Tuesday, February 23, 2010

farewell, sweetheart


I just sold my Canon 1DS Mark II to some guy in Hong Kong.  Bought it new around 2005, and pretty much stopped shooting film through my Hasselblad once I could shoot huge, clean, digital files and deliver them to clients the same day.  Learned a lot more about working with strobes.  Shot way more than ever before.  It really enabled me to grow in so many ways. 

When I started assisting and getting into photography, I drove a red Toyota pickup truck all over the West, sleeping in the back on a crappy foam mattress next to my camera pack and tripod.  When I sold the truck on Craigslist years later to a "farmer" from Mendocino, I found myself flooded with years of memories, and totally broke down and cried as the buyer handed over a messy wad of $100 bills.  I loved that truck, and the life experience that it represented.

So as I arranged the body and all the accessories for this classic eBay picture, I found myself tearing up again, as I recalled all the adventures that this rugged little camera and I shared over the last five years.  Sunrises, sunsets, rain, snow, sun, laughter, frustration, anxiety, relief, wonder, people, places, adventures, experiences, and lots of creative growth all being funneled through that tiny little eyepiece, piling up in my mind in the form of what I guess you could simply call "life."

You may be a hunk of metal and circuits wrapped in plastic, but I will miss you.  Thanks for the good times.  



Monday, February 22, 2010

Larry Ellison: The James Cameron of the Sea

I don't really follow sailing at all, but I am totally fascinated with Larry Ellison's (his Bio is pretty amazing) fancy boat that just won the America's Cup.  It is a technological masterpiece, and takes sailing to an entirely new place.  In fact, it doesn't even really look like sailing anymore.

The 187 foot carbon fiber mast doesn't hold a fabric sail, instead there is a rigid wing.  There are 250 sensors providing 26,000 data points per second.  And you know those guys, also knows as "grinders" that we used to see frantically cranking on the winches in any race footage?  They're gone.  Replaced by motors.  Guess what they're doing now?  Writing software for the computers that took their jobs.

The NYT did a piece on these guys, grinders made obsolete by machines.

There is something about this that makes me think of James Cameron and Avatar.  A craft once done manually, using professionally trained hands and eyes, taken over by computers and machines.  Some might say that what Cameron does isn't really filmmaking, and what Ellison does isn't really sailing.

I remember the days of taking film to the New Lab in SF (click the link to see where they are now).  The bumpy drive down a pee-soaked alley to an enclosed parking area, shared with an auto repair shop.  I'd park by the barbed wire fence, and go through the back door, down the long space, seeing familiar faces on both sides of the counter.

At the time, it seemed kind of tedious -- driving to/from the lab at least twice for each shoot, editing thick rolls of 120 film at the various light tables there, checking the bulletin board on the way out for deals on used lighting and camera gear.  But now that human component of the process is gone -- replaced by digital sensors, microprocessors, and Adorama.  Yes, film is slower,  more complicated, and expensive, but it's more human.  And I miss it.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil says in a recent Esquire piece by Steven Poole, that by 2045, $1,000 will buy a computer a billion times more powerful than the human brain.  And this isn't a stab in the dark.  It's based on Moore's Law, which says that computing power doubles roughly every 18 months.  What will our cameras look like in 2045?

And if Larry Ellison is currently the James Cameron of the Sea, who is the James Cameron of the Still Image?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wyoming Hunting Trip

Last month I drove to Jackson WY, for a portrait shoot, which is 10 - 12 hours depending upon weather (the drive, not the shoot), and took some time going to and from to shoot some personal work.  I really enjoy this kind of photography, exploring side roads, taking my time, driving slowly, and discovering things along the way.  

I call it "hunting + gathering" and it has been a staple of my personal work since I started shooting.  I spent an entire summer in Europe hunting and gathering while living in a VW van, and couldn't have been happier.

On this particular trip, I listened to Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" which is the darkest, most depressing story I've ever heard.  It actually made me not want to see the movie, because I can already imagine what it will look like.  However, it made for a great soundtrack as I cruised cow towns with names like La Barge, Big Piney, and Bronx.

In my experience, the stuff that I am drawn to tends to exist around the edges.   Whether it's the edge of a town, the edge of a field, or the edge of a lake or shopping mall, I usually find what I am looking for when I get away from the center.   

The nice thing about hunting and gathering is that your success is really at the mercy of luck and timing.  But it also helps you to understand how to maximize, then be prepared for luck and timing.  Every once in a while, things just come together on their own, and it feels great when you happen to be standing there with a camera. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Paid tha Cost to Be da Boss

Just got back from Spain, and had a blast on a great shoot, many new things to think + write about.  I'm severely jet lagged, moving into a new house, and have a massive giga-pile of images to work through, so as a friend of mine likes to say,  I'm "busier than a one-armed bartender at happy hour."

On the flight back from Madrid, picked up a copy of Esquire, which had a great profile of Ron Dennis of McLaren Group (19 Formula One World Championships).  He said something that has been sticking in my head for a few days:

In talking about working closely with top F1 drivers: "If you are the best at something in the world, you have achieved it through sacrifice, and that sacrifice has impacted on your character.  Normally that impact is negative, not positive."

Some odd tasting food for thought.