All Things Old are New

Roughly two years ago I was falling out of love with Leica. There were a variety of reasons, some valid, some perhaps not. Regardless I culled my rangefinder heard down to one remaining body, two lenses and moved on in the world. I discovered the Nikon F6. In fact, I discovered two of them, and two lenses to go with. The F6 is the most advanced 35mm, film camera I’ve ever had. It has the best meter, the best autofocus, the best viewfinder, feels great in my hand and is built to last longer than I am. Everything about it is right. It’s nice to hold a roll of 35mm to the light and see nothing but PERFECT exposures staring back at you, and anyone who darkroom prints knows what this means. And the F6 is FAST. It’s also routine to hold a roll to the light and have 36 tack-sharp images staring back at you.

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But there is ONE problem. The images. I simply do not make the same images with the F6 that I do with the Leica. I thought I did, and thought I would, but I don’t. Now, this is ME talking here, and I did, after all, use the Leica for roughly twenty years so it’s not like this is an accident. The Leica became a part of my photography, more than I ever imagined. I figured all this out about two months ago while shooting at The Palm Springs Photo Festival, something I do on a yearly basis. For the first time I carried two F6 cameras and not the Leica. Okay I lied, there are TWO things about the F6. They are SO heavy in comparison to the Leica. As you know, I’m not in great health at the moment, and this difference between the two, after ONE full day of carrying was substantial enough to include back pain, even with carrying everything else on my hips.
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Then during the nightly presentations I watched a VERY good presentation from a New York based photographer who shot black and white, 35mm. I looked at the work and thought, “That is what my work USED to look like.” It was not only the weight, but also because Leica allows for a certain TYPE of image. Let’s be honest, if you are going to shoot runway fashion or a football game the Leica is going to suck, but if you are after a certain type of image there is no better camera in the world. I happen to want that exact type of image.
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I’ve also come to realize something else…for the LAST time. Most of the great work I see, and what I’ve seen from the past, is all ONE style of work completed over a long period of time. Almost all of it. My way of working, color 6×6 and 35mm black and white, isn’t really working. It never has, but it’s EASY with the 6×6 and for a lazy photographer or someone with little time, I’ve been both, it’s the crutch I felt I needed. I need to stop this and just shoot ONE thing. This WILL not apply to my Blurb shoots however. Those will remain a mixed bag, understandably. Would I love nothing more than to descend on a Blurb shoot with two Leicas, one with color and one with black and white? YES. YES. YES. And it would make my life logistically superior but it ain’t gonna happen.
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There are also a few new/old constants that have cemented themselves further into my life. I wasn’t sure that was even possible but it is. The journal is a DAILY must. This damn thing is maybe the most important thing I do. After all these years I’m still a bit afraid of how powerful this book is. Not the content, but what it sparks in me, how it opens doors, works as a companion and allows for truly flushing things out. The written word has always been a serious thing for me, something I give tremendous respect to, and this book is the anchor of it all. I also have to throw in audio here. I’ve dabbled in the past, but I now realize just how much I love the power of sound. On the contrary, after doing more video, I have LESS interest in video than ever before. But audio, oh my lovely audio, we are headed toward a serious courtship.
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Finally, I’ve realized a few other things. I want to continue to explore art. Sketching, painting,etc. Just for fun. And fully understanding, learning Spanish is a must. There is NO WAY around it any longer. Where I live, and where I want to work, Spanish is the only way. I’m tired of not being able to really speak with people, in depth, with meaning, and until I can do this I can’t really make great work in these places.

To recap my current systems check….

Leica(s)
Dan Bag(s)
Film
Audio
Art
Spanish
Focus
Peace
Patience

New Site: Oh Ya, I’m a Photographer Again.

It has been three years since I actually had a photography website. During this period, when people would ask about where they could see my images online, I would say “I don’t have any images online.” The looks I received were PRICELESS. “How can you be a photographer and not have images online?” they would ask. “I don’t work as a photographer, so I really don’t need a website,” I would reply. Then came the process of my friends and family saying “Wait, no he IS a photographer,” then defending my cult status as “photographer,” “not a photographer,” etc. Personally, I think this is entertaining and because it speaks to the IDEA of being a photographer, not the realities. For me it was simple. If I made my living with photography, I’m a photographer. If I don’t, I’m not.

