Route 14

As many of you know, a few short years ago I was able to venture to Uruguay, a small country located nine-hours by air south of Miami. Uruguay is not on the radar in the United States, which is ONE of the many reasons I wanted to visit. I also wanted to visit because I had a friend there, an interesting chap named Martin Herrera Soler who I had initially met in Los Angeles back in the late 1990’s. Through Martin I met Diego Vidart another very talented storyteller and visual communications person. Also on the trip was Larry Hayden, aka “Alcatran.” The four of us, over a ten-day period worked on a project together, which you can see here, and here and here.

I just got off of Skype with Diego, and when I speak with someone like him it is VERY apparent I’m speaking to a real artist, a real storyteller and someone with a high intellectual knowledge of his industry, craft and history. I can’t tell you how refreshing this is, and how EASY it is to give someone like this my complete and total undivided attention. All of these guys are the same in this regard, so it’s not like I wasn’t prepared, but they are people you should know and pay attention to. Diego mentioned a project he just finished, Ruta 14 and after hearing the background details I knew it was something to share with you all. The film below will give you the basics.

Ruta 14 / explicación del proyecto from Diego Vidart on Vimeo.

Personally, it chaps my ass I can’t speak fluent Spanish, and this is yet another reminder I need to get off my ass and learn it once again. What I love about this project is the concept behind it, the tangible, physical requirements and the borders created by the story itself. For those you non Spanish speakers the essence is a return to the tangible of photography, of touch and smell, via the “Box Camera,” as well as the tracing of Route 14 for it’s entire length through Uruguay. This is an unfair synopsis, because there is much more, but it will get you started. There is much more to come from Diego, so stay tuned.

And this is just the best thing I’ve ever seen.

Proceso Fotográfico from Ruta 14 on Vimeo.

The man behind the mask.


Magazine x 2


I love magazines. I don’t actually read them, or subscribe to them, but when I hold them in my hand it’s nothing but love. Sometimes if I’m facing a long flight on an airline with no inflight entertainment I’ll buy an Economist, catch up on the world, but that is about it. Just listen to how we describe these little jewels. “Magazines, periodicals, glossies, or serials are publications that are printed with ink on paper, and generally published on a regular schedule and containing a variety of content.” Damn, what’s not to like?
Now I can make my own, and people this is a grand experience, one that SCREAMS for collaboration. In my Blurb travels I’m continually amazed at how little collaboration I see. I keep crossing my fingers, hoping the world would appear more as an open door rather than a locked bunker. Perhaps the magazine will set us free?
This little film is about the same work, in the same format, but with a very different look and feel. Done simply to show you how basic design changes will greatly impact the look, feel and potential success of your project. My advice, venture forth.



