The District v2

The White House with it’s fence that LOOKS formidable from close up, but not so bad when you step back. I like this perspective.

So I’m in Washington for a shoot, a good shoot, a rambling, flowing shoot that wanders for several days from the inside of the district to the edges of the Virginia countryside.

I’m staying in a hotel in Georgetown, close enough to the heart and soul, walkable. Just where I want to be.

I love this town.

“You’ve never lived here,” my friends say. True enough. And I always visit when it’s warm, so it’s hard for me to imagine the gripping cold on my thin hands as they try to reload the Leica, or in this case the Blad.

I love this town because it feels like something is going on. Always. I’m an outsider, a complete outsider and because of this I have a special skill. Naivety. Everything is new. Everywhere is new.

Visitors mass in front of The White House. When I first started shooting here I think this street was still open.

Standing on the street corner in the early morning light. A guy next to me in a tan trench coat, dark sunglasses and the butt of a cigar wedged in his teeth. If I’ve ever seen anyone who looks more like a spy I can’t recall. He must be playing a role? Or perhaps he is a spy, just not worried about looking like one?

I always stay longer when I come to this place. If the assignment lasts three days, I’ll stay four or five, just so that I get some time alone.

And when I say alone, sometimes I am alone, walking solitary, but other times I’m surrounded by tourists, by visitors, hundreds if not thousands of them, but I still feel alone because I’m in work mode. I’m walking yes, but I’m LOOKING. And when I look I can simply disappear.

I can stand in front of them and it is as if they can’t see me. With the Blad I’m looking down and holding it low, so I don’t exist in some ways.

There is much going on. There are many unhappy people, some display their wrath with fire and others with quiet.

One of the many protesters near The White House.

I have the Blad and the 80mm, which is what I’ve done 99% of my square work with. Very inexpensive. Very standard. Vanilla. Black and white.

Framing with square is different from any other method. I sometimes have difficulty switching from the square to the rectangle and then back. In some ways, like any other technique outside the standard 35mm rectangle, the square is a gimmick. It really is. It looks different, so there is a tendency to try to get away with things when using it. I’ve done it. I try not to.

A lone, quiet protester who emitted the most peaceful vibe.

The air is thick, hot and very humid. The temperature hovers near 100 degrees. The cameras are hot in my hands and the light has totally gone. Totally. I seek shade and dark places, not because I can’t take the heat but because those are really the only places I can make a picture in this light.

I walk for hours.

My pants are wet with sweat, my shoes are squishing around a little bit. I love the heat, but I walk with the cameras under my arm to try and keep them as cool as possible.

The monuments are a big part of the city, and yes, they have been photographed millions of times. But not by me. And even if I had photographed them before, I would still go back to them every time I visit the city. Not just for images, but for the reason they were placed there in the first place.

The Washington Monument with Delta 3200 and luckily a bit of cloud cover.

Languages. Voices from all over the world are around me, here to see the same thing I came to see. This place means a lot to a lot of different people. In some ways I think this city is nearly forgotten by many Americans. My family never went when I was growing up. Politics cover this place in a residue that is hard to penetrate if you are bothered by that kind of thing. I’m not.

Inside The Lincoln.

I shoot a roll of color in 35mm and keep framing and snapping with the Blad. I walk the entire day, shooting about three rolls of 120. I can see the images in my head. They are not particularly great “”moment” images, although a few are, but they are a recording of my time in this place at this exact moment, something the spy could use to retrace my steps.

The light is still bad and it limits me, but this is nearly always the case. I look for the strange places where I can work with the splintered light. And then I wait for the sun to sink, for the light to get direction and then I pounce once again.

A message left by a wishful individual.

As the day comes to a close I angle back toward the hotel and dry clothes. I empty my pockets out on the bed and count my take, something I always find exciting. What did I get? The not knowing is what I love the most. The trip home begins in the morning.

Thinking about Peru 2010

Roughly 120 days from now I’m teaching a workshop in Peru.

My planning has already begun. You might find that a little surprising, but it’s very true. And while this might seem like a lot of prep time, let me assure you, it isn’t. Not by a long shot.

