New Direction

Yesterday I drove 850 miles.

On and off, the entire way, I was thinking about this image. I’ve posted this before, but it has taken some time to sink in. You know how things sink in over time? Like gnats buzzing around your head on a camping trip, at first a small annoyance and then at some point they become the entire focus of your existence.

As many of you know, on December 1st I stopped shooting commercially. No mas. No portraits, weddings, magazine work, commercial shoots, etc. I needed a new direction, and so far the grand experiment has been enlightening, making me think I should have done this ten years ago.

However, it’s not enough, just stopping the work for others focusing only on the work for me. Within this shift lies another, smaller, but I’m realizing perhaps more important, micro shift. The direction of the work. And when I say direction I mean the content, the style in which it is created and the method of presentation. Again, this image has been what haunts me.

So over the drive, a drive that started near the ocean and ended in the mountain peaks, I thought only of this photograph. What it means, how it was made, why I made it and how I wanted to share it with those that want to keep it for themselves.

In essence, I had time to isolate myself and think critically about what I was doing with my creative life. You might think this happens all the time, but it doesn’t. In fact, it feels rare. Like many of you, my life is cluttered, cluttered with mostly good things, but cluttered none the less. So when I get a break, like this drive, my mind, like the landscape, opens up. And then it narrows down.

This morning, as I checked my Twitter feed, someone wrote to me and said that my magazine, Manifesto, had changed their photographic life and direction. Now for me, there are few things that could be happier to my ears and eyes. If I can make something that has this effect on someone then I feel I’m doing something right.(Issue #2 on the way)

Over the past few days I’ve been scouring sites about design, something I know little about, but something I feel is opening up another opportunity for me, the opportunity of a new direction. I can’t tell you how good this feels.

Now the challenges still remain. In fact, the challenges of my new life and my new direction are what are so exciting. Every minute of every day my mind races with the possibilities. I feel that this change of professional focus, and micro-direction with the work, are only two of the many changes to come.

As I sit here in the cold, crisp air, my notepad is filled with sketches, dimension and direction. A map lies open with notes around the edges and the future fills my stomach with butterflies.

But I Can’t See His Face

What can I say, this little guy has style. So does his brother. Been photographing him since he was a little bugger. It feels like yesterday, but it has been many years now. This image came up on the monitor and my wife looked over and said, “What I like best about your work is being able to watch these kids grow up.”

I hope that I occupy a tiny part of their brains. I really do. I hope that when mom and dad tell them they are going to do another shoot they have good thoughts, specific thoughts, not just to the images but about me as well.
I think having a relationship with the people you work with is absolutely critical to making images that go beyond the standard portrait shoot.
My favorite thing is working with the same kids three or four times a year. I would much prefer this to a new client or working in the volume shooting game, where you are looking at new face after new face. Don’t get me wrong, I need new clients, but so much or so little can happen on that first shoot and RARELY do you get something magical the first time around. Be honest folks. “Magical” means different things to different people, and I’m referring to the “magical” that is photographer to photographer, not photographer to client. I think this point might need a little clarification. Say you are photographing kids. Say you don’t have your best day. Well, you are photographing someone’s kids! You are gonna get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the pictures because, after all, they LOVE their kids. So getting a passing grade from a client is very different than getting a passing grade from another photographer. At least I think so. Yesterday I had a surprise visit from a photographer I really admire. She showed me her new book and I showed her mine. My book had one image I KNEW I needed to get rid of, but had yet to cut those bounds of love. And then, .11111 seconds after viewing that image, my photographer friend said, “Ah, I don’t think so, get rid of it.” It’s done. Gone. I trust her and respect her opinion because of what she has accomplished and what she knows about imagery and editing, heck and making books for that matter. A few years ago I began to hear photographers say something very strange, “Well, my clients aren’t complaining,” when they referred to their work that might not have been up to THEIR, the photographer’s standard. Quality bars in this profession of ours have gone from fairly high to nonexistent in a few short years. This can be a real slippery slope for your work when you are allowing the client to dictate your quality bar. My advice…don’t do that.
Oh, and the easiest thing of all…photograph the kids in your own family! You can do anything! I don’t have any kids of my own, but my nephews and nieces are fair game!
Okay, back to my little story.
I think my desire to work with the same kids over and over comes from my working as a documentary photographer, or I should more accurately say, “Me spending time making documentary pictures,” cause I’m sure not working for anyone else when I’m doing this stuff. Just spent two days sleeping in my car in 100 degree temps. Yes, it sucked, at the time, but was well worth it in terms of exploration.
When I work with the same kids over and over I lose those initial moments of awkwardness, where the dancers move around one another but are yet to begin the routine. We start instantly.
Sometimes now, mom and dad are not even home. I get text messages. “Just go in and do whatever you want, we’ll be there in a little while.” Trust, confidence, earned from past results. You can’t beat that.


