New Book: “Chamba”

I’ve gone and done it again. I’ve made another book.

“Chamba” slang for work, is a ninety-page, Blurb, 6×9, color trade book featuring fifty-four black and white photographs captured during my trips to Peru. The images are black and white, but the paper is color, white-based, uncoated stock that is my second favorite paper offered by Blurb. Also, all of this work was created with the Leica M camera system something that you ravenous Leica fans will want to know. During my time in Peru I’ve also worked in color but I wanted this book to focus only on the black and white. The Leica work has a certain esthetic and feel. As you will see, the book is designed with the spine on top and not on the left where it would normally be. I did this for a variety of reasons. First, it’s different. Second, much of the work is horizontal, and lastly because I’ve seen other books by other photographers done this way and many of them really worked well. This book is not a profound statement about photography or about Peru. This book is simply a sketch book of photographic ideas and moments all connected during the time when my boots were on Peruvian soil. There is also an ebook version available for your beloved iPhone or iPad devices.

Two New “Dogs Can’t Read” books.

As many of you know, I’m a book guy. I love books. I dream about them. I’ve made several. Well, add two more to the list. And folks, I made these books rather quickly. These small publications were not labored over, toiled over. I did not pull my hair out. I did not consult higher powers. I just did them. Bingo. Bango. You book designers are probably saying, “No joke.” I made the images over a year ago, but I just got around to making the books, and BOOK is a stretch in both cases. I consider these “books” simply sketches of an idea that I’ve been carrying around and acting out on for at least five years. The beauty of this book process, the print on demand process, is simply that you can make a single book. I LOVE to play with books. I’ve made an assortment of hideous creations not fit for public consumption, and I’ve made others that I’m proud of that continue to sell. My advice…just play.

A few years ago I started a project about dogs and graffiti in different cities/countries around the world. Palermo, Paris, New York, Tijuana and now Panama and Peru have entered in the mix. Is this story a world beater? No, not really. Have I sold a fair amount of these books? Yes. Dogs are a safe bet, but oddly enough the range of response to THIS particular project has been as varied as anything I’ve ever done. I’ve had people look at these images and claim to see great religious or political slant. No joke. I just nod and say, “You got me.” But back to the books. I love making these books for several reasons. First, it allows me to revisit the work. Second, it forces me to edit the work, and three, it allows me to create a physical artifact from the project. I don’t sweat these books. I enjoy the process and I toss the final product in a pile and revisit them from time to time. That’s all. I think sometimes we make too much of all this stuff. Photography, books, BEING photographers or book people. Just enjoy the process. You wanna be a world-beater? Good, go for it. Wanna just play, then play.

And for all you tech crazies out there. I know you want it. Wait for it…wait….wait for it……all Leica, all TRI-X. As the gear wars rage on I always find myself keeping an ear to the ground, thinking, “Well, I should go and look at these new cameras.” And then I do and I end up driving home empty handed. My old fallback of Leica, TRI-X is hard to beat. And now that my darkroom is nearing completion I really don’t see a need to change anything now. Of course tomorrow I’ll be saying something new, but I reserve the right to do so.

The Wedding Book….

THIS POST IS A BIT DIFFERENT.

I promised myself I would never do another wedding related post. I’m breaking that promise. Why? I’m not entirely sure. I like weddings. I like photography. I THINK I’m writing this post because of what has happened AFTER this event. I’ve been called to do other shoots, three actually, and I said “no” to all of them. I’m done. I’m out. I won’t be shooting another wedding. What you are looking at here represents my final shoot. But, don’t feel bad, I’m just choosing to explore new ventures.

I had a long post written, and I’ll admit it was a bit preachy. I decided that the positive of this world far outweighs the negative so I’m breaking this down into essential information. Things like that cover image was handheld on a folding camera. I shot that image the day before the wedding as I scouted the location. I could FEEL and SEE this image coming and the idea of it consumed my entire being. I wanted it so bad I could taste it. I practiced my steady breathing, holding the camera to my eye, holding it, minute after minute until my non shooting eye was blurring and pained. The sky snapped and crackled and then broke loose. I nailed it, or maybe it was blind luck.
The basics……………..
This shoot started with a great planner and a great client. Due to my past relationship with the planner I was encourage and given complete and total freedom to work how I pleased. I was given complete and total freedom by the client. I shot 100% film. I never touched a digital camera. I did the edit and design of this book.

