Category Archives: Thoughts

Coming Back Around

So much of what I do is predicated on circumstances; a good job is often not a great shot as much as a great solution. It is difficult to sort these things out when, as a professional and an artist, you intuitively are only looking for the great shot. The problem is that “as good as it could be” can never really feel like enough. The result is that occasionally I come away from an assignment less than satisfied with the result.


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Jim Stone, Chairman and CEO of Plymouth Rock Assurance, is an easy guy to underestimate. He is humble, friendly, and accessible. He is also really, really, smart. He was looking for a founder’s portrait. These assignments are high pressure for me only because they have to stand the test of time, both his and mine; and the expectations, at times, exceed the possibilities. Given his nature, Mr. Stone was not about to spring for grooming. Nonetheless, everything went according to plan during and after the shoot; but I was left with this nagging feeling that it was a failed opportunity. (I care about this sort of thing probably more than I should,).

So a few months ago, I received an email promoting a widely admired book that Mr. Stone had written, and embedded in the email was a really nice portrait of the author. It was upsetting to think that he might have reshot his photo. I went back into my file and, lo and behold, it was my shot. I felt an oddly intense sense of relief, as if I had been given a reprieve.

In a commercial venue your instincts are often sabotaged by the demands of the client, the situation, or a lack of resources. Sometimes I get in my own way in an attempt to sort out these feelings. As in this case, time is usually the arbiter of my judgement in these matters.

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Wish I’d Shot That


photo found on the wall in providence rhode Island

Coming out of the theater in Providence; I ran smack into this very, very large photo. I don’t know who shot it or why; but I definitely had one of those “wish I’d shot that” feelings. When that happens, there is a simple acknowledgement that someone has done something that I admire; but, then, there is that petty little “I could have done that” partnered with the jealous “I want that”. When I am done stuffing all those  reactions back in to their little black box; I can get back to simple appreciation and wonder at how directly a photograph can describe a profound humanity with an intensity afforded by no other medium.

This is not a simple picture. The soft, cool palette; the order and abstraction of the composition; the relaxed elegance of the hands all combine to create a significant whole.  I want to believe that this man was in this place, at this time, of his own accord; and that this is a record of that beautiful and sublime moment where art and history collide. I may have it all wrong; this could be a totally manufactured event. Photography has become more and more suspect as its cinematic nature has been exploited (aka Gregory Crewsdon at the extreme). Still, there is hope as only a photograph can engender, that this just happened and the photographer just happened to be there.

Photography has always been for me, first and foremost, about the record; a means of communicating wonder, shock, and awe. The more it gets fiddled with the more abstract that basic tenet becomes, not necessarily at the expense of ideas and art, but, I think, at the expense of something that only a photograph can provide … simple truth. I was reminded of a couple of artists that seem to consistently create these kinds of images, Eve Arnold (l) and Dawoud Bey (r).



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Back in Action

It all started when my wife Marni saw this property online.


It had been on the market for awhile; a wonderful white elephant … 2 1/2 acres; beautful old barn, classic 1782 farm house, the signature towering maple, ancient apple trees; an overgrown meadow in Boxborough, MA. Long story short: we bought it and renovated it.

The Oliver Taylor House has, over the last 4 months, been transformed into a Montessori Children’s House; age 3 to 6. It was, and is, a huge project; transformative really. Call it a sabbatical for me.


Call it a dream come true for Marni. Bringing her vison to life has been amazing.  Last week we completed phase one; the renovation of the first floor into a classroom for young children. Welcome to the Taylor School.


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What was in it for me you might ask?  Many things: a psychic vacation; hard, physical work that I love doing; working with Marni to create something of lasting value in the world; but the barn workshop would have been enough.

John's Barn workshop

Now … back to Photography.




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Tight Portraits _ Source Code


Fifteen years ago, my brother in law Rod Cook (one of the true artists I know ) took my wife and my daughter out on his back porch and made this picture:15536833867_f67f5131da_z

Of all the photos I love, this is one of my favorites. It is a picture of my daughter … yes … but manages to  exist in the sweet spot; the place where it is a memory and transcendent simultaneously. This photograph, a platinum print, resides on the mantle in our living room. I have four kids. We do not create altars to one or the other. The fact that it is there is about the art, not the memory.

I don’t know or care where inspiration lives . To me, it is important and inevitable; but it takes it’s time getting here. Experience has taught me not to rush it: but to believe it will arrive. There is lots to do in the meantime … like life.

