The Things You Get Fired For...

I scribbled down this quote from the great Francis Ford Coppola while listening to him in a segment of the Harvard Business Review's Ideacast.  It is one of my favorite sentiments and something I have to remind myself of every now and then.

"The things you get fired for when you're young are the exact same things you win lifetime achievement awards for when you're old.  Which is to say the things that run against the grain, that are not common, are not logical, that don't fit in to the standard approach… if you do survive and get that across--remember that the things that get you in trouble are the same things that are later remembered as being exceptional."   

-Francis Ford Coppola

What Changed My Work: Audio Interview

I recorded this audio response to the question a photography blogger asked me: "What was the best thing I ever did as a photographer?"  I took this not to mean literally what was my "best" work, but instead what thing changed my work or the way that I worked.  My answer involves two stories, but in both I talk about a couple of pivotal moments in my career that helped to define it and evolve it in a new direction.  Thanks to Michal Fanta for posting.

Women Are Beautiful

The master street photographer Gary Winogrand who left us in 1984--too soon at the age of 56, was able to make art out of single fleeting moments that most of us don't even notice as we make our busy way to work, to the coffee shop, to the train, not bothering to look up in the morning rush, the rush home, the rush to weekend plans, the rush through life.  

This is a tension I currently feel in my creative life:  when I was younger, with less responsibility perhaps, I used to actively observe more, watch human behavior, notice subtle interactions in the world around me.  I had more time on my hands, but this was also before the age of iPhones and apps, which largely take up everyone's concentration and this "nothing" time, the seemingly dead moments between things that most of us try to fill up with busy-ness, with productiveness, or at least with incessantly checking Instagram (just me?) all while wearing that feeling of being busy as a badge of honor.   And yet now, that very (iPhone) object that monopolizes my attention contains a tiny decent camera that I keep with me at all times, and thus ironically I am more capable of snapping immediate moments, street photographs, and catching spontaneous beauty that is gone forever, save for the image I made.  

In the past I never felt much camaraderie with that generation of classic street photographers and photojournalists.  My taste always leaned towards the work of visionary portrait and fashion photography where a reality was constructed as much as it was observed.  But in recent years I find myself equally drawn to the disarming truth the best documentary work has captured for all of us to witness, the seemingly ephemeral truths that will endure after we too are gone.  Lately, with the knowledge of this small camera at hand, I have found myself looking around again, and every now and then I have been able to grab some wonderful unguarded scene; my brother swimming in a watering hole upstate with one of his daughters, the glimpse of a well-placed telephone pole and old car as I leave a bar in a night parking lot, a girl touching a boy's newly shaved head as a square of sunlight falls on them both at the bottom of a stair case.  

Winogrand's street photographs echo and rebound with other images of his era:  Robert Frank's The Americans that ushered in the change about to hit our country in the 1960's, and abroad the stripped-down creative rebellion of the French New Wave filmmakers, breathless images photographed by Godard and Truffaut in glorious black and white light.  Winogrand's world was even mirrored strangely by Catherine Deneuve's listless secretary wandering the streets of Polanski's great film Repulsion.  

Jack Kerouac famously said about Frank's off the cuff snapshot of a lonely elevator girl --"What's her name and address?"  He was smitten by her dreamy gaze and a story of her he could only imagine.  Winogrand's photos are full of these women, leaving us to tell our own stories, and maybe even just a little, to fall in love.  Women Are Beautiful is the name of Winogrand's 1975 monograph of these romantically un-romantic street portraits.  It is a wonderfully apt title.  People will always be beautiful, if someone is paying attention.

I'm thankful for karamolegos35 for creating this fantastic little slideshow I came across one day on YouTube.  

Quote for the week.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Pierre Huyghe at LACMA

I was lucky to have a friend tell me I should check out the Pierre Huyghe exhibit at the L.A. County Museum of Arts when I was in town back in January.  On a perfectly rainy museum day, I went alone to the LACMA and spent several hours there, but most of that time was spent at this singular show from an artist I'd never heard of until that day.  

At its best, art should challenge, temporarily alter and possibly even permanently change your perceptions of the world.  It is rare for me to encounter that, but when I do, it really excites me.  I hadn't seen a show that gave me that visceral response in quite a long time.  But here was an artist working in multiple disciplines and media (high-production filmmaking, performance, drawing, installation, audio/video, sculpture, natural objects) and excelling at all.  An underwater crab with a Brancusi shell, floating boulders, a reclining woman with a bees nest for a head, a ghostly white dog walking among the audience with a scarlet-painted leg, a man with a glowing LED face-mask, on and on.  I felt dropped into an alternate universe.  But the films were what really astonished me.  There was that sense of odd beauty and playfulness with a little foreboding, combining everyday elements into striking new images that made me think of other artists--Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham, Spike Jonze and Matthew Barney, even the great European director Krysztof Kieslowki--though Huyghe's work felt completely original.  Unfortunatey, the show only runs for a couple more days as I just discovered, so I thought I should post this now.  It is hard to get a sense of his work online, you really have to just see it, and I hope any of you reading this will get the opportunity.  