What this means is I don’t need the routine any longer. I don’t need the expected. I don’t need those safe images that we all feel we have to make when we meet someone new. Now I find myself leaning forward, or toward the edges of what I can dream of.
These two images I like, and I can see printing them, but in my mind are still a bit too safe and routine. A few years ago, because you could not see his face or all of his face, I would have thought, “Well, I better get something straight to appease everyone.”
WRONG. Sellout. Choker. Conformist.
I should have had my shooter card revoked. Small minded thinking folks. Really.
So now I see these images, which I believe say volumes about this kid at this particular time in his life, yet don’t go quite far enough into who he really is, AND, who I am as a photographer. They are in the right direction but I need to go further. This might take more time, a different attitude, luck or simple communication with the boy himself.
You can take this too far, lose the bridge to that client trust, and I’ve come close. Sometimes it takes a good sit down to explain what your intention was or your vision. Sometimes this is enough, sometimes you gotta do over!
This folks is why I keep doing this. I don’t know where I’m going. I know I’m only in control of fifty percent of the equation and I will never be in control of the other fifty percent, so I’m teaching myself to live with this fact.
It isn’t easy. But once it does become easy it means you are either not trying hard enough, or have fallen into the routine of accepting what is average or expected. I’ve found myself more than once framing something up and then saying to myself, “Don’t do that, you are just falling back on what you know will work here.”
Look at what our industry is about these days. Total control. Over control. Volume. Mass production. Perfection.
I just don’t feel it. I just don’t understand it.
I feel myself losing control and I really like it. I realize now that is where the best images happen. Fractured moments, impossible to predict, impossible to know or create until you see it forming in front of you. And, images that only exist in my world, my mind.
I compare this to a great book(Assuming my image ends up being great…rare.) We all probably have a favorite author who churns out book after book. These books we really like and find comfort in, but when asked about our favorite book of all time they don’t make the list. Because there was a book by someone else, someone who only did a few, a book so powerful it changed our life. A work like that is never mass produced. It takes too much pain, good and bad, to produce. It’s like the author left a part of themselves behind when the final pen stroke was made. This is what I’m looking for. But again folks, these images, these true portfolio breakthroughs, the handful of images you will take into the next world, they don’t come around very often.
It’s funny. Actually making the images should be the best and most fun part of what we do, and most of the time it is. But, I think sometimes we grip so hard during the time we are actually working we limit ourselves by the mental baggage we carry with us. We find ourselves running so many scenarios through our minds, thinking of all those we are trying to appease, thinking of all the techniques we have read about and we actually, in some ways, close ourselves off to what is possible. We should have a clear mind when we work. Don’t look at me. I’ve, at times, got the Samsonite of mental baggage. I’m no Grasshopper. If you have the answer put it on DVD and sell it for $99.99 and I’ll buy it.
So go forth my friends and search high and low for your edge of control. Don’t be afraid when your breath comes in short gasps, it just means you are living.

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.

Story Behind the Photos: Kman Does Texas BMX


The infamous Kman, not happy at having to stand still for this picture.

I did what I thought I was supposed to do. Yes, after all these years, I still do this.

My nephew, the infamous Kman, races BMX. In fact, he is a total badass with a room full of trophies to show off his 65-pound prowess.

So I go to visit the family and find out I’ve landed on race night.

I have options.

I think to myself, “This is racing action, I’ve got to get that peak moment, I need a motor drive, long lens, etc,” so I grab the digital body and long lens and toss it in the truck.

And then, more out of reflex than anything else, I toss in the Blad.

The track is easy. A small place, and being Texas people are relaxed.

“Hey, my nephew is racing, can I stand in the middle of the track?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

And with a smoking gun the races begin.

I’m hammering away, motor drive humming, mirror clanging up and down. But I’m distracted. Not by something around me, but by something inside me.

“What am I going to do with these images?”
I begin to ask.

“Do I really want to sit down and edit through all these motor sequences.”

“Ugh.”

“Why am I doing this?”

“Do I really want to archive these, label these, tag these, etc,etc?”

“Ugh.”

Don’t laugh, this is how my troubled mind works.

