Walk Through Washington:

Last night I did a presentation at Santa Fe University of Art and Design. After it was over someone asked me about my travel schedule and whether or not I get a chance to shoot while I’m on the road. The short answer is “Yes,” but most of the time that means simply grabbing an image here and there. It is rare I get a chance to really go look, see, work, shoot, etc.

Recently I was in Washington DC for Fotoweek DC and DID have a small window to get out and shoot. When I say small window I mean a few hours one afternoon. So, I tried to take advantage and “walk with a purpose” if you will. The purpose in this case was Bob McNeely. Bob is a photographer, a good one, and has a place firmly cemented in the history of American politics and American photography, not to mention he was friends with Hunter Thompson, which in my book is maybe the coolest thing ever. Bob was President Clinton’s photographer, but more importantly he is a very nice guy who is very fun to spend time with and is loaded with all kinds of great stories. In addition he has a true love of photography, and I say this not as a obvious trait. There are plenty of successful photographers who don’t have a love for the game. Remember, I assisted for years, I’ve worked for a few. When I hang out with Bob I can feel how entwined he is with the idea of really being a photographer. It’s not what he does it is who he is.

Whenever I visit Washington I walk through the monuments. This is really the only city I do this, and I can’t entirely tell you why. I just do. I called Bob to see if he wanted to join me and thus began our little stroll. Walking these particular streets with Bob was fantastic, and gave me a brief glimpse into the life of a Washington insider.

I tried to make images that gave me a feeling of our surroundings and the particular happenings of the day, which in this case was the beginnings of the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Memorial. The photography of the Vietnam War was what convinced me I needed to be a photographer, so for me particular place has a special meaning. Being November, the light looks and feels late well before it’s time, so I found myself with a mood I could work with.

You never know what you are doing to see in this section of the city. This section is emotional ground, it’s historical and magnetic. A lot of important feet have covered this turf and for some reason I feel very much at home in this place. It’s rare I get to shoot with anyone else, so it was fun spending time with Bob, learning a bit more and just getting to hang out. His place in this city, and our industry, is unique. Bob did the official Obama Inauguration book and I’m sure has much more in the works in the very near future.

Portfolio Reviews: Fotoweek DC

I rarely get a chance to review portfolios. In the past year I’ve only had one chance, so this coming opportunity at Fotoweek DC is a gem I’m very much looking forward to. What I like about reviewing is seeing how someone will take something they love, something that is so important to them and encapsulate all of it into a very small, edited, edible size. It isn’t easy, but that is the point. HOW someone does this is also very interesting. What do you present? How much? And in what form will you deliver the work?

If you haven’t had your work reviewed I can’t emphasis how important this is. What is the difference between showing your work on an iPad and showing a box of prints? What about a book? How many images do you show? What if someone sees something they like? Should you have extra work in reserve? What should you leave behind? Are you prepared for rejection? All of these questions are a starting point for being reviewed. Also, choosing the right reviewer is a key element.

The last time I had my work reviewed, for real, I was completely and utterly unprepared. Completely. I was showing the work you see here to book publishers, and beyond being able to answer the question, “What is your name?” I was unable to answer a single question in relation to this work. Who is the audience, Italians or Italian Americans? Where should the book be printed? How many copies? What size book are you thinking of? How many pages? What paper? Who is going to write the forward? Are you prepared to have shows in NY and LA entirely on your own? Etc, etc, and perhaps most importantly, do you have “X” amount of money upfront?

This was me…”Ahhh, I don’t know?”

My advice, learn from my mistakes.

The reason I included these particular images is that they are all portfolios from the exact same body of work, but each portfolio was designed for a certain type of review, or a certain situation where I might end up showing the work. And these are ONLY the print versions. Let’s not forget I have these images on my phone, website, etc. After having created these different versions there were a few that immediately began to stand out. The large print box (13×19),the smallest print box(3.5×5) and the smallest book(7×7) were the items I used the most. The iPad was, and is, the version I use the least. For some reason I don’t think work is considered the same way with the iPad that it is when showing prints or a book.
However, the phone has worked very well because the size actually brings people closer to work. The phone is like printing tiny prints which force the viewer to get close, as opposed to wall size images that actually physically make people back away. All of these dynamics are changing with the current explosion of viewing options. This is a good thing.

There are several things I would advise. First, you don’t need massive prints. I see this once or twice every time I’m at a review. Occasionally this can work but in many cases the idea of handling massive prints becomes an obstacle, and with twenty minutes total, most of the time it doesn’t work that well. And, if you are going to make massive prints make double sure your imagery requires this size print. I see a lot of work printed huge for no particular reason other than we now have the capability of doing so. As a reminder, my box of 3.5×5 prints has been as well received as anything I’ve ever done.

You also don’t need to show a huge number of images. Most of the time I’m going to see what I need to see within about ten images, twenty maximum. It’s great to have work in reserve, so if something strikes someone you can pull out the backup.

Finally, I think it’s best to have a user friendly portfolio. I know there is something museum like about white gloves but I don’t want to wear them and I surely don’t want you to have to sit there and turn the prints for me. At my last review I was approached by several people with white gloves and STACKS of prints. STACKS. Once they began turning prints, without me touching or feeling anything, I was so ready to say, “Okay, DONE,” but I’m too polite and endured the print onslaught. However, after about ten prints I was only thinking about how to get out of the review. And people I’m a “build you up, look for the positive” type reviewer, not the “break you down, focus on the negative” kind of reviewer.

Ultimately, in addition to all these physical or electronic options at our fingertips lies the all important reality that as an “artist” we MUST to able to TALK about our work. Did I mention how important this is? I might look at a body of work and think, “Not my thing,” or “Not sure what to say about this” but when the photographer can clearly state their intentions their goal and their influences, feelings, reason, etc., it allow me to sometimes see the work in a new way. When I learn the “why” I can sometimes aim the photographer in a direction I might not have otherwise been able to do.