Fray Bentos: Epicenter of Uruguayan Industrial Revolution

Uruguay 2012

By the title you might be wondering “What the f%$# is Milnor talking about?” “Where did THIS come from?” As some of you know, I ventured south to Uruguay in February of 2012 with the intention of working on a project with three other photographers. This motley crew consisted of Larry Hayden, Martin Herrera Soler and Diego Vidart. I’ll do my best to honestly describe each of these people, but the English language is limited when it comes to such a task. Larry is a wildman with a personality akin to a Death Star tractor beam. To say Larry has the ability to suck people into his creative vortex would be like saying the Grand Canyon is a big hole, in other words, an understatement of epic proportion. Men, women, children, police, military, airport security, royalty, even wild street dogs are powerless against his vibe. Martin is the kid that blew the bell curve in school. He’s wicked smart and has worn a variety of hats over the years. Prone to bouts of things like meditation, creative writing, and oh ya, photography, Martin was the blood flowing through the artery of this project, and as you will see from the following videos, he has done a lot since we left Uruguay. I can’t think of Diego without thinking of the prototype for the South American creative revolutionary. He carries no weapon, only a mate´ case carved from what looked like pure ivory or human bone. Either way it was impressive. Diego, also a photographer and educator, with Martin, form something called Dokumental which serves as a documentary team coving stories all over Latin America via traditional and nontraditional means.
Uruguay 2012
If you read Martin’s post on this story you will read about the realities of doing a project like this, exploring not only the subject matter but the realities of multiple photographers working the same project. As he alludes to, we never really figured that out, at least not yet, but perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. I’ve not been able to put the time toward this project that I would have liked, and I’m pretty sure that the others, outside of Martin or Diego or both, haven’t either, but again that is the reality of today, the reality of the multitask lives we are living. Martin has done wonders with his, and our content, so I suggest you take a look at his post HERE. The realities that need to be confronted, or planned, and then executed are things like who does what, when and how. We all shot stills, some color, others black and white, in addition we spiced up the formats. On top of this Martin and Diego made audio and video recordings as you will see with these films. This is a lot of content. How do you put it all together? How do you put it in a book? A rich-media book? Or maybe you do a magazine instead? Should there be a site specific to the project, or does everyone post on their native site? And perhaps most central, what is the overall goal? This doesn’t even begin to speak about things like audience, which is an entirely different can of worms. One of the great things about working today is the range of tools at the photographer’s disposal. Gone are the days of the handful of media outlets, outlets which the photographers in many ways were beholden to, and in are the days of range, but with that range comes responsibility, or opportunities depending on how you view it, that go far beyond where we were in say the 1990’s.

Film by Team Martin Herrera Soler

A story like this isn’t a headline grabber. A story like this isn’t going to get a quick magazine assignment or get people jumping up and down screaming they can’t wait to see the content. This isn’t a celebrity getting pasted drunk and puking on Sunset Blvd, something GUARANTEED to get top billing, a quick assignment, even a pat on the photographic back. But the truth is this is an interesting story and one that impacted not only Uruguay but the rest of South America, Europe and our beloved world wars to some degree. For me, this is the kind of story that even feels good, because when you work on a story like this you KNOW you aren’t going to be feeling the distinctive, competitive bite of other photographers. Working as a team, we were working alone the vast majority of the time. What this does is allow for a more natural response from the people we are attempting to work with. If you have ever been around a headline story, or breaking story, you know the locals develop, or can develop, a buffer of sorts, one that raises the hair on their back when they see a “media type” approaching. Uruguay wasn’t like that. And as you will see, many of these folks were extremely interested in being involved, telling their stories and offering up their piece of history. What you can never forget is how important the story is to the people in front of your lens. Those folks take top billing one hundred percent of the time. In reality, this isn’t what happens in many cases, but that is the professional world we live in. You can decide whether I’m a decent chap on your own, but I can attest to the other three in our group and confess they have their minds, hearts and careers in the right place. But let me get back to the first sentence of this paragraph. If this isn’t a headline grabber then why do it? You might think that is a strange question but it is VERY real if you work full time as a photographer. There are plenty of folks out there scouring the headlines for things that are just about to be headline grabbers. They look, look, look and then pounce, trying to get there first and make the story theirs, and the subsequent prizes, attention and accolades theirs as well. I don’t see anything wrong with this at all. That is how much of the journalism world works. It drives people, sometimes beyond the healthy level, but I think overall the positive far outweighs the negative. Personally, I think we REALLY need people working this way. This story simply wasn’t that type of story, but a Pangea size group of circumstances made it something we all wanted to do, things like travel, culture, experience, story, potential images, potential material, the unknown and breaking the ice of going somewhere new and looking at something we hadn’t seen before. Simple as that.

