I actually don’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it was profound and life-changing. You know when someone asks you if you want to do something and you say, “Sure,” without really thinking about it and then it finally dawns on you what you agreed to about .5 seconds before you actually have to do it. This was like that. Ultimately, it was fun but the idea of “live television” didn’t hit me until it was actually happening. I began to sweat. I continued to sweat, like an overheated motor, until long after the camera had turned to a brighter scene. This happened months ago but I forgot to post it. At least I think I did.
Digging through my archive is a lot of fun, and also reminds me of many experiences I’ve had over the past twenty years. Perhaps I’m feeling my own mortality? Nah. Just kidding.
Years ago, when I first decided photography was my deal, I ran into a friend of my dad’s. This guy was was from the Midwest, but felt more like Texas. Heavy accent. Heavy laugh. Former FBI agent. A GREAT guy. He always called me by my first AND middle name because we both shared same first AND middle names.
“Daniel XXXX,” he said. “I went to school with a guy who I think is a pretty big deal over at Time magazine.” “This buddy of mine lives in Washington, and I think he’s a top dog.” “I’m gonna call him for you.”
A few weeks later I was on a plane headed for Washington. Leica and Nikon FM2 in my carry on bag. The unknown waiting for me.
My dad’s friend was correct. His buddy was a big deal, had been for a long time, and more importantly, was one of the nicest people I have ever met in my photography career. It was instant access.
We hit the ground running.
“Drop your bags, we are on our way to The White House,” he said.
“You mean the place where the president lives?” I said unsure if he was trying to freak me out. He wasn’t.
Over the following days we lived the lives of Washington DC photojournalists, during a time when this was a freakin great thing. I met tons of other photographers, all people I was in awe of, walking the streets in their tan jackets, Leicas around the neck, cigs dangling from lips.
We ambushed Ross Perot on the street, right after he announced his running for President. And NOBODY had these images! I banged and jostled with camera people and other snappers as we all pounced on the diminutive Perot(I also found this shot in my archive).
I felt like I’d landed in a movie about photojournalism and I was the unknown star.(Start crying now.)
We hit event after event, made the rounds into political offices, etc. I shook hand after hand, took copious notes and tried not to screw anything up. I think I even wore a shirt with a collar.
“I’ve got to go shoot the Navel Academy Graduation ceremony,” my new friend said. “And I got you a credential to stand on the bleachers in the back.”
Awesome. And then I realized my longest lens was around the 50mm length. “Don’t sweat it, I’ve got something for you,” my friend said as he produced a HUGE lens, Canon but with a NIKON mount.
Up early, stuck in traffic, battling for position and bingo things were set. He worked the entire area while I acted the part of sniper, using the long lens to pick off little moments here and there. I kept the wide angle around my neck, knowing the hat toss was coming.
Jets seared the sky.
Bush Sr. was doing the meet and greet handshake with each and every person graduating and I happened to snap the ONE TIME someone tried to high five him. As you can see, it didn’t work out.
And suddenly the hats were up.
We kept working the scene as the event ended. I was able to leave the bleachers and move around, long lens tucked under my arm, wide angle in my hand. I graduated from college but it was nothing like this.
For me, this time in Washington was decisive. This time was representative of a period I enjoyed, a time when the industry was still cloaked in a lifestyle I admired and strived to live.
I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.
The industry has changed. My friend is still there. And photography is still what I want to do with my life.
This trip also inspired me to give back to younger photographers starting out. I can’t offer them Washington, but I can offer them my own version of it, and for this reason I try to teach three or four times a year. Being with my friend, for a four or five day intensive period was like getting on the photo-expressway and merging right into the fast lane, foot crushed to the floor. I learned so much, so fast it was remarkable, and came away with many images I still enjoy today.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just wandering, walking, looking, trying to stay out of the wind. The District is a great place, usually quiet right before election when, which was when I made these pictures.
Winter sky we don’t have here in California. You can find this sky if you head toward the desert during January or February, but it isn’t really the same, it’s never this low.
I’m not sure if anything will ever happen with images like these, but they are as important as any I ever take. Getting out and walking, shooting anything and everything is not a luxury, not at all, it’s a necessity.
Washington Monument, Vietnam Memorial and as a tribute to The Griz, the Korean War Memorial.