kwame do, photographed as a senior at occidental college, where he set a SCIAC record for rushing (4,133 yards) as a running back. chances are extremely high that you know way more about what that means than i do. the extent of my expertise here is knowing that a yard equals three feet. still, running that far seems like a significant achievement, especially when being chased. i've been told that "rushing" is running (with a ball?) while people are chasing you. is that right?
kwame seemed fairly adamant that his football career was over, however. as a senior economics major he's looking forward to a career as an investment banker where he would be at a slightly lower risk for a torn ACL.
melissa bernstein, co-executive producer of breaking bad, and executive producer of better call saul, photographed at her production offices in santa monica, california. no spoilers were revealed. sometimes, though, the best pictures happen when you set up all my lights . . . and then turn everything off.
dr. mosqueda specializes in geriatric medicine at USC, and also deals heavily in cases of elder abuse. while her work is quite serious, she's actually much funnier in person than this picture suggests.
dmitri "da meathook" young, former major league baseball player (cardinals/nationals), shot last year for diabetes forecast magazine. we photographed dmitri at his home in camarillo, california. his father lives across the street and has a batting cage in his backyard where dmitri helps train middle and high school baseball players. the article highlighted dmitri's stunning almost 100 pound weight loss. no tricks, he just changed his behavior. michael pollan's plan, i suppose - eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
finally catching up with things from the past year, a long time over due. . . this is former LA mayor richard riordan (served 1993 - 2001), photographed at his house on election day last year, telling me a dirty joke.
I was an intern for Mary Ellen in the summer of 1995. I had just started getting serious about photography in my junior year of college and my mother suggested that I go work for her to see what it was all about. I had never heard of her at that time, but I hadn’t really heard of anybody. Turns out she was an old friend of my parents from the late 60s. I have envelopes of negatives from a Life magazine story Mary Ellen had shot on my mother and Hugh Hefner. The story never ran, I don’t know how my mom ended up with the negatives.
I went to Barnes & Noble and looked at a few of her books. Floored me, obviously. I called her studio and she asked me “Are you good with computers?” I was good with computers. She said “Great, Martin will love you” and that was that. I was off to New York. Mostly my responsibilities that summer consisted of getting lunch for everyone and lots and lots of scanning of contact sheets. I saw everything that came in, and all the proofs from the archive of the past 25 years. The first few weeks was a shock, discovering what photography really could be. By the end of the summer I was so used to her work that I just assumed that’s what pictures looked like.
I went back to school for my senior year, threw out nearly everything I had done and attempted to start over.
I went on a couple shoots with her, went to dinner with the assistants - who I only ever saw treated very well, by the way. The most harrowing thing was having to deliver and pickup negatives from her printer, riding the subway with these irreplaceable, priceless and very, very fragile things. Really, I should’ve taken a cab.
I got my first editorial jobs that summer, on my off hours. Nothing big or too exciting, but I was petrified just the same. I knew nothing about anything, I had no lights, just a rolleiflex. Mary Ellen loaned me a tripod for my first “big” assignment. Later in the summer, she gave me a brand new version of that tripod/head for my 21st birthday, along with books by Robert Frank and Andre Kertesz, and a signed 11x14” print of hers from a refugee camp in Ireland.
Before I left my internship she let me photograph her on the fire escape outside her loft. She even took her hair out of its signature braids for me (above). The picture is no great shakes, but neither was I. I was just grateful (and terrified) to be able to do it.
After I had graduated from college I went back to New York and went right back to Mary Ellen’s and said “Now what?” She thought for a moment - knowing grad school was out of the question - and said “You should go work for Greg.” She sent me down the street to Greg Heisler’s that day, and I worked for him every day for a year. I was an intern still, but Greg and his assistants were my grad school and how I learned about light.
In the years since I’ve tried to visit her on many of my trips to New York, if she were in town. She was always gracious and warm and a huge support to me. Early on in my career she even hooked me up with meetings at the offices of photo editors who I had no business working for at the time. They all agreed to see me on her recommendation, and ended up a little confused. Nothing ever came of it, but it was the thought that counted.
She called me when I got engaged and said “She’s not a photographer is she? Good.”
I last spoke to her several months ago when she called to talk about my instagram pictures of my son. She had questions about how the iphone worked and what it was all about. She was skeptical but complimentary. Kind and encouraging. Mostly it was just good to talk to her. I’m devastated by the news of her passing, and feel terrible for her husband, Martin Bell. I wish I was there now to bring him his earl grey tea with lemon. She was a very private person, so I’m not surprised that I never knew she was sick. She wouldn’t ever have mentioned it, I don’t think.