And just to emphasize my obsession, I’ve included this image of me TALKING about this same work. Don, if you are out there, I think you shot this but let me know if I’m wrong about that.

Enjoy the review process, it’s one of the most interesting things we can do with our work. Take the lows and the highs and chop them off. Most will walk away somewhere in the middle, which is my experience isn’t such a bad place to be.

Fotoweek DC Schedule and New Additions

I’m officially signed up to be a part of Fotoweek DC, which is in November of this year. I’ve heard about this festival for years but never had a chance to attend, until now. The organizers are an interesting lot and they have come up with a couple of new programs for this year, including a new contest, education and portfolio reviews, etc.

I thought I would wrap this post in a range of random DC images. I love this town, and I love to photograph there. My goal is to get in early, hit the opening night gala and then take the next day to wander and shoot. Or I could be doing portfolio reviews the entire day, which is more likely! It’s also the PERFECT time to walk. Cold, potentially rainy and just up my alley. There are links below to both the educational program and the awards. Have a look and hopefully I’ll see you there.

Details and Links:

FotoWeekDC 5th Annual International Awards Competition:
Honoring professional and emerging photographers from the DC region and from around the world
Cash prizes totaling $26,000
Winning images will be exhibited during the FotoWeekDC Festival
Great online exposure
New Photo Book Competition – winners exhibited at the Goethe Institut’s Gallery, FotoWeekEDU
New Modern-Vintage category in photo competition – images captured with Brownie, Polaroid, Holga, Diana, Lomography, pinhole cameras and mobile devices.
Deadline: 9/17/12 at 11:59pm PST
Competition Link

Make sure you ping me on Twitter if you are going to be around. @smogranch

FotoWeekEDU – Seminars & Portfolio Reviews:
Leading names in photography share their insights and advice through the all-new educational program
FotoDC and the Goethe Institut partner this year to bring educational programming to the FotoWeek Festival.
Early bird deadline 9/7/12 Seminars & Portfolio Reviews Link:

I also love the fact they are having a book contest, which I would enter were I not working for Blurb. If you get a chance to go to DC make sure you let me know and we can connect. DC is such an incredible city. Every single time I go I find something new. And you have all the museums, openings, monuments, etc.

Story Behind the Photos: Bush Sr. Blows the High Five

Digging through my archive is a lot of fun, and also reminds me of many experiences I’ve had over the past twenty years. Perhaps I’m feeling my own mortality? Nah. Just kidding.

Years ago, when I first decided photography was my deal, I ran into a friend of my dad’s. This guy was was from the Midwest, but felt more like Texas. Heavy accent. Heavy laugh. Former FBI agent. A GREAT guy. He always called me by my first AND middle name because we both shared same first AND middle names.

“Daniel XXXX,” he said. “I went to school with a guy who I think is a pretty big deal over at Time magazine.” “This buddy of mine lives in Washington, and I think he’s a top dog.” “I’m gonna call him for you.”

A few weeks later I was on a plane headed for Washington. Leica and Nikon FM2 in my carry on bag. The unknown waiting for me.

My dad’s friend was correct. His buddy was a big deal, had been for a long time, and more importantly, was one of the nicest people I have ever met in my photography career. It was instant access.

We hit the ground running.

“Drop your bags, we are on our way to The White House,” he said.

“You mean the place where the president lives?”
I said unsure if he was trying to freak me out. He wasn’t.

Over the following days we lived the lives of Washington DC photojournalists, during a time when this was a freakin great thing. I met tons of other photographers, all people I was in awe of, walking the streets in their tan jackets, Leicas around the neck, cigs dangling from lips.

We ambushed Ross Perot on the street, right after he announced his running for President. And NOBODY had these images! I banged and jostled with camera people and other snappers as we all pounced on the diminutive Perot(I also found this shot in my archive).

I felt like I’d landed in a movie about photojournalism and I was the unknown star.(Start crying now.)

We hit event after event, made the rounds into political offices, etc. I shook hand after hand, took copious notes and tried not to screw anything up. I think I even wore a shirt with a collar.

“I’ve got to go shoot the Navel Academy Graduation ceremony,” my new friend said. “And I got you a credential to stand on the bleachers in the back.”

Awesome. And then I realized my longest lens was around the 50mm length. “Don’t sweat it, I’ve got something for you,” my friend said as he produced a HUGE lens, Canon but with a NIKON mount.

Up early, stuck in traffic, battling for position and bingo things were set. He worked the entire area while I acted the part of sniper, using the long lens to pick off little moments here and there. I kept the wide angle around my neck, knowing the hat toss was coming.

Jets seared the sky.

Bush Sr. was doing the meet and greet handshake with each and every person graduating and I happened to snap the ONE TIME someone tried to high five him. As you can see, it didn’t work out.

And suddenly the hats were up.

We kept working the scene as the event ended. I was able to leave the bleachers and move around, long lens tucked under my arm, wide angle in my hand. I graduated from college but it was nothing like this.

For me, this time in Washington was decisive. This time was representative of a period I enjoyed, a time when the industry was still cloaked in a lifestyle I admired and strived to live.

I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.

The industry has changed. My friend is still there. And photography is still what I want to do with my life.

This trip also inspired me to give back to younger photographers starting out. I can’t offer them Washington, but I can offer them my own version of it, and for this reason I try to teach three or four times a year. Being with my friend, for a four or five day intensive period was like getting on the photo-expressway and merging right into the fast lane, foot crushed to the floor. I learned so much, so fast it was remarkable, and came away with many images I still enjoy today.

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.