Facing Change: Danny Wilcox Frazier

I met Danny Wilcox Frazier a few months ago at the Look3 Festival in Virginia. We spent a grand total of about five minutes talking but he came across as a very driven and personable guy. Nice to see he is a part of the Facing Change crew. The film below will give you a little background on what he does and how he works. As you will see, some really nice photographs here.

La Frontera

This post serves a few different purposes. Someone asked the other day if I would show some things that didn’t work, so I’ve got an image here that doesn’t work and I’ll explain that. I’ll also explain the images that work and why I feel that way. The reason I posted this now is the fence is, once again, a hot topic, especially in these parts, Arizona, New Mexico, etc. If you have ever spent any time on the border you will know what it’s like to be around this fence and will know what it does to the areas where the fence exists. In my opinion, it doesn’t work, but I also understand why they are building it. That’s not to say I agree with it, but I feel it is our political machine saying, “We have to do something.”

This exact location is where the border fence runs into the Pacific Ocean. It FEELS like a no man’s land when you drive up here, parking your car in a lost area where you aren’t entirely who or what is lurking nearby. You are always under surveillance, from both the Mexican side and the watchful eyes of the Border Patrol. The fence itself is..well, not really a fence. You can pass in between the bars and move freely between the US and Mexico(Not sure it is still this way). You aren’t supposed to do this, but when you are standing there it makes you want to cross it. Like being told NOT to do something and it makes you want to do it even more. The initial image in this post is foreboding and gives you an idea of what this place FEELS like when you are standing there, and it REALLY feels like this to many of the folks on the other side. The second image in the post is what I feel is the best image. When you are standing there and looking through the fence, talking with people on the other side it REALLY makes you realize how fickle life is. Just an arbitrary line in the sand, literally, but it means everything in the grand scheme of life. You look through and see this young couple, arm in arm, and you realize “Hey, that could be my wife and I.” We are all the same, but this line in the sand reinforces our differences more than anything else. I think this image works due to its simple graphic nature and human element balanced in the middle.

This third image is very important because it says everything you need to know without actually seeing it. This image is a reminder. This image is a reminder you are never alone when you are standing in this place. There is ALWAYS someone watching. The tracks here are from a Border Patrol vehicle, which I would guess are the only vehicles allowed on the beach. What I think works with this image is the fact the tracks just vanish as they blend into the fence. I love the diagonal pull and the stark, black lines of the fence paired with the stark, black lines of the tracks.

Moving on the to next image I go back to the human element. I like how the people are lined up like the lines of the fence. I also have hard directional light from the left, which is side lighting the faces. Having them small in the bottom of the frame highlights the fact the fence is VERY high. It also adds to the sense that this is a BARRIER meant ONLY to keep people in, out, away or “on their side.”

Moving on we land on the image that simply does not work. This has nothing to do with the gentleman in the image. Not his fault, entirely mine. I’m working in light that demands I work a certain way and in a certain direction and I simply failed to work the light the way I needed to do make a successful portrait. The light is too hot, forces me to lose detail in the face, and is blown out on the top and side of his head. I’m not back far enough to really use the repeating pattern of the fence, and I don’t like my crop on him either. Poor guy. I feel bad for even asking him to make this picture. This is one of those things that makes me appreciate photography more than normal. I KNEW this image wasn’t good the moment before I made it but I did it anyway. The vast majority of images I make don’t work, and this is just another example.

Going back to the human element, this final shot I DO believe works. The reason I made this image was to add a sense of scale and also remind the viewer of just how damn beautiful this place really is. Everything in the picture looks like it belongs…EXCEPT for the brutality of the fence. You have this powerful body of water, islands dotting the coast and humans taking in the last light of day. And then there is the fence. Cold steel. These images in themselves are not Earth shattering by any means, but do like the second image a lot, and for me going to a place like this, and making these images, is all about reminding myself why I’m doing this. This place is poignant, in all our lives, and it makes a difference. For me it’s about participating in history, in the way I know how, which is my aiming my camera, a Fuji 6×9 in this case, and showing you what I saw. That’s all.

The Grand Canyon

A few months ago, perhaps a year by now, I was able to visit Arizona’s Grand Canyon for the first time. I’d lived in Arizona before but never made the short trip north to see this massive hole.

But alas, I finally had specific reasons for going, and going we did. I had plans for my images, or at least what I thought were plans. It always seems like the best intentions end up being remodeled shortly after getting to “the field,” and my Grand Canyon snaps were no exception.

I had my trusty Hasselblad, and Tri-x, and really wanted to concentrate on making those images. For me, there was no real reason to go to the Grand Canyon and shoot beautiful scenic images. Why? Well, that is not what I do, and frankly, I’ve just seen far too many of these photographs.

I think places like the Grand Canyon are impossible to capture on a still image, or motion video. NOTHING compares to being there, standing with your toes over the edge, wondering just how awful your afternoon would feel if you happened to slip.

So for me, all I do is do my style images, regardless of where I am, or what the subject matter is, and this is what I attempted at the big hole.

