What I’m Thinking

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I’m thinking I need to lighten my load.

What you don’t see in this series of photographs is the rest of my daily gear. Leica, Blad, Polaroid. Why do I do this? Because I can’t stop shooting film cameras. I still prefer the negative to anything digital. I like the cameras themselves, the process of shooting analog, the limitations of analog, which I feel are what make it so great, and the archive of analog. Yes, I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my 40TB of digital data looming over my head. So on the chopping block is the 5D Mark III and three lenses, and in is the Canon s100. Without a doubt the 5D III is the better, more versatile camera that shoots much higher quality imagery and motion. But what is also indisputable is s100 is a lot smaller and lighter. When I started my current campaign with Blurb it was thought I would be shooting a lot of digital, at least at times, but I’m not. What I am doing is creating a stream of images for lesser needs, and continuing to capture most of the good stuff on film.
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Speaking of film…On the way to San Francisco last week my film set off the TSA alarm for….explosives I think. Something. Anyway, I got the full court press, which was no big deal, but that was the first time it ever happened. They had me for about 15-20 minutes maybe. I got felt up, which is always great, and they got to see all my personal items. Sadly I had nothing exotic or even anything slightly amiss.

Oddly enough, traveling with film, at least for me, is easier than ever before. It’s such a rarity now that typically I get the “Cool, haven’t seen this in a while.” Followed by “Man, I really miss film.” Now, this does NOT apply when speaking of France or Switzerland where I’ve been grilled, threatened, insulted and yelled at for both carrying film and for being an American. Such is life. I kill them with kindness. Or I don’t say anything. Or I keep asking for a hand inspection until they threaten me with not getting on the plane. (This has happened numerous times.) This actually doesn’t bother me. What bothers me are the new rules about carry on bags. And weight. Returning from Australia a few months ago it was deemed, on a whim, that all three of my bags were overweight. The same bags I’d flown to Australia with no problem. Suddenly all my bags were an issue and they tried like Hell to get me to check my gear bags. I opened them up and asked “Would you want to check this?” “Ahhh, no,” was the reply and they let me on, but those days are fading.

So, it’s lighten the load time. I’m even contemplating an iPhone 6 Plus for my interview and podcast needs, which would allow me to leave recorder at home. If I could somehow get my junk down to ONE bag it would be ideal. I know I’m dreaming here because when my Blurb duties are over and I aim at the open spaces of Australia or Abilene, I’m going to want my film junk. What I will try to do is consolidate my backpack and roller bag into one backpack. Audio and visual gear in one bag. Time to call Tenba once again.

Or maybe, if I buy an iPhone 6 Plus I don’t even need this little camera? See, more confused than before.
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Meat and Candy: A Western Australia Story

It has been weeks since I first wrote this post. I’ve been sitting on it because I’m nervous that people will take it the wrong way, and it’s also very long. It’s also a bit related to another post I have ready, a post which is over 5000 words in itself. I have to say, there is something about Australia that has really been sticking with me. Australia has a style and feel that is very unique in my experience. It’s not that the country is perfect, not by any means, but I don’t think anywhere is perfect. There SEEMS to be a cohesiveness, or maybe I’m just naive. There is a pride as well, amongst the art crowd, photo-crowd, etc. Perhaps the size of Australia or the small population has something to do with this. Regardless, it’s a place I’ve been thinking about more and more which is odd. I have a sinking suspicion I’ll be back one day. At least I hope so.

Earlier this year Blurb asked me if I wanted to venture to Australia for a series of presentations, school visits, festivals and a few other creative industry here’s and there’s. I said “Sure, why not?” To most Americans, myself included, Australia represents the wildness of the unknown, the other side of the world and the lusty promise of adventure. Australia, and its wonderful population, alien landscape and quirky demeanor did not disappoint.