I began scrolling through the images on the camera, something I HATE doing. I know hate is a strong word, but it fits here. I DETEST looking at images right after. I think it completely KILLS the idea of being a photographer, BUT I CAN’T STOP MYSELF.

I’m like a total crack monkey with the preview window. I can’t stop. If I turn it off, I just turn it right back on. Hopeless.

I suddenly realized, with slight sadness, I had no interest in even looking at the images I was making. The images didnt’ feel like they were mine.

There were a dozen parents in the same area, all with similar gear, banging away. They probably had the exact same stuff, only of their mini-warriors. And I think there was even the dude that shoots every kid and uploads every single image online so that the one parent without their camera can buy a print.

“Well, I know my brother will like these, or my mom,” I said to myself, making excuses for the images, while I took a quick peak at the refreshment stand wondering what delicious treats they had hidden behind the counter.

I packed up the gear and headed for the car.

Right before burning dust in the parking lot I saw the Blad.

I loaded the relic and grabbed my dreaded tripod. Yes, my tripod, and headed out into the world I had just retreated from.

At least 10% of my mind was still thinking of the refreshment stand. I have to be honest.

Suddenly there were whispers around me.

“Honey, look at that guy with the old camera.” “What is he doing?” “Is he allowed in there?”

“Hey, dude, what the f%$# is that thing.” “Holy S%@#, haven’t seen one of those in a while.”

And suddenly I was in my own world. I could see again. I grunted and shuffled around the pit area like a deranged ape.

Things were clear. I dissected with my eyes, and then framed the pieces. A story began to build.

The kids in the pits were like ants invading an empire, merging in lines and shadow, with harsh artificial light painting their movements with razor sharp shadow. The sky was glowing.

Insects pierced the night. Colors were bright. The wind picked up. Darkness and light. Passion.

I don’t remember much of what was around me. I was “involved” let’s say. I was involved in a 6×6 space that started in my medulla oblongata and ended at the tip of an 80mm.

Clunk.

Minutes later.

Clunk.

This was MY work. My mind. My vision. My moment. This was the work I need to be doing ALL THE TIME. All supplied by following the Kman.

I thought about history. I thought about family. I thought about the light. I thought about what these pictures would mean. I thought about who would have them in 100 years. I thought about Kman and what must be going through his mind.

I was away in that place that photographers go when they are working.

And then. Clunk. It was over.

A Sense of Place

My aunt and I share the same birthday, so I always try to call her on the day.

She recently had a book of poetry published. The poems came to her in a “moment of clarity” and suddenly began to flow through her. She wrote them down, thought of self-publishing, but decided to try one mainstream publisher who quickly gobbled her up. I am thrilled for her.

But something from our conversation really hit home. It was that “moment of clarity.”

You see her moment happened when she was holding her granddaughter, and watching her grandson as he roamed and ran. It wasn’t as if she was sitting alone in a darkened room, meditating with flute music. She was in the midst of things, which is what made me stop and think.

They say we all have a “powerspot,” or a place that we subconsciously relate to. “They” being educated people like the college professor that explained the “powerspot” to me.

I agree with this. I have several. One happens to be the drivers seat of my car. Another is the seat of my bicycle. And my other “powerspots,” they vary, move around.

But when I land on one, my best work emerges. Always.

It is during those moments of pristine clarity when, I think, our true creative being emerges. We find the focus we need, we find the second layer of the project, or the third, fourth or fifth. And suddenly, your vision becomes as clear as your moment.

Currently, one of my “powerspots” is where my mom lives. I only get there once, maybe twice a year, but each time I’m there I always manage to find a moment of clarity. And when I do, I make pictures. I make these pictures for no reason other than to make them. I have to.

And what these particular pictures seem to do is give me a sense of place, of being, without really showing where I am. They are like fingerprints, inspired by nature, perhaps a return to my youth. I make them each and every time I go, and I’ve found them more and more interesting over time.

I feel an energy in these images, a respect. I’m not sure anyone else would feel it, or should feel it, but I’m curious about that.

I actually printed one of these, large, roughly 30×30 and it sits framed on my mom’s mantle, above the fireplace. It’s odd to see it, then look out the window and see the real object. There had to be something that alerted me to photographing this object, and then print and frame this object, and then have my mother hang it. There had to be an unknown force. At least it feels that way.

I think the key to these moments is not necessarily the work that is made directly from the experience, but rather the realization of what happened, that you had this moment, you could feel it, and in some ways experienced a creative breakthrough.

At first I thought these images were not really “mine,”, but now I think, perhaps they are “my” work. Maybe they are leaving tracks for me to follow. A warning? A suggestion?