Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Being Creative is Easy

Doing something truly creative can be a complex, difficult process.

Other times, it can be spontaneous, pure, simple, and have no point at all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Closing the Gap

I got a phone call from Deanne Delbridge yesterday. I left a book at her place like 10 years ago, and she called me to get my address to return it. I met with her once when I was just starting to make the break from assisting. It was crazy to think about how much time has passed, and how many jobs I've done since then.

We talked for a while about the Bay Area photography market, and how unique it is. When I told her that I feel like a smaller fish in a bigger pond there, she disagreed, saying that I am "unique" and that I will always work, because I have "talent AND ambition."

I've never been comfortable with compliments like these. I feel like I don't deserve them. Not yet, at least. There is still more work to do, more skills to acquire, hurdles to clear, and creative leaps to make before I start patting myself on the back.

I tried to explain this to her, but I think it just confused her. Maybe I wasn't being clear. The next day, I saw this post on APE where Ira Glass (of This American Life) explained exactly what I was trying to say. It's about the difference between the work I'm making and the work I want to make. There is a gap there that I am constantly trying to close.

Thanks to Rob and Ira for helping me clarify this.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shoot in CO for BusinessWeek

This was a really interesting story I recently shot for BusinessWeek. Natural gas companies are drilling all over western Colorado. They get gas out of the ground by drilling down several hundred feet and injecting a mix of water, air, and proprietary chemicals that force the gas up, out, and into big tanks.

The problems are caused mainly by the chemicals, which can contaminate the ground water, and by the platforms, which release volatile organic compounds. Not to mention the effect that all of this industrial activity has on a small town like Silt, Colorado.

I loved working on this story, partly because it was interesting to meet the different people involved, and partly because it felt like the story might actually help change things.

The complete article in BusinessWeek is here.

the answer

A friend sent this to me yesterday, a quote from John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems. I like it.

"Focus on what we can influence, and not over or under react to things we cannot. It's a question of living in the world as it is, not the way we want it to be."

Also had a good chat with Timothy Archibald the other day, who is not one to really worry about things, except "putting one foot in front of the other" and continuing to move forward.

Thanks to JC and TA for the positive thoughts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Recession?

I've been asking friends this question lately. "If it's pretty clear that we're headed for some slow times, possibly lasting a year or more, do you spend that time scratching for work, with the very real possibility of landing little to none, or do you punch out and spend time doing something else less stressful?"

Responses have been mixed. One friend suggested that we start a Kibbutz, which I have to admit, sounds kind of nice.

I have a hard time with this question as well -- yes, scratching for work that may not exist could be a long, painful process. It always sucks to not have any jobs in the hopper. Conversely, if you spend that down time scratching, you are going to come out in better shape on the other side, when the few photo editors and art directors that managed to keep their jobs are ready to hire again. Maybe you'll emerge with a jaded attitude, and some extra white hairs, but in better shape than those who punched out.

On the other hand, what sounds better -- spending time with the people you love, doing things you love, shooting subjects you love (while sinking rapidly into debt) or scratching for work (while sinking more slowly into debt)? Lately, I have had a lot more time hanging out with my daughter than sitting at my desk figuring out how to get more work.

For those of us that have overhead -- mortgages, studios, wives, husbands, kids, insurance, pets, etc..., punching out is not easy to do. If you are single, flexible, and free, this is a great opportunity to take off and shoot a really amazing project. Leave your one bedroom rental and move into your car. Drive to the tip of South America, then ditch your car in the parking lot, and jump on a flight to somewhere else.

Now if I could just sell my house......

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chris Buck has skills

Rob at APE posted a really interesting, thorough interview with Chris Buck who is one of my favorite portrait shooters. I was almost relieved to learn that he spends a ton of time organizing, revising, and planning ideas to shoot before he's on set. I always thought that he just walked on set and made these shots on a whim. That's how they feel -- spontaneous and real.

It was also nice to hear him talk about how long it takes to become "successful" in photography -- meaning 10 to 12 years of keeping at it, instead of 2 years, one big campaign, and a meteoric rise to photographic insta-fame. It just doesn't happen that way, at least for the other 99%.

My favorite quote was at the end:

"Here’s the idea I had for William Shatner: In the living room wearing a bathing suit dripping on the carpet. I told him that idea and he was like, 'that’s the worst idea I have ever heard.'"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Inside out / outside in

I had the opportunity to work with the insanely talented Michael Tompert of Raygun on this ad for EA's new game. It was a very cool experience to collaborate with another artist that looks at things so differently. As someone that creates 3D objects from scratch, he views things from the inside out, where as a photographer, I look at things the opposite way. This was totally fascinating to me, and has changed how I now look at objects.

For the record, Michael was hired by Heat (via Kate Chase) to create the image, and I was there to shoot photographic elements, and to create the feel and mood that would translate to the main image.
We rented the Alameda airstrip and wet it down with a water truck, then arranged the cars into a rough approximation of the layout. We waited for the light to be just right, then started shooting like crazy in order to capture as many elements as we could. Which looked kind of like this:

Michael also did shots of everything from the car's POV so he could get the reflections right. We also did shots of the car blasting through the scene on wet pavement to get details of how the water comes out off the wheels, which was really fun to shoot, and looks kind of like this:

Then we shot a million more frames of everything, and Michael went back to his studio with a bunch of jpegs (yes, jpegs) and started work on the final image. When he sent it to me I was totally blown away. It had been through a million rounds of art direction and retouching and had taken on a life of its own. I think it looks pretty killer, but have a hard time seeing my hand in this project.

Michael insists that I did create the mood that was the starting point for the image. I guess I'll take his word for it. I had a blast on this shoot, and am hoping to do more of this kind of work.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Watching from Somewhere Else

Every once in a while, I'll work on a shoot where things get weird, and I feel like I am standing outside my body, watching the set from somewhere else. It's hard to explain, but I feel like I'm not physically there -- as if I have been temporarily disconnected from reality.

For reasons that I won't go into, this was one of those shoots.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

the way film should be

Saw Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait last night. I've never been so completely immersed in a film. It is beautifully shot (apparently by 17 cameramen, all from Scorcese's and Almodovar's camera crews) with meticulous multi-dimensional sound, a perfect soundtrack by Mogwai, and no dialogue, other than a few subtitles containing Zidane's thoughts on the game.

It says a lot about what it means to be the best at something. It also makes me want to shoot a film.

Monday, December 1, 2008

All over the place

Saw the Catherine Opie show when I was in New York. I liked the ice fishing and surfing images, and really liked the tiny platinum prints of freeways. One thing that struck me about this show was the diversity of her body of work: from portraiture, to stark landscapes, to street photography, and journalism, it just seemed like none of it tied together.

Maybe I am missing something, and chances are that I am, since her work is relevant enough to someone out there to justiify a retrospective at a major museum. But the whole body of work seems totally scattered and disjointed. Maybe it means that there is still hope for those of us with photo ADD.