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I know what you are thinking. “Wow, that Milnor is one lucky guy, getting paid to go to Australia.” Yes, you are in fact correct but there is a “but” you need to know about. Blurb moves at lightning speed. Being a technology company means the playing field changes on a daily basis, so this trip was NOT akin to a congressional junket to “Coruptastan”, or a boozy romp complete with escorts and backdoor, pork-belly deals. In short, the first three weeks of my trip were work. I saw nothing, did nothing and experienced little more than planes, cabs, hotels and conference rooms. This sounds like total bullshit, I get it, but it’s entirely true. I’ll give you an example because I smell a whiff of doubt. We did sixteen events in fifteen days in three different cities on the East Coast alone. Sydney, our third stop, is famous for many things, such as the harbor, skyline and beaches. My last night in Sydney I had dinner with friends of my wife, folks I’d never met before. We had a wonderful dinner and discussed a variety of topics, many of which revolved around Australia. “What did you think of the skyline?” they asked. “I don’t know, I didn’t see it,” I replied. “What about the harbor, or the Opera House? they asked. “I don’t know, I didn’t see either of those things either,” I replied. “Haven’t you been here for five days?” they asked. “Yes but I haven’t really been outside yet,” I answered. “GET IN THE CAR,” I was told and during an absolute torrential downpour they drove me down to see harbor. Thinking about it now I remembering being outside, but I also remember I was teaching a photo workshop, so my head was involved in the teaching and not in the looking around. There were days where we did an event in the morning, raced to the airport, flew to another city then did six to eight hours of presentations. I’m the guy that does all the talking, so all verbal communication was on me. You will see by the length of this post I like to talk/write. I love doing it, so I’m not complaining but I can still see this little explanation causing me to look like an asshole. If the shoe fits….
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By the time the first three weeks were over I was exhausted. I really didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I got off a five-hour flight to Perth. The “vacation” part of my trip had begun and I’d flown to Perth to meet up with two fellow photographers. These particular fellows happen to be brothers, twin brothers, and were old friends from my days of annual travel to the North Shore of Oahu for the winter surfing season. I was an interloper in Hawaii but my friends, Erick and Ian Regnard, also known was Tungsten, were very much a part of the global, full-time surf photography community. I hadn’t seen them in a long while but we had discussed connecting in Perth and “going into The Outback.” That was the extent of the plan. Getting off the plane I was a bit dazed but a homemade curry was placed before me and I think I remember eating like a saltwater croc. I also remember them having the smallest dish in the world and on that dish was the smallest dab of “hot sauce” I had ever seen. I was provided with the explanation that it truly was the hottest shit anyone has ever seen and if I accidentally used more than a pinhead amount I would have nothing left in my body approximately eight minutes later. Seeing as we had eight days of car travel ahead of us I skipped it.

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Ten minutes after eating one of the brothers said “Okay, you about ready?” “Ready for what?” I asked. “We are leaving now,” he said. I abandoned most of my clothes and all my electronics, grabbed my Hasselblad, a bag of film and got in the passenger seat. And this is where things began to become a little surreal. We stopped for supplies and I got my first true glimpse of my traveling companions. We seemingly bought only two things. Meat and candy. Okay, four things. Meat, candy, beer and fuel to roast the meat. In a cloud of diesel our ute(suv) was headed north and into the unknown. We had a map and vague idea what we would encounter, but nothing specific. We didn’t know where we would stop, stay, camp or converge, but this was what made it so great.