When people ask me what I do I respond,“I work for Blurb.” Normally, the response is “Oh we love Blurb, I made a book about….” This is what is so great about this company. We provide an outlet for stories, and that is one damn cool thing. However, that is not what this post is about. This post is about my new site, and the new reality that, once again, I AM a photographer.
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It was official. A phone call. “Does this sound appealing to you?” Ten seconds ticked by…..“YES, this sounds incredible actually, like a dream scenario.” So here we are people. I’m in the game once again. Please alert the media. I know for some of you this idea of being or not being a photographer is puzzling or maddening, but for me it’s very real, and it has a significant impact on things like behavior, ethics, quality standards not to mention the idea of building an archive, which for me has always been a critical driving force behind me picking up a camera in the first place.

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I am now photographing for one client, Blurb. The idea is simple. I photograph people living creative, artistic lives. We’ve noticed some threads, some consistencies with these folks, and we are fascinated by their workspaces, their lives, their habits and their process. My goal is to shoot classic reportage essays with the idea being the work could be used in a variety of forms, from print to web and anything in between. This is a celebratory mission. The creative life is under siege, whether you be in music, art or photography, but there is something urgent about those who choose this path. It’s like your blood type. You can’t change it. You were born with this need and your life is about expanding upon it.

I can’t share any of the new work yet. It’s under wraps in private galleries, and will be until it runs in it’s native form. There will be new outlets designed and created to showcase this work, and other work that features similar missives. The site you see here is simply a public face.

I realized very quickly that I needed a new site, but not just a site to showcase images. I’m not really going to be showcasing them myself anyway. I needed a TOOL more than just a website. Photoshelter baby. I had used their services before, and literally within minutes I was up and running once again. I quickly found myself having to make a decision I hadn’t thought about in years. Because the new work will be private my homepage was entirely blank. I thought “I should put up some public work so at least it looks like a real site.” My mind raced back to the old me, “Well, I’ll put up a bunch of stories.” And then the idea of culling and editing began to sink in and knew I didn’t have it in me.

But more importantly I realized something else. A LOT has changed in three years. I studied my own online habits and thought back to a recent visit to photographer sites. These were really solid shooters and I didn’t give them much time. Three, four, five clicks maybe. So instead of uploading hundreds of images I made a decision to load just twenty-five total. My mindset is “If you can’t figure out who I am in these twenty-five then either I suck or you aren’t paying attention.” I also uploaded images I would have never uploaded before because they weren’t of a certain ilk. Images like this and this.
Remember, behind each image on this site is an in depth essay of twenty to fifty images.

Many photographers today are at the mercy of industry bottlenecks who need or want to quickly pigeonhole someone so they can mentally categorize them for current or future work. “That is the guy who shoots square urban landscapes.” “That is the woman who shoots lit portraits of animals,” or “That is the person who shoots protests.” I don’t have to deal with any of this anymore and I can now upload pretty much anything I want to upload. Am I a landscape photographer? No. Do I normally find intense satisfaction in stalking wildlife? No, but I like these images, and now I can put them up without risking an unwelcomed categorization. Who knows, in the future if I get bored with this, I might add more, but for now I thought, “Keep it clean and simple.”

For those of you wondering about the “photographer, not a photographer” thing just remember this is MY way of dealing with this. There is a HUGE difference between doing work on your work and doing work for a client. Secondarily, there is a significant dialogue that needs to take place regarding how the work will get done, get delivered, get archived, etc. With these conversations and arrangements comes a situation that constantly hangs in the balance of work vs. client. I won’t go into the details but these conversations are still ongoing and are actually laying the foundation for the future of the campaign. The balance is how I feel I need to work compared to what the client, in this case Blurb, needs or wants.

These “Creative Dispatches” will occupy a significant portion of my life, and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do these. In many ways this is the dream scenario, it really is. I have been encouraged to make the work I want to make in any way I see fit. I have both professional and personal goals with these shoots, but I frankly need to brush the dust off and get my head around thinking like a photographer once again. The adventure begins.

What was I really doing?

This photograph, recently brought to my attention by Smogranch follower and long-time friend Eric Labastida, makes me wonder on several fronts. This was made in Tijuana WAY back in the day. I’m guessing 1996 or 1997.

You will often find me at the fringes, sitting with my journal and making notes. This part I get. But it appears like I’m wearing some kind of sportcoat, which really puzzles me. What was I doing? Why a sportcoat in TJ? I am wearing my favorite ALL TIME boots, Browning Featherweights, but back when the made them in dark, dark green Kangaroo hide. If they still made these boots I would buy piles of them. But alas, like most things I fall in love with…they went away.

