegant Afghan Girl have been shot in a studio? Would the image and story be as iconic had it not been seen on the cover of National Geographic or through the thousands of times it’s been reprinted or the story retold since it was shot in 1984?
I am not McCurry, Norton or Twain, but these ideas inform my approach to sharing the work that I do. I have been giving some pretty serious thought to keeping everything but “snap shots” from Facebook but in the last few weeks, after posting images from shoots with subjects self conscious about their image, the feedback has been fantastic. As a portrait subject it feels great to hear from your friends and family how great you look, or how much you are missed. So this is the learning process and I will keep posting work to Facebook to share my experiences and I will work to find a template to continue posting here. Photography is meant to be seen and if you can bear with me, I will show you as much as I can. My shoot with Christopher started over coffee pretty early for a Sunday morning in Whistler in the shoulder season. It turns out, surprise or not, early mornings are something that photographers and event managers have in common. Do you like the way I have presented these three images? If so, let me know.