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I began to realize my head was in a fog and I didn’t want to stress about the photography. I just wanted to be an explorer and let the images come naturally, so basically the polar opposite of how I was used to working where the imagery was the driving force behind every move, every human gesture. There were HOURS and hundreds of kilometers of the kind of nothingness that is so nothing it actually becomes something vibrantly real. Snow white beaches with no tracks from man or machine. Sky blue water and endless dunes. The conversation was varied but we did solve every single problem facing modern photography and came to the conclusion there were only three REALLY important people in photography; Ian, Erick and myself. We asked if there were any objections to this thought. We heard none.
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Eventually we turned east and headed into the great void of red, green and blue. The boys wanted to learn more about the Aboriginal settlements, and I knew so little about the culture and history I was also game to explore. We would simply find out where the communities were, drive in then ask permission to work. I think we were a bit of an anomaly. “This guy is from Los Angeles,” was like saying “Ah, this guy landed from a planet just beyond Saturn.” I don’t know enough about the Aboriginal situation to comment with any authority so all I’m going to say is that work remains. I see some similarities with the Native American situation here in New Mexico. It remains a live wire topic and not one I’m going to discuss here.

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These trips, these opportunities are such a privilege, and luckily for me, by the time we turned east I was experiencing a major disruption in the foundation of being a photographer. Perhaps it was fatigue, the frustration or just a glimmer of outside hope breeching the void of my entrenched thinking. I made a realization out there in that wonderful bush. I realized I’d been missing the point of it all. I realized that I needed to continue to explore but not as a photographer, just simply as a human being and if I made images along the way then so be it. I realized that the only people who really care about my little snapshots, for the most part, are friends and fellow photographers. Sure, from time to time you make something memorable that might impact a larger audience, but that the truly important thing was my translation of the experience as a human. I realized the snapshots that mattered weren’t necessarily made of emulsion but rather speech, song, texture and interaction. I realized in some strange way the camera was keeping me from these things. I still haven’t figured all of this out, but I can tell you my life has been entirely different since returning with the dust of The Outback on my boots.

Before we turned east the brothers had managed to procure, of all things, a lobster, which was thrashing around the back of the truck like a wild dog. In the middle of absolute nowhere, in the pitch black and under the most sensational night sky I’ve seen, the brothers pulled off the dirt track and said “time for surf and turf.” The absurdity of it was like a warm blanket. I had already learned that two brothers from Mauritius know their way around the grill, so I had flashlight duty, flashing back and forth between the grill, the bush, the beer cooler. It was treacherous work but somebody had to do it. Before long we were exhaling through our noses as hot lobster became a roadside reality. A moment I will never forget.

Returning home, something I normally loathe, felt right. Most of my friends and family are moving so fast, and are so busy I was only faced with a few “how was it?” type questions where the person asking is already on to something else before you can formulate a response, so I kept the trip mostly as my little secret. I kept it inside and allowed my new realizations to burn and keep my creative fire alive. But there had to be a book. There always has to be a book with me, even if not a single other person ever sees what I’ve made. For me these books are therapy. Perhaps they serve as a sense of closure. I didn’t need or want anything large. There was never one second spent thinking this would be a portfolio or representation of anything other than a small voyage with friends.
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I quickly decided on two concurrent themes, one with color, mobile phone imagery and the second with the black and white square. The title, well, that was obvious to me. I wrote a short copy block as an intro, chose a font that felt right and began to drag and drop my images. I probably spent a half hour making this book. 7×7, softcover, Proline uncoated. Done.
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Books are like puzzles with the images being the jagged little pieces that on their own might seem fragmented and lost but when combine form a smooth and accurate depiction. I always think I know what I’m doing but books are journeys, just like The Outback. I pretend like I’m in control, but most of the time I’m one half step away from glory or one half step from doom. I don’t think I would want it any other way. This particular book is a reminder to me. It’s a reminder of many things, things like friendship, travel, understanding and a general reformulation of an agenda unchanged for over twenty years. In short this book reminds me I can’t go back. Ever.
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Now, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, this book didn’t change my life. It’s not like that. Frankly, it’s not that good. This book is buried under about ten other books somewhere in my office. However, I will equate this particular book to Steve Martin’s character in the movie “The Jerk” when he is working the “Guess Your Weight” booth at the local carnival and he realizes the idea behind the booth is making money. “Oh, I get it,” he says. “It’s a PROFIT thing.”
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Whatever it was that happened to me while in The Outback, revelation, mini-stroke, whatever, was like an internal sonic boom. The response to my “departure” from all things photography and all things industry was seemingly more traumatic to OTHER people than it was to me. Someone actually said “Oh man, I’m sorry to hear what happened to you in Australia.” This was a kind gesture, a friend looking out of me, but I had to say “No, no, no, this is a very, very good thing.” I explained that I’d seen a small splinter of light into my creative future, or someone had dosed me with acid, either way I felt like a secret had been whispered in my ear. Now, the brothers and I were all sleeping in the same tent, so it quite possible was Ian or Erick talking in their sleep.
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Over the past few years I’ve seen the professional photography industry change. Certain genres have exploded and retracted, weddings and portraits, while others have almost entirely died off. This is not a popular topic, at least not in public, but I can tell you with certainty it really is a topic when photographers are together and speaking freely. The reasons for this are many. Mention this in public and you will quickly be labeled as “disgruntled” or “sour grapes.” I know because I’ve been called those things many, many times, mostly by younger photographers who never actually knew how good things used to be. I’m okay with this. Everyone WANTS it to be so good, so if you pretend things are then perhaps they will be. I don’t want to be a downer by saying this. I’m simply relaying what I see and hear on a daily basis, but here is where things get truly strange.