Just looking at this image jarred something loose. I did a show in Tijuana. I did. All those years ago and I totally forgot about it. It was something like “Building Bridges.” A great space, great building but the show coincided with a huge soccer game. People still came. I can’t remember who else was in the show. I do remember I did HUGE prints, analog style. I can’t remember who printed them, poor bastard, it had to be Hell.

Well, whatever was going on it must have been okay. I’m still here.

I LOVE looking at old photographs.

Smogranch Journal: Six Month Update

Here is what it looks like today…..the “Smogranch Journal Cover” is officially becoming a part of me. I can’t tell you how many people see the bag, and then this journal, and say “Oh man, where did you get THAT?” Arthur doesn’t know it yet…..but I’m gonna secretly work on the backpack idea. I will have to be sly, trick him perhaps, but it’s coming.


The New Smogranch Leather Journal

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a journal keeper. I started taking notes, writing stories, back when I was in elementary school, but I really began in earnest when I got my first internship at the Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix. I had no money to buy books but I lived close to the public library, and during one fateful day I stumbled into a book titled “The Adventures and Misadventures of Peter Beard in Africa.” In short, it changed my life. I had been keeping a journal prior to this day but Beard showed me just how far a journal, or diary, could go. What I was doing, and what I’m doing now really doesn’t resemble Beard in any way. He makes art. I make notes, in both photo and word form. Beard’s books are incredible and beautiful, mine are informational, some might say boring.

Over the years I’ve used just about every type of book imaginable. I’ve used the super-cheap black and white journal books from the grocery store. I’ve used notepads, fancy, leather-bound books and one year I even used a single, HUGE, yearly planner which ended up becoming so large and so heavy I couldn’t actually carry it anywhere. But over the past few yeas I’ve settled on the Moleskine Cahier as my go-to book. It’s small, simple and fits in my shoulder bag.

The Cahier itself is a pretty basic book. Moleskine has a long legacy of famous users and they are readily available in a variety of local haunts. But the book itself was a little “normal” for me, which put me on the lookout for something to spice it up.

A few months ago I got a call from Arthur at Renaissance Art in New Mexico. We decided to meet in a local coffee shop, and when Arthur walked in he had the coolest shoulder bag I’ve ever seen. “You know what will happen if photographers see that?” I asked. “We all have a bag fetish that can’t be denied.” He calmly picked it up and turned it over with an expression that said, “What? “This little thing?” Inside his bag were more leather goodies, each cooler than the next. I salivated a huge pool of drool out on the table in front of me.

Toward the end of our meeting Arthur pulled out HIS Cahier notebook only his was covered in a beautiful leather cover. My eyes went shut and I began breathing in short, gasping heaves. For a brief moment I thought about mugging him in the parking lot.

So over the past few months I’ve been able to spend a bit more time at Renaissance Art and during this last visit I was able to have my own leather notebook covered, cut, trimmed, sewn and imprinted. The leather comes from Italy and is processed without the use of acids. This particular leather is thin, super soft and continues to change and weather the longer you use it.

After the cover was made and placed over the notebook I scurried around Arthur’s workshop looking for the right light to photograph it. “You should do a documentary on this book, make a picture of it every three months,” Arthur said. “Great idea but the first image will start with you.” I answered.

Over the past few days I’ve pulled this thing out at a variety of places and each time my fellow photographers begin their own drooling process. This is only the tip of the iceberg for me. I see many more leather objects in my future. Shoes, bags, covers, etc.

Experiencing the birth of my Smogranch cover turned out to be more than just time spent in the workshop. Not only an expert on all things leather, it turns out that Arthur is also an expert on tea. A short tea experience followed the leather experience and I was exposed to some of the best tea I’ve ever had. People, there are many parts of this experience I wish to share with you, beyond the fact I now have a nice leather cover for my journal. This beauty was made by hand, which for me is so important. In an age of instant everything, an age of mass-produced, sterile, cheap foreign goods, the idea of getting something made by hand is all-powerful. Whether it be a print made in the darkroom, a pair of shoes cobbled by hand or leather bag made to house your beloved M9, for me it makes a HUGE difference. This process is also about slowing down and enjoying the experience of the process. We could have had tea in the parking lot, banged down some cheap leaves, but we didn’t. We took our time, used no less than four different tea cups and Arthur even added in some flute while he was explaining the tea and the reasons behind why it is prepared the way it is. I guess it boils down to intent, to purpose and to meaning.

Okay, and for those of you looking for the bag…….next to my boots.