SCOPE Miami Beach

The Scope Art Fair returns to Miami Beach this week (Dec.2-7) for its 14th year, with over 100 exhibitors, including LUSTER GALLERY, who will be showing work of mine along with two other artists in their booth situated in an enormous tent built right on the beach sands.  Pretty cool.  The image below "Untitled (girl at pay phone)" is one of my works included in the show.  I'm excited to be a part of this illustrious fair…now I just wish I was there.

 

The Process

I'm currently editing a video I shot a while back that I had to set aside for months due to paying jobs, travel, life.  It's a personal project so there wasn't a firm deadline, but still, I am happy to be picking it up once again.  In the process of making this I have learned (again) that what I thought something was initially can change over time and become something else.  Time can be a useful tool, as long as I'm not justifying my own procrastinating.  I had an idea of what this project would be, and then it morphed, and then changed again.  As I watched the footage, as I listened to different music tracks, and especially as I began to cut it together I could see what worked, and what did not.  I actually came close to a rough cut and after watching it I decided it was fine, with some nice moments, but not what I was looking for.  Was it saying what I wanted it to say?  Was there a story, or was I falling into the trap of pretty images for the sake of themselves?  Was it meaningful?  Was it concise?  These are good questions to ask.  I took a break and came back to it to start again in a different direction.  Now I feel that I'm onto something.  It has even taken a slight turn and (I hope) becoming more layered with meaning.  In the process I've had to eliminate so much good footage, so many great moments, all in the service of the "story"--and brevity--of the piece, and as a director those are very hard to lose.  I think it is difficult to edit your own work, be it photographs or moving images.  But what you lose can make what remains stronger, and all the better for it.  In a story, what you leave out is just as important.

photo:  Ricardo Nelson

photo:  Ricardo Nelson

Lovesick.

Here is the poster for SILLAGE, a short film I am really excited about that I finished at the end of last year.  It is currently only showing in a private exhibition, but I will post details on public screenings later this fall.  In case you are wondering, SILLAGE (pronounced 'see-yaj') is a french word--literally "wake", as in the wake a boat leaves in the water--that in the fragrance world refers to the trail a woman's perfume leaves after she has passed by; what hovers in the air after she has completely left a room.  The ghost of her scent.  

The Open Road

Aperture Foundation is holding their annual benefit auction again on Oct.21st.  And they are doing something new this year that is really cool.  Called "The Open Road", the whole event is a tribute to Robert Frank and the idea of the American road trip.  It will be at the enormous Terminal 5, a concert venue, and feature a live performance of "music and photography" with Alec Soth, Billy Bragg & Joe Purdy.  The Kills are playing too--hey, that's not bad.  And there will be a live photography auction of the work of Joel Meyerowitz, Todd Hido, Lise Sarfati, Alex Prager and more.  Then there's also the silent auction part.  This also goes along with the theme of the open road:  Aperture asked a bunch of photographers (myself included) to submit a "postcard" image from the road.  It was up to us to interpret that however we wished.  The list of these artists is too long to mention but it has most of my favorite working photographers from the both the art and commercial worlds.  Go to www.aperture.org/benefit-2014 

13 Most Beautiful

Andy Warhol's moving portraits had always fascinated me.  At least the idea of them.  It was a few years before I actually had a chance to see one.  I think it was at Dia Beacon or some other museum, and the few films they had were shown starkly, silently, against a wall in a mostly dark room.  I liked a couple of them, but to be honest, I also found them a little boring.  I'm sure Warhol at least partly intended this response.  It was as if he was testing the audience.  How long can you sit and look at a face?  When that face is Edie Sedgwick, well, I can look at it for a while.  But some of the others weren't as immediately captivating.  Then, a few years ago, I found a DVD in a bookstore in Detroit of "13 Most Beautiful"--the selected Warhol films that Dean & Britta (formerly of Luna, Galaxie 500, etc) had written songs for.  I was curious and bought it.  When I got home and watched, it felt like they had added what was for me a necessary element:  sound.  The films came to life, felt more emotional, and I would leave it playing sometimes while I was doing other things in the room.  I'm sure some critics would say this spoiled Warhol's pure intention, but his art was one that copied, co-opted, and inverted the world around him, so it seems natural to have someone "remix" his work.  Also around this time I was reading some Buddhist literature, and watching the videos of BIll Viola, who is a master of the long (incredibly long) take; scenes that barely seem to move until they suddenly come to life.  Degraded video that becomes beautiful as it pixelates and the noise swims across your screen.  Here I felt were works with a kindred spirit.  Staring unblinking at the faces of people, every spark or visual flair stripped away, just the soul looking back (or in Lou Reed's case, covered by his shades).  One woman even lets a single tear fall.  This idea of looking unceasingly into another's face echoes ideas in Buddhism.  What was your face before you were the person you are now?  What is behind the facade?  Marina Abromovicz picked up this thread in her now-famous work she did sitting across from strangers for hours at a stretch at the Museum of Modern Art.  I find this idea of looking very simply into another's face a very beautiful thing.  I guess that is why I am, among other things, a portrait photographer.  

Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop.

I was digging around in my office and came across this notebook… and this quote from Walker Evans (the pioneering American photographer whose work documenting the Great Depression influenced generations of photographers).  I used to meticulously take notes from my reading over the years, and still do, I guess.  But putting a couple of strong, good quotes on note cards and sticking them above your desk is a really good way to stay on track, to stay reminded of why you do what you do.  The writer Raymond Carver used to do this.  I think I got the idea from him.  At any rate, this quote is not a bad one to look at every day.  

We are what we pretend to be

This past winter, on a job in Indianapolis, I had a few hours to kill.  After a cursory search on Yelp, I discovered that walking distance from my hotel was The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.  It sounded a little like something Charlie Kaufman would have made up, but after a long walk in the freezing cold, there it was.  A tiny storefront on an otherwise unremarkable street.  Why did I go?  I wasn't even sure at the time.  I knew of the great writer's work (though somehow I managed to never read his books all through college), and it seemed like the cultured thing to do.  But not having read any of his books, I still wasn't sure what exactly was compelling me to visit.  It wasn't until later, back in New York, that I realized it was a slight, unconscious pilgrimage on my part.  Mr. Vonnegut is the only subject in my entire career to have walked out on a shoot before I could photograph him.  It was in my early days of shooting, and the experience of having someone do that really shook me up.  Though the way it happened wasn't at all dramatic. There was no scene, no storming out.  In a blue-walled Greek restaurant he was finishing up an interview for a German magazine, while I was setting up my lights around the corner.  And apparently he decided he'd had enough.  His agent put him in a cab and when I walked back in to say I was ready for him, there was no one there.  The feeling of taking down my lights after having this iconic mind just speed away in some dingy yellow cab left a pit in my stomach.  The magazine editor wasn't even upset.  Vonnegut's reputation must have preceded him.  When I told this story, no one seemed surprised.  But it stayed with me.  

In 2007, when he passed away, I was reminded of it again.  I felt a small sting of regret as I saw all the images of him float across the media.  And then it faded from my memory, or so I thought.  Until I saw this odd museum pop up on my iPhone screen.  So this cranky, brilliant man I needed to go visit one more time, even if it was, fittingly, only flat screen videos of him talking on a wall, or his voice as disembodied quotes painted large next to his library of books.  In this Memorial Library I poked around, chatted to the young book clerk working there alone, then sat for a few minutes on a polished wooden bench in the small room displaying his artwork (he was also a painter of sorts).  After a bit, I was ready.  I got up, pulled my hood over my eyes, and walked back out to the cold gray of Indiana.

Vonnegut quote on the wall of the reading room in his Memorial Library.

Vonnegut quote on the wall of the reading room in his Memorial Library.

Outtakes

Here is an outtake from a shoot I did for Popular Mechanics last year in Vancouver.  I love what ran in the magazine, but this wide tableau is also cool in a different way.  I like how much detail you can see in the robot builder's warehouse, and how the light plays across all the metalwork in the hydraulics.  And yes, that giant leg actually walks.  

DoberMann Magazine

Issue #X of DoberMann is out, featuring some of my work and some very nice work by other photographers, including George Holz (who I met once years ago), and Bettina Rheims (who I haven't met).  Apparently they gave us all the same odd questionnaire.  I answered mine with some scribbles...

Anna Kendrick buzzing on social media

The combination of Fast Company's reach in the social media world, not to mention Anna Kendrick's kind of insane fan base / popularity across the internet has been making the shoot (and especially the video) we did get some buzz across various platforms.  The magazine feature and video are getting lots of shares across Facebook and YouTube, and fan-created GIFs are all over Tumblr.  It's fun to watch.  

Anna herself posted a clip from the video on her Instagram with the caption "Watch me slowly lose my mind in an office".  What's not to like? 

Fast Company's Most Creative People In Business

One of my favorite shoots this year, I was asked to photograph the tiny and hilarious actress Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Up In The Air, Twilight, Scott Pilgrim) for Fast Company's great annual issue of the 100 Most Creative People In Business.  In addition to the cover shoot, I pitched a short film idea as additional content for the site and iPad edition.  I wrote a script and we shot it all in one day--kind of ambitious, but Anna nailed it in record time, putting her own spin on scenes and making it even better than I had envisioned.