Since “departing” from the race I’ve made better work, had more opportunities(a lot more), better opportunities and far more control over my own work. I’m not entirely sure of all the reasons for this, but you simply can’t believe the difference. I have my theories. First, people are SICK of the relentless promotion happening within photography, sick of things like a photographer spending two weeks on a project then spending two years promoting it. Two, they are very respectful of someone who says “No, I won’t do that shoot/project because it doesn’t work for me.” The power of a polite “no” cannot be stressed enough. In short, not only has there been ZERO downside to NOT being a photographer there has been a completely unexpected upside. I say “no” to almost all of these things because I truly don’t want to do them, but there is a sense of relief from these people when I say “I’m not a photographer any longer.” It’s almost like they are saying “Okay good, now we can have a real conversation.” I’m going to give you two examples to support my point because I can hear the groans. First will be the gallery owner. I was at a party in Hollywood, and yes it was as Hollywood as you imagine. I don’t belong at these things-I’m the opposite of cool- but I went anyway. Gallery owner comes up to me and says “What are you working on?” I explain. There are now three or four other people listening to the conversation. Gallery person says “You should bring that by so we can look at it.” “No, it’s not ready,” I say. “You should really bring it by,” they said. “Nope, it’s not even close,” I replied. “You should still bring it by,” they said.” “I will see you in two years,” I said. The gallery person leaves and the other people listening in say “Do you KNOW who what was?” I said “Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact the work isn’t ready.” The second little event involves a museum director who I was introduced to. During the intro I noticed the director looking at the ground, and I realized he viewed me as another photographer probably looking to get a show or get something else from him. I extended my hand and said “I’m your new best friend.” He looked up at me and asked “Really, why?” “Because I have no interest in having a show and I will never ask you for anything,” I said. His reply was awesome. “Oh, so you mean I can make eye contact with you.” What subsequently unfolded was what I would describe as a relaxed, adult conversation. The same thing happened. This person, probably feeling surprised and relieved began to ask me about who I was and what I was doing. Suddenly this person is giving me names, numbers, other outlets and saying, “Tell so-and-so I sent you.” Perhaps these cases were anomalies, but it doesn’t matter because I’m going to explain later why I think these are a good thing and what my ultimate dream would be.

Now, I’m sure voicing this reality will get me slaughtered by a variety of people. I can see their names and faces as I write this, but it is very important for me to say this. Someone wrote me a week ago and asked about how to make the jump to being a photographer. This person gave me the gist of their life and my response was, “You are crazy to do this.” “Why would you want to take something you love and make a business of it?” He had specific ingredients in his life that prompted me to say this. Note, I did not tell him not to do photography. In fact, I stated flatly I think photography is a GREAT thing, but making a jump into this industry with his specific ingredient set, at this time in history, is a risky business.