A few years ago I took these pictures …


Three months ago I figured out what to do with them. I like them a lot. I was trying to find the place where specific and subjective becomes metaphor. Recently i noticed the obvious parallel to the aforementioned photo of Margaret. What comes from where is a mystery to me … everything matters, nothing is wasted. When I am inspired, I do the work.  When I am done, I let other people wonder about it.





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Fishing Trumps Photography … oops!

Nate … sweet cast

So here is the scene … two old (92 and 84) friends … a pristene river … beautiful, rambunctious trout … spring hatches … it was a movie aching to be made … perhaps “A River RanThrough it”. What did I do? You got it. I fished … and enjoyed the camaradie of fine men. There aren’t a lot of things that get between me and the picture. Family is one, without apology. Fishing, I found, was the other. It was a fine time that I couldn’t bring myself to intrude upon with a myopic artistic energy. Oh,  but the ones that got away … really.

Fishing with Friends

Dave & Bryant … Fish on


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The Essential Portrait

All portraiture, to me, involves a certain mutual philanthropy.The core experience is the often powerful interaction between the sitter and the photographer. The camera becomes an instrument of confusion. Even before the first exposure, the photographer is empowered and the sitter revealed. The reveal, sometimes given without the knowledge of the sitter, is a gift. Reciprocity comes with the trust and respect the photographer brings to the interaction. I find this experience in the simplest headshot, and most vividly in the interaction with people unaccustomed to this sort of attention. I find it least in the celebrity portrait where the interaction is so managed that nothing is revealed except the brand. My benchmark and aspiration is the photographer Paul Strand. So much of what we do is about artifice …  Often we are selling even when there is nothing to sell. Strand always brings me back to the reason and the rule … simplify … dignify … tell the truth.

Images by Paul Strand



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Happy Holidays

Christmas Fire Hydrant


To those who believe that we are all better off if everyone gets a shot at the basics … Safety, Dignity, and Possibility.

To those who believe the natural world is beautiful and sacred, and that we need to live with it and not in spite of it.

To those who know that  we need  shelter, food, and love to be happy   …  the rest is bling.

To those who bring ideas to the table … not rules.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Hanukkah filled with Light


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Winners and Losers

Along with all the amazing possibilities in the digital realm  have come the wires and constant “checking”. What is lost is the need for a certain kind of concentration; of previsualization; a certain way of being in a given photographic moment. I am not sure one takes better pictures one way or the other; but I don’t get the same feeling of immersion shooting digitally. I said to a friend recently that when I shoot pixels my pictures go to the computer and when I shoot film they go straight to my heart. There is a certain analogy here with an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar; or perhaps my Honda Pilot and my old (and long gone) ’46 Willys. There is something tactile and accessible about the latter. Put your ear to the soundbox of an acoustic and play a full chord; open up the hood of the Willy’s and pull the carburetor; listen to the sound of a Hasselblad going about its business …

John Earle, photographer, milton glaser, selling outsomething lost … something gained.

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The three components to a portrait are subject, light, and context; with the light sometimes doing double duty. In my world, the conditions of portraiture are often predetermined. There is the “you have 5 minutes” portrait which is often accompanied by the “pre ordained context”. There are the “contrived portraits” which speak to a technique or brand; but not really to a personality. There are portraits where the context presented is immediate and appropriate … call it the “there is a God” portrait. 
Every once in a while a more thoughtful opportunity presents itself. The author, Stephanie Reents, came to me sight unseen. The studio had been prepared for any eventuality. I invited her for lunch and a chat before shooting, enabling me to explore the psychological landscape and the back story. We talked about her book, her life, and her history. The story was Idaho meets New York; a straightforward, big-sky personality informed by a sophisticated New York patina. As noted in my previous post, I am predisposed to a certain approach and palette. The decisions, predicated on our conversation, were subtle but deliberate.

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Close to Home

Mom … in context of Dad

On the same note as the previous post (Past and Present) but in the extreme, photographing family in any other than a candid context has  always been a challenge for me. I call it the “photographing your mother syndrome”.  I tackled the problem  a few years ago with some success, but without the clarity of purpose I know to bring to it now. More recently, my wife Marni requested portraits of our two youngest for her birthday. I will always go for a candid, authentic feel; but I wanted a more formal result,  so I grabbed them off the beach, took them into the studio and shot with window light. They were amazing subjects, took direction beautifully, and seemed to enjoy the attention … which all came as a surprise to me … having expected a good deal of late afternoon pushback. My son Harry, age 11, mentioned that I was talking to them in an unfamiliar way … and I realized my professional self had taken over, I had gone into “the zone”. It is not a persona I want to bring to these relationships with any frequency … but it was interesting, to me anyway,  how clear the distinction had become.

Harry & Margaret

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