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Luckily for me, the Grand Canyon sees a lot of visitors, and many of these visitors explode on the canyon in a sea of color and synthetic fabrics. There are staggering statistics about how many people drive into the park, never leave their car, then drive away. And, there are other statistics about how many people spend less than two hours in the park. I get it, and I don’t get it. I know for a lot of people, people who grow up in the city, that being off the pavement is an alarming feeling. They are never without television, fast food and their trusty cell phone, and you can see a lot of these folks in the park. I applaud them for venturing out. But, there are also a lot of people who do get out of the car and out into the park. They hike, trek, wander, amble and mass in the “view spots” waiting for just the right moment.
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What was very interesting to me was the number of folks from other countries. Being me, I took to interviewing these people in regards to their experiences in America and about what the Grand Canyon really meant to them. I was surprised to find how important this place was to these folks, and in many cases, visiting the Grand Canyon was the number one reason for coming to the States. It was the United Nations of visitors. I told most of these people there were plans to fill in the great canyon and pave over the river. Just kidding.

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This place has to be photographed as much as any location in the world. If you are looking for the hordes of amateur snappers, look no further. They are en mass and the only thing you really hear at sunrise is “whirl, click, whirl, click, whirl, click,” and then if you listen very carefully you can hear all the snappers pressing the buttons on the back of their cameras, chimping the Grand Canyon as if for some strange reason something would change in between the eight hundred images they made. But their gear makes great foregrounds. Thanks amigos.

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Yes I’m interested in the hole, but I’m far more interested in the humanity that visits the hole, and the “culture” that our great park people have created for all those visiting. I mean look at the gift shop/supply center. When I see a place like this I just cringe and try to speak Polish or Spanish or Berber to make it appear as if I’m not from the culture that would actually design, build and release a look like this on unsuspecting tourists. World, I apologize. I did unload my eight-gauge pump shotgun into that elk.

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You spend enough time on the park tours, with family, and at some point your world comes crashing down. It’s never pretty. People just stop, drop and flop. Dads. Moms. Uncles. There is no immunity, especially when you are trying to “do the park,” in four hours. But thanks for trying, makes good snaps. Park service humanitarians circle the park with smelling salts, buckets of frigid water and electrical clamps.

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I always wonder what happens with all these tiny digital photographs. The statistics tell me that NOTHING happens with them. They are never archived, never printed and are never around after about eight months after being taken. It’s too bad. For me, photography has always been about recording and archiving history, so this new technique puzzles me. But at sunrise and sunsets the foreground is FILLED with tiny, glowing screens.

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I never thought of wearing a suit to the canyon rim, but I think I like it. Keep it casual and you blend in, but wear a fur collar or speedo and your instantly as interesting as the view itself. Kudos my traveling brother.

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As you can imagine, I’ve got a lot of images of people from behind, staring into the abyss, or at the sky, or at each other, or at nothing, or at the back of their camera. Well, after all, it is fairly difficult to get in front of people when they are standing at the edge of a thousand foot cliff. Deal with it people.
But, some of these images I really like. I can stare at this image forever, wondering what the back story is. Is this their first trip? How did they get here? How long are they here? Do people stare at them? Do they care?

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Oh ya, shadow play. I’m not immune to it. I embrace it. Like a reflection in a car window. Yep, I’ll take that too. “Ah sir, I’ll have an order of cliche with a side of trendy.” If you look closely you can just see the fast food billboards on the horizon. Just to the left of the waterpark.

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I end with this picture because I know this guy. I don’t actually know this guy, but I think we all “know this guy.” Yep, he was doing the same thing in the lunch line in elementary school. He was doing the same thing on field trips in high school, and as an “adult” he continues this trend.
I love it. We all WANT to do it, but yet he is the only one to actually do it. Listen up kids, this is the guy to follow. He will take you to the edge, maybe over a tiny bit. Someone did slip, fall and die when were there there. Really sad right? Well, not as sad as the fact we heard it was a small child who fell, and then the father tried to save them and he ended up falling too. I can’t imagine.

On a side note. All these images were made with a 25-year-old Olympus OM4-Ti, which is an old school, 35mm camera, which hasn’t been produced for years. The lens was a 35mm, f/2 I believe. I bought this camera on a whim, don’t have it anymore, but loved it while I had it. The lens, which was also very old, came apart, so I ended up selling the body. It was so small, and quiet, and nobody paid any attention to me. They probably thought, “Hey, who is the loser with the old film camera?” as they ran back to their RV’s to plug in, download, edit, edit, edit, archive, upload and podcast, blog, email, Twitter and Facebook every single image (5000 +) they shot during the sunrise, instantly sapping all power from their pictures.
Me, I went to the cafeteria and watched Europeans try to figure out the food the park service has crafted from the devil’s shopping list. I’ve never seen anything like it. “Do you have any vegetables?” they would ask, as the cafeteria worker would say, “No, but we do have macaroni and cheese,” as if this was in the same ball park. Pizza, hotdogs, soda, chips, candy, overcooked pasta with ketchup as sauce and a plethora of other evil concoctions greeted the ravenous crowds!! How about some empty calories for your hike???? I actually really enjoyed this part of the park, I really did. Next time, I’m bringing my camp stove. I’ll have to leave my backup to the backup to the backup hard drive, but I think I can risk it.

The Grand Canyon is a grand place, it really is, and the culture that surrounds it, or lack there of, is equally interesting. I took this place for granted, but not anymore. I’ve got a new found appreciation.