And when I say planning, I don’t mean dragging out my suitcase or beginning to prepare lecture notes. Those will come, in time. I mean, one of the basic questions is which camera will I take – my Leica or my Hasselblad?

At the moment, I’m beginning to prepare the logistics of my photographs. My personal introspection of what I’d like to make while in Cusco for the first time – what I’d like to make while there, not what I’ll be teaching. In fact, this note is somewhat of a primer on what we will be considering while there.

You see, in many ways, I’m in a similar position to the students who will be attending the Peru in Book Form photographic workshop. I’ve never been to Peru. I’ve never witnessed Easter in Peru. I’ve never seen Cusco. I’ve never been to this hotel. I’ve never flown through Lima. So, it is difficult for me to know exactly what will happen, which is what is so exciting.

(For those curious why the heck I’m teaching a workshop in a city I’ve never visited, I’m working with the producer of the PhotoExperience workshops who specializes in photography in Cusco. Between the two of us, we’ve got it covered.)

I think one of the most difficult things about doing an event like this is fighting the urge to preconceive what will happen or what I will see. More seasoned photographers might stand over my shoulder: “been there, done that“ trying to share the easiest solution with me, but again, my mind is telling me otherwise. I have grand visions, but there is always a catch.

In my editorial and newspaper days, assignments NEVER appeared like the concepts I’d preconceived. On the one hand this was frustrating. My visions were always incredible, and often times the visuals in front of me were not. I’d find myself cursing the assignment editor or saying to myself, “Gotta make chicken salad out of chicken sh%$.”

But on the other hand, arriving at unexpected things was fantastic, kept me on my toes, challenged me, and in the end made me a far better photographer. Heading into unknown territory with my camera became second nature, which has helped me tremendously when it comes to shooting weddings or even portraits. I don’t get rattled.

So today I find myself dreaming about Peru and also trying to figure out how I’m going to “design” my photographs – better yet, create my story.

I don’t know what I’m going to see in Peru. I could go online and look up Easter and try to find something specific, and part of me wants to do that, but I’m fighting the urge. Perhaps I don’t really want to know. I want to see with fresh eyes, knowing that what I see has never happened before. Each year brings something new, something I learned from photographing Sicilian Easter over a four-year period. I would return to the same towns, shoot the same events and see different things each time.

I’m thinking about other aspects of my images: how do I want them to look? In what format? Color or black and white? What size prints will I make? Will the prints be digital or traditional? Am I shooting for more of an editorial look? Gallery look? Or a book?

The specific goal of this workshop is to photograph Easter in Peru with the idea of producing a book from the material. What size book? What format? Will this be a commercial book? A personal book? A limited edition? Softcover? Hardcover?

What if I shoot two different ways and make two different books? Can I even do that? Will it water down the images if I try to do two things at once? Should I research previously published books on Peru? Of Easter?

Okay, by now it is evident I just finished my morning coffee, and that perhaps I’m a little fixated on this issue. Guilty as charged.

But this is my reality. You see my “design” on my images changes. I’ve got more than one look, and I’m trying to predict the future.

The easiest thing to do is shoot my Leica and Tri-x. I’ll love it. I know because I’ve done it so many times, in so many places. But I could also use the Hasselblad, which I love for portraits. Maybe I could shoot the action with the Leica and the slower stuff with the Blad?

It would be so great to board the plane with two small bodies, two lenses and a small bag of film. Light, easy, simple. But my mind tells me I can do more, make more, but this might just be another trick.

But in the end I can’t allow the concept of a book, or what a gallery might like, overpower the basics of light, timing and composition. I need to put myself in the best position to make the best photographs that are most reflective of me as a photographer.

It’s so easy to get lost in the “design”.

So, today my planning and designing continues. Soon I will work on lecture notes, slideshows, etc. I will curse myself for losing at least half of my Spanish ability. But I will also relish the idea of what will happen 120 days from now. I will dream about the moments and the happiness we will experience.

Like a fire burning inside, keeping us creatively warm, until that moment when the starter gun says,” Go!”

Photographer to Follow: Matt Black


So, from time to time I like to write about other photographers that I find inspiring, interesting or just plain good. I don’t know Matt Black, never met him, but can tell a lot about him simply by looking at his images. I’ve know about him for years, first heard his name, saw an image, at least ten years ago.

