The Pack


Snappers descend on an anti-abortion doll, San Diego political convention, late 1990’s.

This photo says a lot about a lot of things, but I’m going to narrow it down to just a few. Perhaps one or two are relevant.

I used to love covering events. Big news events, political conventions(which is where this image was made)football games, protests, etc. I loved the thrill of the action, the packs of roving photographers, the idea of covering something considered news.

But today I’m a different person, and a different photographer. Now, I search out other kinds of work.

Working around a pack is a strange experience, especially now when the pack is so much larger than it has ever been. The switch, for me, was flipped when I covered the political convention in downtown Los Angeles a few years back(Upcoming Post!). Johnny Law was out in FULL FORCE, out of control in many ways, clubbing civilians, gassing and shooting rubber bullets for no particular reason. It was exciting in some ways but there were so many other photographers, camera people, etc, that in some ways the most difficult part was cropping out all the other snappers. I realized I was losing interest in working around other photographers.

At one point the LAPD was arresting a young woman who was carrying a pocket sized video camera who screamed, “I’m a filmmaker.” Her protest did nothing, but it did make we wonder what level of filmmaker she was, why she didn’t have a credential and why she was getting arrested? Again, the police were way overboard on how they responded to the crowd, but her plea made me realize the days of really earning a credential, really learning the craft were probably in transition. This is magnified ten-fold today, when it seems EVERYONE with a DSLR is a director of photography or cinematographer or filmmaker or producer overnight, and the internet as final destination-no quality bar- has also added to this mess.

As the years went on this reality became more and more evident. At the Super Bowl it seemed there were as many people on the field as there were in the stands(And this was the Super Bowl I covered years ago). If you have ever covered the Super Bowl then you will know the guy with Pentax K1000, 50mm and monopod that has a credential and prime spot. Seemingly everywhere I went everyone had a camera and was a “journalist” or “filmmaker” of some sort. In theory, doesn’t this democratize the process? Isn’t that supposed to be a good thing? Then why isn’t it?

I found myself looking for quiet, space, solitude and my own stories. When I would encounter even a single other photographer I would head in another direction.

There were exceptions. I worked in Sicily, five times, and each time with at least one other photographer, sometimes two or three, but we were doing it because we were friends and because we were sharing cars, sharing gas money, etc. And, what we were covering was large enough we all had our own working space.

Sometimes when you work in a pack the people you are photographing will do things they would never do simply because they are getting so much attention. This can even happen when you are working solo, but in that case it is easy to just stop shooting. Getting a pack to stop is nearly impossible. When it comes to a big news event, these packs can really create a whirlwind of their own news.(Check the articles about Lebanon from a few years ago.)

The only downside to not working these events is that I have several friends in this picture, and I do miss being around them in the field. But, I see them “off the field” so it works out.

All I know for sure is that I’m a “quiet” photographer. I think there is an upside and a downside to this. The upside is peace of mind, and quiet reflective moments on MY negatives, moments that ONLY exist for me and no one else in the world. Think about this. When I work on stories, I’m the only one there, and nobody else on the entire planet has what I have. The downside, depending on your point of view, is the lack of interest in quiet moments. Loud places tend to get more attention, but even so, when I look at my future, I see more quiet, less noise.

I think the real signature photographers don’t work in a pack, never have, never will. And I’m not referring to myself here, just others of more important historical significance. Their work requires more time and a different concentration applied in a different direction than the news photographer. Think AM vs FM radio waves. Great news photography is a fantastic thing, but again, I think a very small percentage of those in the pack are doing great news work. Maybe it comes down to motive?

I keep waiting to see signature work from Haiti that shows me a relationship between photographer and community but I have yet to see it….and I’ve been searching. Granted, it’s early days and it’s difficult to do, and perhaps I should not expect this from pack made imagery. I’ve seen work that is clearly “better” than others, but still superficial, probably due to the need to get things out as fast as humanly possible. I keep waiting for the portrait level of intimacy, and not portraits of maimed or bloodied people. I keep waiting for relationship and story telling that comes with speaking the language-even with translator-and a simplification that relays the entire picture in one image, but again, this isn’t typically what the pack provides. I’m sure it will come. The good news is that Haiti is at saturation level in the news, which has led to some great things.