She taught me that photography has a responsibility to be empathetic above all things - and that there was always going to be one better shot than you got. I'll miss her always.
(This is a photo Mary Ellen had taken of me with my sister when I was a toddler. Even then she captured my relationship with sports perfectly.)
los angeles mayor eric garcetti, photographed above the rotunda in city hall – briefly, as is the case with all politicians. the one perk: no permits required. toward the end of our prep we were stopped by a police officer who told us we didn't have permission to set the gear up there and we'd have to take everything down and move. before i could even argue garcetti showed up and said "these guys are fine." it kind of makes me want to have the mayor at all of my shoots.
photographed at his office in playa del rey last summer for el semenal magazine. the article was to celebrate gehry's receipt of the "prince of asturias" award in spain. shoots with important and well known people are often brief - this one was a little under three minutes.
i'm very pleased and honored to be featured today on the blog aphotoeditor.com discussing my new iphoneotype print promo with heidi volpe. more on that soon. and, of course, if you're an art director or photo editor, keep an eye on your mailbox.
i recently stumbled upon this spread from my shoot last year for cal state east bay with production designer scott chambliss (j.j. abrams' star trek movies, the upcoming tomorrowland). a big shout out and thanks to art director jesse cantley for the layout excellence.
at the beginning of the fall TV season i had the chance to photograph actor michael beach. you might not recognize his name, but you've probably seen his face. mike has been appearing on television in one way or another in countless series, shows and specials for nearly thirty years. some people you meet and it just makes sense that they're successful actors. with a gracious and charming nature, it seemed impossible to take a bad photo of the guy, and mike clearly had more charisma than anyone else in the room. (to be fair, not an especially tough room for this. . .)
i was especially struck by the phrase mike had tattooed on his arm. "hard work wins". when in doubt, keep at it. keep working. keep it going. keep trying. and if you forget, better write it down some place you'll think to look.
mike can currently be seen on the NBC show crisis as the director of the FBI. when this shoot took place the show had premiered a couple days prior, though unfortunately i just read that NBC has decided not to renew it for a second season. IMDB already has mike listed working on the next project, though - a series in postproduction and yet another one filming. hard work wins.
i am very sad to learn today of the passing of harold ramis. forget wes anderson, the greatness of bill murray is nothing without the genius of harold ramis behind it. ramis affected and influenced the perspective and perception of absurdity and humor inherent in a whole generation. his comedy wasn't mean or cruel, but it was sharp, true and always had an element of the fantastic. as a kid, watching his movies i knew that magic could be both wondrous and ridiculous all at once, and to expect anything less would be to sell short both magic and comedy. of course we all wanted to be peter venkman, but secretly knew inside that we really were more of an egon spengler.
i count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to photograph harold ramis, albiet briefly, in a hotel room at the four seasons in beverly hills back in 2005. he was kind and gracious, and i left loving his movies even more. also, he referred to a ring flash as a "bagel light". i can't look at it another way even to this day.
thanks for everything, mr. ramis. you knew even back in the 80s that print was dead. may you continue to collect spores, molds and fungus in the sky.
you may have noticed the site is a little different lately. in fact, it's all brand new. there are a lot of new images, some old ones are gone, and there is even a whole new section: the atheist convention.
these pictures were shot a while ago, in october of 2012, actually, at the freedom from religion foundation's annual conference. in 2012 the conference was being held in portland, oregon. i do not live in portland, but i welcome any opportunity or excuse to head to overcast, rainy climates. it's my favorite type of weather. more importantly, over the past few years i've found myself increasingly enjoying shooting at conferences and conventions. these are places where large numbers of people gather who all do very specialized things, or who all have very specific interests. as a photographer i've never cared all that much for group portraits. i can shoot them relatively comfortably but nine times out of ten they don't hold as much interest for me later on as the individual shots might. i've photographed at a few of these kinds of events before (here and here) and it's really like a photographer's dream. i mean, the hardest thing about taking pictures is just finding the subjects and getting them to show up. conventions solve this problem for you. everybody's there. everybody's kind of happy to be there, since most of them are there instead of being at work, and there's often catering. i try to set up as close to where the food is as possible, even though i never have time to eat, myself. if there are free pastries and coffee ten feet away i'm sure to get a crowd.