Personally, I think photography needed to change. There were simply too many untrained people jumping in, buying a Dslr, building a website and taking anything that came along. Plus, we all got really, really, stinking drunk on the technology and began to think the next generation would be the one that really made things right. The mistakes made early on, like 1997(giving it away for less than analog shoots because of perception digital shoots were less expensive due to no out of pocket cost with film and processing. Yes, this actually happened, and yes it was happening as far back as 1997.), with the technology are STILL being felt today and sadly they are impossible to reverse.
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There was a second bullet point to my revelation in Australia. The second bullet point was about YOU not me. I realized that the vast majority of my friends who are photographers are compromised in their professional work.(It’s always been this way, to some degree, for most photogs with the exception of those who are so good the are left alone to make what they make.) Budgets, contracts, production, duration of shoots, usage, stock sales, have all been compromised to such a degree that the idea of making GREAT work, often times, isn’t even on the table.(This is where the deadly term “content” starts creeping in). I’m referring to the real photographers on Earth when I say this not Cyberspace photographers who are always doing well because that is how you gain followers. I’m talking about the people doing the real editorial, commercial, advertising, fashion, photojournalism, etc. And hey, there are people killing it out there, there really are, but there are not NEARLY as many as I would like to see. There are a lot of talented people sitting in neutral.

I think the problem is to make great work you have to battle SO HARD and SO OFTEN that it takes one of two things. One, you are already an established person.(Most of these folks are in their 50’s.) I know many of these folks who have been working full time for decades and know the agents, agencies, etc. They know the legit rules of the road and are respected. They are doing major campaigns for major agencies for rates that would stun and paralyze many up and comers. The Cyberspace photographers typically don’t know any of these people. Different worlds. The second group that lives on is the possessed. The people who say “f*uck everything else” I’m going to invest every moment of every day into my work and abandon everything single other aspect of my life. If you want to know the prototype, “Photo Alpha Male” research W. Eugene Smith. Rumor had it he passed away with $13 in the bank and a list of people who were unhappy with him. He drove everyone crazy while he worked and nearly drove himself to death making his images. In my opinion, what he received in return is the title of “most significant documentary photographer of all time.” And believe me there are plenty of “Photo Alpha Females” as well. Now, I’m going to add a third category here, but it’s a facade category. The third category of photographer who appears to be making it is the up and coming star, and this is what has been bugging me for quite some time. This category is touted in the industry pubs and social outlets as doing amazing work, and in some cases they REALLY are, but behind closed doors they are hanging on by a thread, but this little detail can’t be discussed because it would blow the facade. Case in point…last year I had dinner with one of these folks. I had never met this person, but found them very capable and very engaging. They had just had a COVER story done about them and their rise within the photo ranks. The moment this person sat down I knew something wasn’t right. They immediately began to divulge the realities of their professional life. Remember, I didn’t know them and was certainly not prying. “I hate what I’m doing.” “There isn’t anything in my portfolio that is actually mine,” they stated. Over the next hour they basically blew apart what had been written about them and their work. “I need to either start over or get out,” they added. I don’t knock or fault this person AT ALL. In reality they were in a position of power but just didn’t realize it yet. This type person is HUGELY important at this time in photo history. This is the person that needs to be empowered, not confined, but this little maneuver is a 9.9 on the degree of difficulty scale.
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Before Australia I’d spoken with agency people, photographers, designers, illustrators and a bevy of other creative industry folks because that is my job at Blurb. I’m a link between these folks and the company. I work with people one-on-one, or in groups, to help them find uses for the platform. It is an incredible job that has given me a view of the industry I would have never had as a photographer. Many of these folks feel compromised, frustrated AND all on the same path. “I want to do less commercial work and more personal work,” or the “I want to make my personal work my professional work.” Right now, the ratio for most people is about 80% commercial to 20% personal. However, ask them which of the two is the better work and they will quickly reply “my personal work.” And here is the kicker….the clients say the same thing, yet the trend remains unbroken. Agency people complain about clients “trending” with silly mobile phone campaigns, photographers complain about getting work or how their work is treated, designers and illustrators want to be turned loose not held back, etc. AGAIN, I’m going to say this ONE MORE TIME because the haters will be fueling up reading this. There are people doing GREAT work, on their terms and finding financial success, which is all that matters because they are living proof of what is possible.