If I remember correctly, it was an image from Bolivia, a llama sacrifice.

This is, to me, what great photography is about. It’s about images that last over time, perhaps gaining more power, more significance as they reappear in your mind, sometimes for unknown reasons.

Matt’s images have a complicated simplicity, at least in my opinion, which can be deceiving in terms of how difficult it is to make these kind of images. The complicated aspect is the layering. The simplicity is how they read to the viewer, and not just photo people, but the rest of the world, the unknown viewer, the “average” viewer. Sometimes we get lost in what other photographers or editors will think, but the person buying the magazine, buying the book, signing on to the web gallery is the real treasure, and often times they carry no visual baggage. They either respond or they don’t.

I also love the fact that Matt is a small town guy. I was too for much of my life, and can respect what it takes, means to live in a small place. I think where he lives, and where he comes from is front and center in these images. He makes the places that our coastal dwellers joke about come alive with life, passion, tension, etc,

Take a look at his site, his work and see. I don’t know about you, but I now want to see Fresno. Never have before. Now I do.

Again, this is where good images can take us. This is when good images force us to reconsider our beliefs.

If you read his site, his bio, you can see that others have taken notice, lots of notice, as evidenced by his healthy list of prizes, grants, etc. But, I still consider him a quiet entity within the photo world. Perhaps he wouldn’t agree with me about that, but it’s just how I see him, and most importantly how I don’t hear him.

I also like the fact his website is very clear and simple and shows one kind of work, his work. His work has a a style to it, a recognizable style, and in the modern, photo-world, this is sometimes difficult to find.

I look at these pictures, these stories and wonder what he is working on now. Where is he? What will we see from him next?

You can see his work at his website

Photo Advice from Mom

The joy in your heart from the new right camera, place, subject will carry through to the pictures you take. Everything is chance and nothing is chance. The camera is the extension of you and the fit will be there shining through what you do. The excitment of maybe this it, what I have been looking for, what has been lurking there from the beginning, laying in wait to be discovered. A part of you you knew was there, and just hadn’t found it yet. Knowing it was there somewhere and having found it after searching so long. When it all comes together you know it. The end of a search the beginning of the find. Only for you, no one else can lay claim to it. It is the perfect still life, the circle around the photographer, his camera and film and the subject. Atlast.


I’m not really sure how to describe Duane Michels.

For those of you who’ve met him, know him, follow his work, etc, you might understand why I don’t really know how to describe him.

Unique, I guess, would be a good place to begin.

Here he is, in these pictures, right in front of you, but they don’t really begin to describe him either, or maybe they do.

I remember seeing his work for the first time. I also remember seeing a show of his for the first time. I remember midway through the show turning around to see who was around me so that I could find someone to acknowledge how great the show was. Not sure why I felt the need to do that, but sometimes I do.

Duane is very funny. He is outspoken, but not in a pushy way. And he is a fantastic writer. He is conceptual, but I can actually understand the concept, and don’t need it explained to me.

A week after his slideshow people are still still asking, “did you see it?”

I gave him a ride in my car, which was unexpected, but I now think about the fact that Duane Michels was in my car. It really doesn’t matter, but I find it funny and very California.

There are certain pieces of photography that I think about on a regular basis, and Duane made several of them.

These pictures were made at The Palm Springs Photo Festival, Connect 09, where Duane was teaching.

I think what is most important about Duane, at least in my mind, is the sense of humor, which I find lacking in most photography, but also the fact he is not JUST a photographer.

Being a photographer isn’t easy, as we all know, and sometimes we get caught up in things that really have no real importance other than the ghosts we create in our mind, and he doesn’t seem to do that. Photography is a vehicle, for truth, for idea, for concept, for humor.

His work is about images. That’s all. Plain and simple. Doesn’t need anything else.

I also noted, during the final night slideshow, that his students made some remarkable work. I would imagine that these folks were good photographers to begin with, but I would also imagine there was a lot of Duane coming through those pictures. And I’m not talking about people copying someone’s work. I talking about breaking through. Moving beyond. Thinking. Pursuing.