back in the early fall of 2012 i was driving around listening to NPR and heard an interview with dan barker, co-president of the freedom from religion foundation. dan was talking about their upcoming conference in portland. i thought to myself man, i wish i could go shoot that. a few days later, just mulling it over, i figured, what the hell, maybe i can. i emailed the FFRF and told them i wanted to come and take portraits at the conference. of course, they said "why?"
the modern age comes with benefits and drawbacks for the photographer. in one sense it's an incredible blessing that we live in an era where you can easily get in touch with almost anyone you might want to photograph. however, that connectedness also comes with a price. we have a much greater cultural awareness of pictures, of what they do, of what they can mean, and most especially of how they can skew the image we'd like to project or skew the image we'd like to protect. so while subjects are often accessible, they can sometimes be vastly more wary and suspicious.
ultimately, though, in this case, simply not having a plan, an end goal or a reason worked in my favor. why did i want to go take portraits at this conference? just because. i was interested in the people and it sounded like a cool thing, like an unusual thing. as a general rule atheists aren't atheists because they all like to congregate together. it's a world view that can be isolating, especially if you happen to find yourself an atheist in a part of the country that is fairly hostile to non-believers (i.e., most of it). i was insistent that i had no particular plans for the images, which was true. honestly, i didn't even expect a response, so hadn't really thought through how i wanted them to look in the first place, or what i was going to do with them. sometimes as a photographer you just want the experience. the pictures are their own ends, and it doesn't go any further than that. i figured that if anything they'd end up on my site or in my portfolio and it'd just be a fun thing to do, something gratifying and personal amidst a whole lot of commissioned work to which i don't always have deep attachments.
they relented and agreed to help as much as i needed them to. that is to say, i'd get a space to set up and a power outlet, and then i'd be on my own. really, that's all i ever ask of anyone, and given that there was no particular advantage or motivation for the FFRF to be so accommodating i considered the offer to be tremendously generous. i will never in my life stop marveling at the willingness of strangers to be interested in and helpful to an artistic cause. in photography i find this especially remarkable as you can't be a portrait photographer without the possibility of treading dangerously on someone's vanity in a manner they might find unpleasant. we're all too aware of this now, photographers and subjects both, and more than ever it really is a gift when someone agrees to have their picture taken.
headed into the conference i found myself in a situation that i hadn't previously considered. i found myself talking around my own atheism. at the time i was teaching a community college portrait class. many of my students were undoubtedly religious. as this is america, many of the people around me were religious. i had to take time off teaching in order to attend the conference, so it was known that i was going somewhere. the specifics of the matter, though, i suddenly felt very uncomfortable talking about.
i have never been inclined to be anything less than vocal about beliefs i consider unfounded and nonsensical. i have, myself, veered into what some of my friends would call militant atheism. this didn't start until my late twenties. i mean, i had always been an atheist, raised as an atheist, but it didn't become a thing until i spent significant time around religious people and became more involved in the world at large. as a kid and as a teenager, raised in a very liberal, bi-coastal showbiz family, everybody around me was an atheist – or more specifically, a jewish atheist. we acknowledged jewish traditions, but didn't observe any jewish holidays. to be fair the traditions we honored were as follows: matzo ball soup, a dislike of camping and a healthy (unhealthy?) appreciation of self-pity and anxiety. my family celebrated chanukah exactly one time but decided that eight days of doing anything was way too much effort. christmas was easier, and over in 24 hours. i only went to temple for other people's bar mitzvahs, and then really only for the food. i read the bible because i was interested in myths and literature and found it way more violent and outlandish than greek mythology, which i liked much better.
but a belief in god, in a young-earth creationism especially, and in a literal bible was something that was never an issue. nobody believed that stuff, or so i thought. i didn't meet an actual christian until i was in college, and at first i thought they were kidding. later on, as a photographer, when it was my job to go into the homes of strangers, relate to them, empathize with them and depict them in an honest and dignified manner, only then did i really encounter religion in the way that most of america embraces it. to be blunt, it kind of freaked me out.
later, as i was working on the hearts book, religion started to really not sit right with me. it was easy to rationalize why these beliefs were important for families under tremendous amount of duress, facing impossible circumstances. even so, i worried that believing in "god's plan" simply removed accountability from people's lives. i'm big on accountability. also, i saw the incredible efforts of physicians, scientists, engineers and medical professionals almost being discarded in favor of giving god credit for saving a child. beyond that i began to really notice the increasing power of the religious right in politics – and even more gallingly, education – in america and the realization that us non-believers were a minority was terrifying and upsetting.
