I just returned from a week-long hiking trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Five friends and I covered 35 miles of the North Country Trail through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and marched around the entirety of the adjacent Grand Island. For a place that will soon be covered by snow and ice, it was vibrant and teaming with life. There are few places on earth as special as this. The sound of the worlds largest body of freshwater was constant in our ears. I will let the pictures do the talking on this post, but as I put one foot in front of the other all week, I was continuously reminded of this line from one of my favorite poets: "I hear a thousand miles of hungry static and the old clear water eating rocks" – Leonard Cohen
I would be lying if I told you this wasn't a super fun photo shoot to work on, but it's not for the reasons you are thinking, perverts.
Over the last several years my portrait style has moved away from controlled lighting situations and embraced available light. I enjoy letting the location help determine the look of my portraits, instead of creating a contrived environment in a studio. I equate it to shooting a documentary film vs. a summer blockbuster. Using available light allows me to collaborate with my environment to make something interesting on the fly. On the other hand, using strobes in a studio allows me to create an environment that I have meticulously crafted with the outcome always in mind. I had forgotten how fun the latter can be.
My original idea, since it was the Golden Girls 50th anniversary (see the story here: http://bit.ly/1K6MCm4 ), was to photograph past Golden Girls in their old uniforms. This concept was met with logistical resistance as well as thoughts that it could be unflattering to the subjects. I'm not sold that it wouldn't have worked, but option two was pretty good, too . We decided to photograph current Golden Girls in vintage uniforms, hairstyles and makeup. We ended up photographing one girl per decade, 60's – today.
Once the concept was agreed on by me, the art director and the Golden Girls coach, I went into the studio and started building. I knew I wanted it to be flashy, I mean it's the Golden Girls for Christ's sake. I also knew that whatever I did, I wanted to do it in camera and not in photoshop. If I was going to control the look of these portraits, I didn't want to use photoshop as a crutch. At first I played around with a bokeh effect that failed miserably. Then I had the idea of cutting holes in the backdrop and shooting through them to create star bursts. Below are the first test shots that were promising.
And although intern Kevin looks good draped in a reflector, he was invaluable to this project. The dude is a goboing God. We ended up using 14 lights and some of them were over 25 years old. Kevin stringing those together was pure magic, so if if this photography thing doesn't work out, he has a bright future as an electrician.
I really liked the super flashy bursts in the test shot above, but felt they would distract from the dancers, so we dialed them down to create the tight starbursts you see in the final images. I really love the treatment art director Blake Dinsdale came up with. The gutter of the printed magazine erases the weird line between the two shots and it looks great.
When you get into habits as a photographer sometimes you can become predictable. This project reminded me to step out of my regular mode of working and push myself for something different. I probably won't move every portrait I make into a studio production on this scale, but it will be very fresh in my mind just how fun and rewarding working in a studio environment can be.
I just returned from a weeklong trip to Moab, UT, where my friend Mike and I spent the final three days hiking over 25 miles of back country high desert trails inside the 330,000 acre Canyonlands National Park. We were at the mercy of a place that is simultaneously fragile and viscous, a place whose vastness and beauty are beyond the justice of words and pictures. We were simply voyeurists to this million-year-old geological orgy.
Below are some images from our adventure, but I wasn't there to make photographs. I was there to push myself mentally and physically out of my comfort zone. I didn't want to simply unplug and reset, I wanted to survive and learn something about myself. Prior to this trip, the daily grind of life had eroded my spirits, much like millions of years of wind and rain has eroded the sandstone cliffs in Canyonlands Park. I wanted to understand how erosion could create something so beautiful, I wanted to get to the bare bones of existence and find the bedrock needed to sustain it.
Backpacking in the desert simplifies your needs to two: water and food (in that order). You need enough of both to survive and get your planned mileage in each day. In the midst of that simplification I noticed something. Time began to slow down and pass as it's suppose to, slowly, like the summers of childhood. This is something we all forget in the hustle and bustle of modern life. The desert doesn't make this mistake. It is patient, deliberate. There, efficiency isn't getting more done quicker, it's balancing needs with available resources. I hope to remember this lesson and apply it when I'm back in civilization and the daily grind begins it's inevitable erosion.
After five years I still don't know what it means to be a father. I know I'm proud, but I don't know why. I know I care about him more than anything, but I don't know why. I know he is amazing, but again, I don't really know why.
There is something very intangible about parental emotions. It's like emotional instinct takes control and compels me to provide unconditional love to this person. It's obvious that I am not in control of my own emotions when parenting, because if I was, I wouldn't care about someone who constantly screams in public. I couldn't stand someone who misses the toilet EVERY time he goes to the bathroom. I just wouldn't even tolerate someone who doesn't like mashed potatoes. So the fact that I not only tolerate these things from my son, but actually love him despite these things, proves that there is some other force at work.
So, after five years I still don't know what it means to be a father, and that's okay.
Happy Birthday, Cohen. I love you (or the robot inside my head tells me to.)
I had the great pleasure of meeting and photographing Dr. Zezong Gu, a researcher at The University of Missouri who has drastically limited brain damage in mice who suffer from stroke or traumatic brain injuries. He hopes to move on to human testing soon.
I am always surprised when I photograph researchers of this caliber that they are so down to earth and generous with their time. I just hope that I never have a stroke, or traumatic brain injury, but if I do, my quality of life afterwards will be in the hands of people like Dr. Gu.