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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Stephanie

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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Past and Present

Sustainable building

Dimetrodon Warren, Vermont

Bill Maclay was a “Green” architect before anyone else cared … a true pioneer in the universe of “net zero building“. Bill’s first adventure  out of grad school was a cluster housing project in the Sugarbush Valley of Vermont,  aptly named “Dimetrodon” for its cutting edge renewable energy platform. This structure has become a classic example of the Vermont DesignBuild movement.   Bill has never wavered in his quest for innovative ways to incorporate environmentally pragmatic solutions into his designs and, today,  Maclay Architects of Warren, VT is considered the leading sustainable architectural firm in New England.

Bill and I go back a long way … in fact to his very first structures … in the sandbox in our back yard. He called a couple of weeks ago, to ask if I might take his portrait for a new book.  Mixing the personal and the professional is always tricky, and I have learned over the years, that during a session; the personal aspect informs the choices and but never the process. Ultimately you have to just hunker down and do the work of directing and seeing … I call it the being in the zone.

You might note an unapologetic redundancy in the use of the background (See Stephanie) … but I am working in my own “Point Lobos”  here and will return to certain places when appropriate.

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Russian Celebrities

Russian Celebrities

The Russians were back shooting more TV in February. It is hard to beat a 376 foot three masted Barque (See Tall Ships) for a location, but Gehry’s Disney Center is a pretty good problem to have. I was asked, once again, to do the print for the VTb24 Bank ADs (the second largest bank in Russia). The subjects were a popular Russian journalist, Leonid Parfyonov, and a film director, Valery Todorovsky. It is always fun hanging with the folks at Mechaniks (LA production company) and I go to school on Michael Norman the director. It is a lot of hurry up and wait, and then hurry up. I make a lot of friends on a film set by working fast.

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Terry Goodkind Doesn’t Shoot John Earle


I love photographing authors. I have never met one that wasn’t incredibly intense. A number of my subjects have had a serious preoccupation with firearms. (Clancy, Parker) but they don’t usually wear them. When Terry Goodkind answered his front door, he sported a 45mm Glock on his belt. Now I am not a gun guy, and that lack of familiarity breeds a certain diffidence when they are around, so I asked if I was in peril. His look implied that the jury was out until we got to know each other. Sometimes getting along is not a choice. We talked about it later, and I couldn’t really argue with the idea that, like a cell phone, if you decide to own a gun, it doesn’t do you a lot of good sitting at home under your pillow. Terry is very smart, very focussed, and, yes, strongly opinionated … and man, he’s got some wheels.

Terry, Jeri his wife, Ivan Held (publisher) and Susan Allison(editor)

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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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God Love LA Film Sets

A Job Well Done (more Restasis)

I want to get beyond the shots here to the set and the casting. Let’s play a game. Find the styling missteps (this is an architect’s office) OK, I give up. It is such a pleasure to work in an environment where everyone does their job well. I was working in sets designed and implemented by Andy Rhodes; a freelance art director in LA. I was shooting very loose and making things up as I went along … my art director had moved on to his weekend. These sets were built in a vacant museum; essentially cool, empty space. When Andy and his minions got done with a location, every detail, every dark corner worked to convey the necessary idea. The models, all appropriately architectonic, disappeared into the concept. It was instant universe. I moved nothing. God love Los Angeles.

Andy and his set … check out the details!

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Big Pharma

America’s Favorite Ophthalmologist

I have always thought that my accountant should drive a mercedes, my dentist should have perfect teeth, and my mechanic should drive a 15 year old buick (if you can keep that running you can fix anything). All was right with the world then photographing Dr. Alison Tendler, ophthalmologist and spokesperson for Restasis Eye Drops. As Jack Kerouac said (OK different context) “You got eyes”. She could drift into simple beauty very quickly. I had to keep pulling her back to “doctor” … highly disciplined professional that I am.

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Keeping it Simple … Getting it Right

I am always happier when the idea quotient is higher than the production quotient. Production, to me. is a way to get back to simple. Simple is being in the  right place,  in the right light, with the right crew. Photographing author Bill Landay for Random House was just such an occasion. There wasn’t any art direction, but I gleaned from conversations with the creative director in NY and the author, that we needed  a spectrum of shots, from gritty crime writer (sexy, worldly) , ex lawyer (subject cred), and granular context (this book, these characters). I scouted some with the author, and scoped out  a couple of places I knew might work on my own. We then set up a schedule around the light. All places would have worked under any conditions, but sunny was best. Two great assistants (driver and grip) kept the guerilla nature of the event going smoothly; and we cruised through the whole adventure in 4 hours. Three wardrobe changes, 4 locations;  finishing just when the sun dropped behind the trees. Happy author …  Happy client (there sure are a lot of shots!) … Happy photographer …  Fun.



William Landay Author

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The Eyes have it … Opthalmology

I have spent almost two months photographing the myriad of doctors and researchers at the Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmolgy. It is rare to be engaged in a project for this long and it has been a challenge to create distinctive photographs in a world of labs, conference rooms, and clinical exam rooms. In a word; ya seen one … . The upside is observing this army of very big brains addressing the problem of congenital and therapeutic ophthalmic defects.

Watching and photographing while a surgeon makes an incision on an eyeball strikes very close to home.

Fritz Klaetke (Visual Dialogue) and I decided to maximize the authenticity of the photos, and my process has been quick,simple, and available light(with a lightweight, over the shoulder portable strobe backup system for emergencies). Emphasizing the idea of in focus/out of focus seemed appropriate for the venue. so I am doing mostly long lense and tight; yet another challenge in these low light environments.

Occasionally I will go my own way with the work; just to keep things interesting.

To be in such close proximity to science and medicine for so long, on the one hand, creates a great argument for the potential of the human mind (a perspective that often escapes me these days) and the wonder of the human body: on the other, serves as a stark and humble reminder of how little we really know.

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