Film by Team Martin Herrera Soler
Another frustration for me was the fact I don’t speak Spanish well enough to converse with people at the level I need to really understand what is going on. And the damn Uruguayans and their mate´ fueled, insanely fast Spanish did nothing to ease my pain. At times Martin and Diego would rattle off some machine gun Spanish filled with “Che” this and “Che” that then laugh hysterically while looking at Larry and I. I know they were just discussing our being essential cogs in the wheel of the Uruguayan assignment, but still, it made me wonder. Did I have a “kick me” sign on my back? Over time I grew wary and would occasionally throw out a sentence like “Es obvio ese chico no sabe nada!”(It’s obvious this guy knows nothing.) then wave my arms wildly and act concerned. A smoke screen at best, but it was all I had.
Uruguay 2012
On a serious note, projects like this are the lifeblood of what photography is for me. After all these years I’m still learning. I’m still learning how to dream them up, or work with others to dream them up as in this case(Mostly them), and I’m also still learning how to complete them, finish them and subsequently deliver them. Clearly time in the field is essential, and one trip to Uruguay does not make an essay, or at least anything painfully in depth, but it’s the spark we are always looking for. Martin and Diego carry the creative flame in a horn filled with fire, adding to the story, putting their fingerprints on it, going to sleep at night with the voices of the essay pulsing through their ears.
Uruguay 2012
Collaboration is lacking in this little photographic world we are living in, so the chance to work with these other guys was a treat for me, and this is coming from someone who almost always prefers to work alone. I learned as much, or more, from listening, watching and tormenting them than I did from actually making pictures. It reminds me that the photographic life is a voyage of epic proportions, one in which at the best of times things are out of your control. Photographic life is about residue, a second skin of experience that makes us who we are and points us in the direction of who we will be.
Uruguay 2012
Again, take a look at Martin’s post, check out Dokumental as well as Larry’s site (Beware that you might not ever leave Larry’s site.) and have a look a story shedding light on a little corner of this grand, grand world.

Uruguay 2012

Taste of Uruguay: Portrait of a Place

You ever hear a motion picture director talk about how a location became one of the characters in a film? “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” is very much about location. “The Motorcycle Diaries,” and even films like “Seven” where you don’t ever know where you are but it’s so foreboding and dark, not to mention rainy, that you can just FEEL how horrible things are about to get based only on the depressing cityscape. Still photography works the same, at least when you are trying to tell a story. These images were made in Uruguay while we were working on our project. These images were made in the same place as the last post, the exact same place, but these images have a different feel, and if they had to could live on their own as a mini-snapshot of place.

I described before how we move from small shoot to small shoot while compiling a story. You imagine the puzzle in your head and you slowly begin to link the edges and then dive in deep to fill up the center. So when we arrived on this scene my goal was to make the images I made in the last post, but while I was there I realized that this little room, in this one little building, was also something I needed to have a little feel for. Looking back on this I realized I am missing ONE very important image which was the bar at the opposite side of the room. It was, well, the perfect neighborhood bar. Why didn’t I shoot it? I don’t know. I can see the bar in infinite detail, in my mind, but I didn’t shoot it. Oh well, just another mistake in a LONG LINE of mistakes I’ve made with camera in hand.

These images become important for a variety of reasons. First, for your memory. Regardless of whether or not you ever use these images it’s nice to look back on them and say, “Oh ya, I remember that place.” These type images also come into play when you make books. Sometimes the reader needs a transitional type image to set the stage for your best work. A book of nothing but your best work might be a portfolio more than a book. Books ebb and flow, so informational photographs can be as important as anything. You might use these images near a chapter head to ease into this place, space or community. We also walked through this room to get to the performers out back, so it was a link to the subsequent images.

These images are also very important to the people in them. They are proud of this place and it shows in how they behave. If you promise to send images you sure as Hell better do it. I’ve heard photographers say “Ya, I always promise and then never send anything.” On one hand I appreciate their honesty because A lot of other people claim to do this but don’t. I know for a fact because I once did a project several years after another photographer did it and it was SO BAD it was like scorched Earth. “The other guy promised us everything and gave us nothing.” It made my life Hell. In the case of these images, they didn’t ask. Or maybe they did but my Spanish was so bad I didn’t understand them? “Soy amable!” “Yo quiero leche y queso!”