Driving through The Outback I began to wonder what would happen if I took one photographer, one designer, one illustrator, one writer and one agency person and said “Here is he concept, everyone needs to remain on concept, but what you do to convey this concept is ENTIRELY up to you.” “Work together but make PURE work based not on ridiculous parameters.” “Take your time.” What would happen? Everyone I asked about this said “Chances are you are going to get something spectacular.” (I just explained this post and this idea to a photog in his 50’s and he said “That is what advertising USED to be.”)

I left Australia dreaming of making this a reality. Now, I don’t think I can do this because the reality is I’m a nobody and I don’t operate in those circles, but my dream was to plant the seed in someone who can. One project at a time, a hand picked lineup of talent and a client who signs a contract saying “I will not interfere.” Probably a pipe dream here, but I have to say the thing that gives me hope is the response I get when I bring this topic up with photographers. The response I get is anger. I’m turned on like a pack of wolves converging on Bambi. This is natural, and a good thing because it tells me they are fed up. At SOME POINT something will pop, ping, snap or turn, perhaps like it did for me.

There is absolutely NOTHING better for me than to meet with someone who has been turned loose and set free. Whether it be an illustrator, designer, photographer or anyone else who has been empowered to be who they know they can be, not who their industry or clients are telling them to be. They exude an unrivaled energy. They are dangerous people. They really are. I want my phone calls and text messages and emails to come from happy friends who are still growing as creatives. I want those who are coasting because they found a niche to stand up and throw off the blanket of routine because photography doesn’t have time for this. I’m greedy. I want to be stunned by invention, risk-taking and friends with crazy in their eyes.

By the time we rolled back into to Perth my internal flame was glowing. I was SO jazzed to try and figure this out. I had dreams of how I could accomplish this, dreams that will remain private because I MIGHT be able to eventually accomplish one. The festivals I attended were SO good and SO inspiring I couldn’t sleep at night. I sat on this post for months because I was very, very nervous about posting it. I still am. But I realized that I can’t do what I want to do on my own. I thought if I write about these things, and at least put them out there, then maybe someone else will read it and say “I’ve been thinking the same thing.” Hopefully this person is in a position of power. I don’t expect anything to change overnight. I’m looking only for an experiment. I will not be involved because I’m not good enough. I have a short list of people I would like to unite, but I don’t know them well enough to pull it off, nor do I have the track record to interest them, but I’m snooping for a go-between.

I just realized what a rambling mess this post is, perhaps the result of me having both Lyme Disease AND a kidney stone. However, mess as it may be there are at least three ideas here I’m going to break out into individual posts only because I know there are huge, waiting masses eager for my opinion. Wink, wink. I also want to remind you that although some of this stuff might seem negative I don’t see it that way at all. Through the murkiness of life there are flickering splinters of light. I know because I saw one while in the Australian bush. Now I need to turn myself and see just what the light was illuminating. I heard an interview with author Doris Lessing who admitted she felt that she had only had a light impact on a small number of people, but she continued to write anyway, which I think is the most important point here.