This book is a Blurb 6×9, printed on color paper and is about 238 pages. It looks beautiful. It’s small, informal but yet tells the entire story. This book was in my mind the entire time I was at this event. Each press of the shutter representing a potential page, a potential critical piece of the puzzle.

What never enters my mind during a shoot like this is anything to do with the wedding world, industry, etc. I unlearn everything I’ve known about what I’m “supposed to do.” Otherwise, what comes out on these pages isn’t me. It’s someone else with my branding. I can’t allow that to happen. And besides, that would be boring. If you can’t open this book, know that it was me, then I failed the client and myself.

I should have been able to sell this post with one, two, maybe three images, but I thought I would bonk you on the head more than normal. This bonking is a way for me to stress to you the importance of doing what it is you do. However strange, however simple, as long as what you are doing behind that camera is how you truly feel. For me, I feel like Leica + Hasselblad + TRI-X + real moments. My subconscious mind is littered with the baggage of the wedding industry, but my front line mind pushes all this nonsense aside. And then I’m free.

I tile images. I don’t bring a strobe. I shoot one slow photograph at a time. I make each moment count. I put critical elements in the gutter. I put a lightning shot on the cover. I invent a title for the book. And I think….long and hard about how the event will unfold. I can’t sleep the night before. I rehearse how I will perform. I visualize. I know that when the bride and groom comes through this house at 4:13 PM they will be backlit going into a dark inside so I will drop the M6 and 50mm and will pick up the M6 and 35mm and my exposure will be 125th at 2.8 and I will have ONE chance at the photo.

I know that my longest lens is a 50mm so I will need to be close, very close but you see I can make myself invisible. I can be right in the middle and no one will know. I will be quiet yet the conversation in my mind will be deafening. I make plans for the light. Plan A. Plan B. Plan C and I secretly pray for rain. Rain makes good photographs. It rained at my wedding. Some people think it means good luck. For me it meant getting wet.

There are other photographers working here, which is a load off my mind. We all meet prior and discuss the plans for the photographic invasion. I guess I’m a squad leader but when the snapping starts we are all basically on our own. I like this part of the process and I like watching other photographers work. I wonder if they too are talking to themselves.

The camera goes “clunk,” “clunk,” “clunk” one slow, laborious photo at at time. I can see people watching me as I load and reload and reload the Hasselblad. I think maybe they think I’m crazy until someone comes over and says, “I am so happy to see you shooting film.” “I love film.” Me too.

There are certain things I do not take for granted. This is a HUGE day. This day means so much to so many and I have a responsibility. I owe a lot to many but the critical factor is making THESE images. It might not seem like it on the surface but after the smoke has cleared and the glasses have been cleaned and reboxed there are only a few things that will remain. Love. Family. Life. Photographs.

I break the day into mental boxes. I see four phases I will need to live. I will be four different people. I will be the location. I will be the preparation. I will live the ceremony and then I will end the night as the celebration. Little boxes, tiny boxes checked off my list. Being in the now is what I concentrate on. Then my load gets a little lighter and I move on. It works for me. It may or may not work for you.

I always put the film in the same pocket of the same bag. As the light changes color and gets lower I take my first look at how swollen the pocket is. It feels great. And the best part is not knowing. Not being entirely sure. I can’t, after all, see any of it. “I’m sure you got so many great images,” people say as they stare at the pile of film. “You never know,” I answer. “My fingers are crossed and tonight I will light a candle.”

I’m married, so the actual process of what is happening is not lost on me. I see things that other people miss. That is my job. I see the light. And I know there will be little to no memory of a lot of this stuff, at least without me being here. I remember almost nothing of my wedding. I do remember the rain. I do remember I looked and felt like Herman Munster in my stiff suit. I could see the relevance in the faces around me. The ceremony wasn’t just for my wife and I, it was for everyone. I feel the same way about this wedding, all the weddings. They are greater than the sum of the parts. They mean more. They last forever.