the fact that human brains are really good at compartmentalizing things, very good at cognitive dissonance, made things a little easier to swallow. normally when you find out that someone honestly and truly believes in a god that seems like a cross between an omnipotent imaginary friend and the NSA, it kind of makes you doubt their critical thinking skills in other areas of life. but the truth is that really smart people can believe in really dumb things. my wife drinks kombucha and insists it's good for her. hell, i'm sure that i believe in some pretty stupid things, myself.
there's a difference between having a belief in the literal, word-for-word interpretation of the bible (the current bible, not any of the other translations or versions) and having a belief in religion as a whole, or as a way to feel some security and comfort about the world. the latter belief i can understand. i don't agree with it, but i can wrap my head around it. people need comfort and reassurance and it doesn't have to happen in ways that make logical sense. for myself and for the people pictured here, i think it comes down to the fact that we don't want laws made or public policy decided based on religion. In a country where the separation of church and state is more of an advertising slogan than a reality this seems like a legitimate concern.
so i went to portland, keeping my fingers crossed, not knowing what i was going to get. in the end i photographed approximately eighty people in a day and a half. i went alone, with pared down gear and no assistant. tried to get people to fill out a short questionnaire i had made since words and pictures together are always better, and i didn't have the ability to photograph and interview them at the same time. when i got home i was dead tired, and slowly began sifting through the questionnaires and the photos. for a very long while i didn't do anything with the pictures.
i finished a handful of them that stood out to me right away, but the project as a whole felt unfinished and incomplete. ideologically, to me, they were interesting subjects. but photographically, as a project, my being in agreement with them insofar as world view went didn't make it feel done. the collection felt to me like an incomplete thought. to be very honest, it still does in some ways.
ultimately i thought they needed a counterpoint. no matter how much i might like what a subject has to say, one side of a story is never as interesting as both sides of a story. the thing that would really make it work would be to shoot another eighty people, but this time i was going to go for evangelical christians. the pictures would then be paired as diptychs, one atheist, one christian. funny shirts notwithstanding, the only way to know who was who would be to read the captions. at that point it would be photographically done in my brain, as it would have the quality that i really love about portraiture. done right and especially in large quantities portraiture takes on as much a sociological theme as it does an artistic one. any good working photographer should be perfectly at home photographing subjects they don't agree with, and i certainly am. i don't care who the subject is, for the picture to work you really do have to fall in love with your subject a little. you have to appreciate their life. you have to empathize with their hopes and beliefs. i thought that if i could get these set up as diptychs with christians not only would it be good for the project, it might be good for me. maybe it'd make me a little more tolerant and a little less militant. maybe it would help each side just a bit.
sadly, though, it hasn't happened yet. since i returned from the conference in october of 2012 i've been trying to find a church, a christian conference or convention or any organization at all that would allow me to photograph its members. i've made appeals to a more than a dozen organizations. usually i get no response. sometimes a polite but firm no thanks, we're not interested. a handful of times i reached out to people who really seemed to get the idea and go for it, only to be shut down later by those higher up (but still earthly) in their organizations. over a decade ago i spent the day with a man who was headed for a degree in finance and instead switched gears to become a christian missionary in the poorest parts of los angeles. he was incredible, empathetic, admirable and whip smart. he liked the project very much, and tried to bring it to his church (a hip, youthful church in hollywood with a rock n' roll bent) but they were too wary of outsiders and of appearing to sponsor something that might question the nature of belief. it's been very frustrating. like i said, finding the subjects is almost always the hardest part.
feeling like the project was still incomplete i've kept the photos hidden away. i liked enough of the individual portraits, though, that it felt like it was something worth showing. in redesigning the site i finally dug them out of the archive, finally typed up the answers to the questionnaires (however many of them were actually written in complete sentences) and tried to put it all together in a presentable manner here. for now it's half of the story. hopefully someday i'll get the other half.
i'm very pleased to be taking over the reins at the @collectdotgive instagram feed this week (february 10th - 16th). collect.give is a wonderful site, founded by milwaukee photographer kevin miyazaki, that has so far raised nearly fifty thousand dollars for charity. better yet, you can get some amazing prints by wonderful photographers at a steal. visit them at www.collectdotgive.org
it's been a long time coming, but here it is - finally, the launch of a new site, with the latestshot section fully incorporated from this point out. don't fret, though, the old archive is still available and can be seen at the "ancient history" link above.