PS: I want to thank all the Australians I met during my travels. I wasn’t able to even scratch the surface of your wonderful country, but I’m coming back as soon as humanly possible. If you are in the photography industry in Australia and you don’t know Ian and Erick you really should reach out and introduce yourself. They are good people and also share a desire to make YOU the best possible photographer you can be because ultimately it helps everyone involved. Just beware, they only consume two things. Meat and candy.

Countdown to Peru 2013: Winds of Machu Picchu

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Machu Picchu Wind, 2011.

I’ve made the trip up to Machu Picchu about six times now, and I realized after the second visit there was no way to predict what I would see. I’ve seen the place completely and uttering deserted and I’ve seen it overrun with tourists. Both situations were fantastic. I’ve seen it rain. I’ve seen the sun shine. I’ve seen incredible clouds and I’ve seen wind which is what this post is about. The wind comes up from the valley and just rockets past the areas near the edge of the site. If you are lucky people slap on their plastic rain sheets and let the wind take them for a ride. I’m not really a ruins guy, but I don’t think I will ever tire of this place. I could stare into those mountains forever.


Flemming gets blasted, Machu Picchu 2011.

This second image is of Flemming Jensen, a student from last year’s workshop. It had been a slow, wet day at the site, perfect in so many ways, and Flemming and I ended up in the same area. As you visit the site everyone breaks off and goes their own way, but you keep running into people you know here and there. I ran into Flemming just as his rain gear was in full revolt. Oddly enough he’s Danish, and in Denmark they routinely wear their rain gear this way, something about their Viking past, but I still found it worthy of a quick snap with phone.

Machu Picchu Wind from Smogranch on Vimeo.

This is maybe the worst video footage in history but someone had to shoot it. Might as well be me. We are headed back to this sacred site at the beginning of this year’s workshop. I’m already scheming and planning as to how I’m going to work this place. Can’t wait.

Countdown to Peru 2013: iPhone Three

BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND…MORE PHONE PHOTOGRAPHS. OKAY NOT REALLY.

Since my last post about the upcoming Peru trip I am holding fast to my goal of black and white only during the 2013 trip. However, something else just creeped into my mind………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Okay, by now you should be getting a good feel for just how INSANELY good these Peru trips are. These are simply phone images, but they will describe to you the route and trajectory of our time together. And when I say, “simply phone images,” as I’ve stated before, I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Remember, if the phone is what you carry then just commit to that. You could create something pretty darn cool and wouldn’t even need to complain about a sore back, tired shoulders or pinched nerve. Power on.

It’s odd, when these trips happen I get wrapped up in the logistics, the conversations and I forget what all we did.

You can’t imagine what it does to me to see these images. The pull of places like Machu Picchu and the Amazon are so overwhelming it’s hard to deal with. Heck, South America in general is so stamped on my brain I’m ruined forever.

Last time I checked we had a few seats left for the 2013 voyage.




Countdown to Peru 2013: iPhone Two

Round two of Peru iPhone snaps. What I think is important is the range of moment and location. Imagine having the time to work these scenes, these places, etc. Slowly, building the days and weeks, image by image, moment by moment. I’m sitting here foaming at the mouth in anticipation. If I could leave right now I would.

In 2013 I’m going all black and white, all 35mm. No color on this trip.(This is what I’m saying right now, today, but tomorrow I might tell you something different.) Going to just streamline even more and focus on making the best black and white snaps I can. Oddly enough, what is making me okay with this is the fact that I am contemplating a portrait lens for 35mm, meaning something in the 85mm range. I haven’t had a longer lens like this in several decades, but I’m thinking about getting one now. I don’t want to continue to work in both color square and black and white 35mm. It’s just too much and what I end up with is too easy, to predictable and too fractured. I’ve written about this in the past but color square is a VERY easy way of working because everything looks great. The great medium format falloff, the ease of the lack of composition using the square, etc. Working with the square is a crutch, unless in my opinion, you just entirely devote yourself to that format, which oddly enough in the age of digital has really seen a resurgence. When you work with the square it FEELS good because again you know you can snap a garbage can at 2.8 an it will look great(I actually did this last year in Peru). Black and white 35mm isn’t exotic and it sure as Hell isn’t easy. It takes far more time, more effort and more concentration. It is also, at least in my experience, a far lower success rate. It’s a very difficult decision to do this, believe me. We are surrounded by an industry that screams DON’T DO THIS. I just looked through a catalog from an art-photography fair and there was exactly ONE black and white reportage image. It’s not like there is a huge demand for it.