My breath comes in short gasps. My clothes are soaked with sweat. I drink Coke. I never drink Coke but I do now, by the gallon. My hands are twitchy. I can feel the caffeine and sugar fueling the rest of my night. All around me is fun. Lots and lots of people having fun.

I get home and a few days later I get the email saying the work is online. I download. I edit, sort, print. And then comes this book. I know the sequence in my head. I work quickly. I’ve done many books. I like simple, clean and graphic. I mix the somewhat expected with the completely foreign. The book is my final reminder of why they hired me. It should make people think. Like putting lightning and storm on the cover.

The book is fat. The book is small. The paper is white, uncoated and reproduces the imagery really well. I know this book is going to look good long before I see it. Then the doorbells rings and I hear the Fedx truck racing off into the distance. “Hmm, I wonder what that could be,” I ask myself as I tear a hamstring RACING to the front door. It never gets old. Now it’s official. There is a book.
So, if you ever wondered what does through my head during something like this..now you know. I can’t stress enough how important great planner/great client really is. Without those two elements..these images, this book do not happen. I would love to tell you who the planner is but I know if I put their name on this post……the crazies(photographers) might try to contact this person. Would they ever forgive me? If you haven’t seen or made one of these trade sized books you should give them a try.

New Project, New Sample Book

“You know when I saw that latest work you were doing I thought you have totally gone off the deep end.”

This statement was made to me after I showed this work for the first time during my talk at Photo Plus Expo in New York. The person who made this comment to me is a legend and someone I really respect as a photographer. Once we spoke further about this work he explained that he realized there was a method to my madness and understood where I was attempting to go with this work. It was a great moment for me, not because I need praise, but more specifically because I think this exercise, or doing things like I’m doing here, is critical to the creative process.

Let me explain. Something was missing. It still is, but I’m closer to finding what I’m looking for. I felt my photography had grown too detached. I went from fully digital and REALLY feeling like I’d lost my work, back to the analog world but I still felt like something was missing. What I realized was I missed the actual physical part of photography that I knew many years ago.

So, I got lucky and found a darkroom in Santa Fe, a location I’m sharing with another photographer who also feels he wants to reconnect with the physical, wet print process. I have yet to make a print in the space, for a variety of reasons such as not being in Santa Fe and also not having the space fully built out, but it’s coming and it’s coming soon. I KNOW what this place will allow me to do. And believe me, I’m NOT a great printer, not by any stretch. But, it’s actually not about that. It’s about slowing down and MAKING something by hand.

I grew up doing a fair amount of physical labor, and I have a feeling all of this stems from this reality. I NEED to make things and the computer just doesn’t do it for me. But, like I said before, I’m not IN Santa Fe as much as I’d like. I have this pesky Blurb job and all these other responsibilities, so I felt like I needed something here in California. I needed a project that would help me satisfy those physical, MAKING needs.

So what you are looking at is the first incarnation of this project, something I’ve tentatively titled “Vandalism.” What you are looking at is all done in camera, painstakingly slow and laboriously. It’s about reexamining existing work, rephotographing it and adding in a little trickery/mystery along the way. There are several different materials involved, several different cameras and techniques. None of this is really that important.

Also, as you can see, I filtered the living crap out of these images(the ones in this post) for NO other reason than I could! You see, I sometimes lose control and this is a perfect example. It feels great! I think maybe this plays into this strange physical need. The camera on the iPhone SUCKS so bad that using straight images makes me feel like I have the swine flu, so I filtered the crap out of them because it forces me to press buttons and at least DO something to the image. It’s a pale and lifeless substitute but desperate times demand desperate measures.

This book sample is a Blurb 8×10, portrait style softcover book. It’s not really a book, it’s just a sample to see how these images look on paper and how they play with each other. I used the ProLine Pearl paper, which is great but I might actually change that up and go with the uncoated which does have more of a handmade, craft-like feel. You also might be wondering why I put this title page in the BACK of the book, and at the END of this post…well I’ll tell you why. SO many people who look at my book pay SO little attention to the book that one of the things they do is open and view a book from the back! I KNOW, it’s criminal but it happens all the time. So, I repeated the front matter in the back of the book. Take that short attention span people!