What I’ve seen FAR too much of is the dead, burning rubble, heavily manipulated images of smoke and mangled bodies and tilted overly complex imagery that seems to puzzle readers but seems to be the favored snap of the modern journalism world, especially young photographers and younger photo-editors. And I see reportage from photographers who are there for a few days, fill up their drives, and have already moved on to other stories. I’m not sure what the point is other than to say, “I was in Haiti” at gatherings where a statement like that holds water. And granted, there are plenty of places where it does.(It is precisely these places that I pronounce myself a wedding photographer and watch people scatter. Just a little game I play to satisfy my juvenile tendencies.)

Or contest time, when we all know that Haiti will dominate the winning portfolios. Again, motive comes into my mind. Pack areas tend to provide contest winning material. The suburbs don’t.

I’m sure at some point in my life, I’ll be around a pack once again. I’ll say hello to my friends and then go the other way, searching for my cherished solitude.

Damn Dogs

I’m a total sucker for dogs and making pictures of dogs.

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As many of you know, I’ve done four books on dogs, in a series titled “Dogs Can’t Read,” which I traveled to four cities around the world to photograph the juxtaposition of dogs and graffiti.

Yes, I wandered the streets of Tijuana, New York, Paris and Palermo, on my own, and compiled these babies.

Face it, the only thing easier to photography than a dog is a smiling baby. But I still can’t stop myself. Embrace the cliche Danny. And I do.

This little jobbie is from San Diego, a moment right before sunset. Wandering alone, waiting, watching. And then I see the damn dogs, at the beach, without leash, and I can’t imagine finding a happier creature.

I think the dog thinks that each day is his or her last on Earth, so they live with an excitement we can only dream of. A lesson to be learned there I believe.

My dog books are here: DOGS CAN’T READ

Two Minutes

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Look closely in the middle, spotted perch.

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Saturday morning. Making my weekly phone calls.

Mother, brother, sister, a few others. Walking on the beach, light has already gone, camera still in my bag. Not even thinking of shooting.

And then I turn south. A haze that stops me. Light is harsh but filtered. A depth is happening in front of me. Foreground, midground, background.

“Gotta call you back.”

Poof I take picture.

Two minutes later I’m done. Camera back in bag, move on.

La Frontera



I love the border. I really do. The border is not as easy space, and can be a place filled with hardship and turmoil, but as a photographer, for some reason, I’m drawn to these type places. I’m intrigued by human transition, migration, and the mixing and mashing of cultures.

I love Mexico, which is partly to blame. I’ve only explored a tiny percentage of the country, but each time I go I find something new, something different, something interesting with the heart of the matter being the Mexican people.

Visceral is life in much of Latin America, at least in the parts I have walked, and the history can be felt in the stones under your feet and the languages around you. Sometimes I think about moving there, or about just walking out the front door of my house, Leica in hand (the one I don’t have yet) and disappearing for an unknown amount of time.

These images are from various times over the years. The top image stems from a protest along the border during a political convention held in San Diego. The middle picture from a shoot from last year, and the final image, one that I like as much today as when I shot it many, many years ago, was from my first trip to the border, roughly from 1990, when I made my way to El Paso/Juarez area to see for myself what was happening.

This picture was made in downtown El Paso, as people crossing illegally ran through the streets of the city. At the time I had little knowledge of what was happening, so seeing this in the middle of the day, with cops and Border Patrol scrambling to catch up, was an awakening, and all the experience I needed to know I wanted to go further, and spend more time in this area.

Now I find myself looking south, wondering what will happen with our neighbors, as the narco-war rages and once again the innocents are caught in the middle. I know that before long I will once again head south and see what I can see.