The first two images here were made by myself, but after seeing me make these images the guys in the third image asked me to photograph them. In turn other people are watching while I’m making this portrait which in turn gets them, indirectly, involved in the shoot. It breaks the ice and gets the photographic ball rolling. The people you photograph are your conduit into the far reaches of your work, without them you are going nowhere. They do not see photography the same way you do, and this is something you must keep in mind the entire time you are working or showcasing your work.

Taste of Uruguay: The Mini Essay

Documentary projects are not easy. Truly great images do not happen very often, and the reality is you can spend a lot of time in the field and come home with next to nothing. You have to come to grips with the fact that the vast majority of images you make are NOT going to work. For me, this is the fun of it all. Some days I win and other days I get trampled. Most of the time documentary projects naturally break up into long delays and waiting periods mixed with frantic, intense moments of all out shooting anarchy. Like a dog on a cold winter morning after getting that first snuff of cold air up the nostrils. The hair on your arms stands up and your body and instinct goes into DEFCON 1. Again, this is why photography is so much fun. Those down periods are perfect time for reflection, doubt or angst, and the shooting periods wipe it all away, especially when you KNOW you nailed something.

Uruguay was somewhat standard in terms of a basic project.
We had an idea, we had the team, we had a basic plan and one by one we began to tick things off the list. We will be here on this day at this time and if that doesn’t work we have a plan B or we just go to the beach. Some things you feel in your heart days away. “This is going to be awesome” you think but then the reality doesn’t match your mind. In other cases you downplay a location or event and suddenly it turns into a photo-goldmine. I know that I never really know until I’m there and I see it for myself. I learned a LONG time ago NOT to pre-visualize what I EXPECT to see because it was never matches what I envisioned.

Most of the time we descend on a place or event and begin to scout.
In this case we landed at a small bar in a neighborhood in Montevideo where a Murgas group was getting ready. Not knowing what Murgas was I wasn’t really sure what to expect, which is a good thing because I was totally calm during the morning. Had I known how beautiful this scene would be I probably would have been bouncing off the walls. Arriving at this place I could see immediately how interesting, fun and important this little scene was. The sky was overcast meaning flat, broad, open-shade light which his very easy to work in. The building was old, colorful and filled with character, the EXACT opposite of Southern California. I was so happy with the architecture alone I briefly thought about growing a beard, buying an 8×10 and moving to Carmel.

What happens when you land in a place like this? What do I do? Very simple. I take stock of what is in front of me and I block everything else out of my mind and just work. I build my story in my mind. What do I have? Do I have an overall? Do I need an overall? Where is the best light? Is this better in black and white or color? Is there a personality that stands out? What do I need to show a viewer who, like me, has no idea what Murgas is? And how do these images fit in my overall story. There is a continual conversation happening in my head. And I’ll tell you something else. For me, in a strange way, this is the benefit of NOT knowing the language(at least Uruguay’s version of it.) I said ONE sentence to ONE person at this event, shortly after we had arrived, and they looked at me like I was speaking in alien tongue. They said something to someone else, then they all laughed, and I knew I was off the hook. I could be the mute guy wandering in their midst without ANY verbal responsibility.

This is NOT as good as being able to speak the language, not even close, but for someone like me who can go days without speaking to anyone, it is nice to work with ONLY my images in mind. Working with two formats, and color vs black and white, is where things get complicated. Going in here with one camera and one lens is the best thing you could do. But, we all load ourselves down with photo-baggage and ideals and then suddenly we find ourselves juggling a set of creativity balls that will at some point come crashing down. You just hope it doesn’t get to the point where you walk away with nothing. So, in this case I was looking for light, then content, and then how that scene translated. It is better in black and white or color? Both cameras were set with 50mm equivalents, so all I had to do was think “color or black and white.” When I shoot color I’m looking for the hottest part of the frame and I’m basing my exposure there, even though I’m shooting negative. This might not be the best plan for you, but after shooting transparency for so many years I’m used to this method. I look for the hottest light, which pulls me in the direction of a certain type of image. With black and white I’m looking for the exact opposite, so when I say this gets confusing now you know what I mean.