This book and this project are about simple things. Clearing my mind. Asking myself what I want to do. Wondering what is missing in my work and why, and then just simply playing around. I have no commercial angle with this, no need to rush it out, or ever really show it for that matter. It’s for me. In the wee hours of this morning I was packing for Uruguay, shuffling around the frigid house, digging through old bags, making notes and trying to compress as much stuff into as little space as possible. I came across an old plastic bag filled with oil paint, ink and an odd assortment of drawing and sketching materials. I dug it out and now it sits across the room from me, silently screaming. All of this makes me wonder “What’s next?” Going off the deep end never felt so good.

La Frontera

This post serves a few different purposes. Someone asked the other day if I would show some things that didn’t work, so I’ve got an image here that doesn’t work and I’ll explain that. I’ll also explain the images that work and why I feel that way. The reason I posted this now is the fence is, once again, a hot topic, especially in these parts, Arizona, New Mexico, etc. If you have ever spent any time on the border you will know what it’s like to be around this fence and will know what it does to the areas where the fence exists. In my opinion, it doesn’t work, but I also understand why they are building it. That’s not to say I agree with it, but I feel it is our political machine saying, “We have to do something.”

This exact location is where the border fence runs into the Pacific Ocean. It FEELS like a no man’s land when you drive up here, parking your car in a lost area where you aren’t entirely who or what is lurking nearby. You are always under surveillance, from both the Mexican side and the watchful eyes of the Border Patrol. The fence itself is..well, not really a fence. You can pass in between the bars and move freely between the US and Mexico(Not sure it is still this way). You aren’t supposed to do this, but when you are standing there it makes you want to cross it. Like being told NOT to do something and it makes you want to do it even more. The initial image in this post is foreboding and gives you an idea of what this place FEELS like when you are standing there, and it REALLY feels like this to many of the folks on the other side. The second image in the post is what I feel is the best image. When you are standing there and looking through the fence, talking with people on the other side it REALLY makes you realize how fickle life is. Just an arbitrary line in the sand, literally, but it means everything in the grand scheme of life. You look through and see this young couple, arm in arm, and you realize “Hey, that could be my wife and I.” We are all the same, but this line in the sand reinforces our differences more than anything else. I think this image works due to its simple graphic nature and human element balanced in the middle.

This third image is very important because it says everything you need to know without actually seeing it. This image is a reminder. This image is a reminder you are never alone when you are standing in this place. There is ALWAYS someone watching. The tracks here are from a Border Patrol vehicle, which I would guess are the only vehicles allowed on the beach. What I think works with this image is the fact the tracks just vanish as they blend into the fence. I love the diagonal pull and the stark, black lines of the fence paired with the stark, black lines of the tracks.

Moving on the to next image I go back to the human element. I like how the people are lined up like the lines of the fence. I also have hard directional light from the left, which is side lighting the faces. Having them small in the bottom of the frame highlights the fact the fence is VERY high. It also adds to the sense that this is a BARRIER meant ONLY to keep people in, out, away or “on their side.”

Moving on we land on the image that simply does not work. This has nothing to do with the gentleman in the image. Not his fault, entirely mine. I’m working in light that demands I work a certain way and in a certain direction and I simply failed to work the light the way I needed to do make a successful portrait. The light is too hot, forces me to lose detail in the face, and is blown out on the top and side of his head. I’m not back far enough to really use the repeating pattern of the fence, and I don’t like my crop on him either. Poor guy. I feel bad for even asking him to make this picture. This is one of those things that makes me appreciate photography more than normal. I KNEW this image wasn’t good the moment before I made it but I did it anyway. The vast majority of images I make don’t work, and this is just another example.

Going back to the human element, this final shot I DO believe works. The reason I made this image was to add a sense of scale and also remind the viewer of just how damn beautiful this place really is. Everything in the picture looks like it belongs…EXCEPT for the brutality of the fence. You have this powerful body of water, islands dotting the coast and humans taking in the last light of day. And then there is the fence. Cold steel. These images in themselves are not Earth shattering by any means, but do like the second image a lot, and for me going to a place like this, and making these images, is all about reminding myself why I’m doing this. This place is poignant, in all our lives, and it makes a difference. For me it’s about participating in history, in the way I know how, which is my aiming my camera, a Fuji 6×9 in this case, and showing you what I saw. That’s all.