The industry screams shoot digital so you don’t have to travel with film. Shoot digital so you can have an endless amount of imagery. Shoot digital so you can have color and black and white on every image. Shoot digital so you can see those images at night in the hotel. Shoot digital so you can share your moments with the world as you go.
These are all valid points depending on who you are and what your goals are. The vast majority of my workshop students will be, and are, digital, but for me I like chipping away with a visual chisel. I would not, and am not, suggesting everyone do this. Just me talking here. But let’s move on.

I will no longer have an iPhone. I switched to a Samsung phone, which I feel has advantages over the iPhone, but again this is me talking. There are a bevy of reasons why I like the Samsung/Google pairing more than the iPhone world, but again, this is like debating Nikon vs Canon. Use what you like.

The images here were all iPhone from last year, and as you know if you follow this blog, I’ve done one post already about this work and have another on the list after this. Nothing wrong with these images, but when I studied what they REALLY were, I realized they were simply not good photographs. These images were about software more than photography, moments, light, timing, etc. When you strip away the Snapseed filters you are left with images that simply aren’t great. I feel this way about many of cellphone images I see, but I actually don’t think that is entirely bad, and I also feel this same about the vast majority of photographs I see for that matter. I think these mobile-images, for most people. serve a certain purpose. I think at this point when I see a project being sold as a “cellphone project” I just wonder why we still need to highlight that? Maybe I’m missing something but didn’t Robert Clark do a cellphone book back in the 1990’s? Once I saw that project I was under the impression the genie was out of the bottle, but again, I’m probably missing something. They are what they are. I think we should simply judge them like the rest of photography. Are they good photographs or not?


However, this isn’t why I’m NOT using a phone while I work. I’m not using the phone to make pictures, any phone, while I WORK because I can’t do two things at once. I surely can’t do three, which is what I was doing last year in Peru. Actually, I was trying to do four. I was shooting color square, black and white 35mm, recording audio and using my phone. People, this just doesn’t work. Did I get some decent images? Yes. Did I make anything cohesive? No. Now, to muy credit, I’m teaching, which is priority one, but I wasn’t making it easy on myself, that is for sure. I’m left with the question, “What would I have made had I only done ONE thing?”



I want to make something VERY clear. If you are using, or want to use your phone to make images, than by all means DO IT. I know several people who have fully committed to this device and are making interesting images and then fully utilizing the real-time delivery methods the platform was designed for. My ONLY suggestion is that if you are going to do it then commit to it and don’t do what I did. Don’t multitask because it really doesn’t work, not for you, or me, or anyone else. The bottom line is that the mobile phone has contributed HUGE amounts to the visual literacy of the world, and it will continue to do so. And, the options for how you use it, print it, showcase it etc, will only get better. I just know I have to pick my visual battles, WHEN I’M WORKING, and when I say “working” I mean those rare occasions when I’m in the field with the singular desire to make the best images I possibly can.

I guess what all of this boils down to is decision making. I’ve had enough time, both in the field and away, that I know now what I need to do. I know I have decisions I HAVE to make that will dramatically impact the archive I’ll have when my bones turn to dust. For me, in many ways, it’s not about the NOW. But again, to each his or her own. I think it is really interesting to have a workshop class where there is a range of angles working in the background, someone on a laptop, someone building a fire to heat chemistry and someone scouring the Lima streets for flash powder. Come July it’s game on.