I also move from system to system making sure I don’t run out of film in both cameras at the same time, just in case something strange happens like a UFO landing on the building. Might want to have a few extra frames put aside for that one. Not running out of film comes with practice and years of being a wedding photographer where running out of film can be a disaster. I can also load my cameras without looking at them, which is a must if you are attempting to work in fast moving arenas. My camera systems have different personalities. The Blad is slow, methodical but allows me to bond with the people I’m working with. They are very much a part of the process, at least when it comes to formal portraits. I do use the Blad for reportage as well. The Leica is fast and silent. Normally by the time they think I’m shooting I’m already done. I can be right on top of someone and make several frames without being too influential in the scene. So, due to these realities, these cameras give me different style pictures. I don’t shoot a lot of portraits with the Leica and I don’t shoot a lot of fast street stuff with the Blad.

On this afternoon I worked inside out.
Again, these folks are preparing for a major public event, so they are expecting to be photographed. Okay, maybe not by two unsuspecting gringos and two other photographers, but at least they were in the mindset of knowing it might happen. So, in short, it’s an easy environment. They see me, no hiding the fact I’m there shooting so I embrace this reality and just dive in. I get close right off the bat which allows the others to see how I work, and I how close I get, in some way breaking the ice for the entire scene. Even if I don’t want images that close I’ll do it anyway just to set the visual table for what I want to do next. This is a game people. We take and we give. We make it easy on some people and hard on others. We can be nice and we can be not so nice. Every scene is different. And you are constantly weighting how bad you want something. I tend to be pretty mellow. I know now the power that photography has, or more importantly, the power photography DOESN’T have.

In some way, the lives of the people in these images is in my hand.
I’m not the most important thing here, and I never have been. We are simply a conduit and translator. I’ve never understood the ego and attitude from the photography world. We aren’t doing anything special other than translating a scene already in front of us. So, you have to keep that in mind when you work in places like this. They are trusting you to do what you do to the HIGHEST level possible. If you half-ass it, it will show in the work and how you represent them. Don’t know your gear, don’t have the right software, use to many filters and it reflects on them and photography in general. We owe it to them to do what is right.

Doing what is right takes time, practice and critical thought.
If you are thinking about your gear you are missing the point. If you are thinking about how you are going to share this on social media, while you are shooting, you probably won’t connect at the level you need to. Save that for later. This work is about history, documentation and making a UNIQUE visual statement that has your fingerprints on it. There are so many images being created today that it’s easy to get lost in the storm. I’ve seen sub-par photographs get hundreds of “likes” and the dreaded “awesome work man.” If you are going to be serious about photography you have to clear your mind and truly see what is in front of you, then filter it through your brain to find the perspective that makes you…well, you. Again, it ain’t easy. From a trip like this I MIGHT have three, four maybe five images I would keep in the long run.

After a very short period of time I have a range of work from this scene.
I unzip the top pocket on my backpack to see how many rolls I’ve exposed. It feels good but means little. I do it cause I’m twisted. And then I try to forget everything I’ve seen, even though it is right in front of me, and I try to see the scene with new eyes. What did I take for granted? What did I miss because I made decisions quickly? Do I need to step back? Is something unhealthy influencing my images? And then, time permitting, I start again. I sit and I watch. And I watch, and watch and watch to see what I didn’t see the first time. I look for details and I do one of my favorite things which is to walk away and leave the scene. I begin the great hunt that takes me to the edges of the scene, the location, etc. Like sharks circling just outside the depth of where the sun’s rays fail to reach…you can see flashes of their glimmering bodies as they cruise the depths below. That fringe area is a goldmine.

And when I’m done I put it out of my mind.
I try to forget the place and the people and move on. Whether it was insanely good or insanely bad it can effect what comes next and I cant’ have that. Being haunted is a part of this game, so I know I have to deal with it but I don’t to make sure I’m in control, not the other way around. And then, you wind up and do it all again.