The Joy of Shooting

I worked on a job recently with Robert Kastigar, a creative director at Eleven. Over dinner at a Thai restaurant somewhere in Arizona, we talked about photography, advertising, and life as creative professionals. Robert is trained as a designer and has worked on big projects at several top level agencies over his career. Not surprisingly, he loves photography, and has a deep understanding of the medium.

I know lots of AD's and CD's that keep cameras with them, that are solid photographers themselves. But I don’t know any that have done what Robert did — which is to take a one month sabbatical, go to New York, and spend every day walking the streets with a Hasselblad.  A month in New York, with nothing to do but walk around and shoot? Sounds pretty nice.

Robert’s images feel different. Probably because he’s not shooting pictures for his next print promo, for a client, or a contest. They feel like images that were made purely for the joy of making images, which gives them a freshness and freedom that I don't see much from full-time photographers. But what sets these apart from amateur snapshots is that they're also made with an understanding of what makes an image work from a lifetime of crafting visuals in many media.

Most of us working pros, when we're not shooting jobs, are shooting personal projects that we eventually need to show in order to get more jobs. The work we do usually needs to serve some secondary purpose, which changes how we make it, and how it's shared.

Between his images of New York and San Francisco, there is a wide range of work. Above is an edit of my favorites from both projects. Robert is currently represented by the 4x5 Gallery in San Francisco.

Style Wars: Kase 2 & the Need to Create

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I’m not sure why I didn’t watch Style Wars sooner.  It’s it a beautiful time capsule of urban imagery, culture, and style. It also illustrates an underlying truth among creative culture that goes back to the beginning of time: Humans like to make stuff. Humans need to make stuff.

Some humans like to make stuff more than other humans like to make stuff, and they are usually the ones that create and influence style. Over time, media change, styles change, and our values around art change. But ultimately we stay the same -- at our core, we are creative beings, and we keep on creating. And I love that.

Of all the great characters in this film, I was immediately drawn to Kase 2. Not just because he and I are left handed (he lost his right arm when he was a kid), but because of the way he talked about art and style. There was something so raw and true in his words that struck a deep chord with me.

“Colors, designs, style, technical advances…cartoons, everything. And when they see you got a vicious style, they be wanting to get loose about it, you know, and that’s what keeps it going.”

Kase 2 is credited with creating the Computer Rock style. He died in 2011, leaving behind a ton of creative work, many imitators, and more than one baffling, yet awesome description of exactly what style is:

Following Dreams

We just wrapped a video shoot with TDA Boulder for 1stBank that was one of the more rewarding jobs I've ever done. The idea behind the campaign was to talk with older people (age 75 and up) about following their dreams.  We also talked with them about success, failure, hardship, regrets, and many other topics that, having lived full lives, they know more about than us kids. 

Our subjects included jazz drummer Eugene O. Bass (84), social worker Libby Bortz (79), and entrepreneur George "Lucky" Highfill (79).

The conversations were very casual, but based loosely around a set of questions that we had prepared based on a casting interview, and several discussions with the creative team. Some questions took a long time to answer, and never really got anywhere.  Other questions took surprising detours and led us to some really authentic, endearing moments.

What I love most about this project is the purity of the idea, and the simplicity of the execution. It's engaging, relevant, and most of all, doesn't feel "commercial" in the way you'd expect it to feel, coming from a bank.  Many thanks to our editor/interviewer Buck Ross, the team at TDA, and 1stBank for making this project possible. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this one.

 

New York / Bigger & Better

Every October, I go to New York for meetings. In between meetings, I try to soak up as much art and culture as I can. Over the years, the seeing art / getting inspired part of the trip has become equally, if not more important than the meeting part.

Visiting with existing clients is something I've always enjoyed. Being based in Boulder, many of my work relationships take place via phone or email. Even with all the advances in technology, there's still nothing that compares to meeting in person, and flipping through a real book.

As for the inspiration part, the highlight of this trip was the Chris Burden show at the New Museum. I loved his work, all of which made me really uncomfortable, but more importantly, was really moved by his commitment to his work. In one of his more famous performance pieces, Burden had someone shoot him with a rifie in the arm, from about 10 feet away:

 

In 1974, he had himself nailed to the back of a Volkswagen: 

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Visiting New York is a reminder that someone will always be doing work that is bigger and better than yours. Which is a good enough reason to keep making work that is bigger and better than before. 

It's a Generous Medium

"I only wanted Uncle Vernon standing by his own car (a Hudson) on a clear day, I got him and the car. I also got a bit of Aunt Mary’s laundry and Beau Jack, the dog, peeing on the fence, and a row of potted tuberous begonias on the porch and 78 trees and a million pebbles in the driveway and more. It’s a generous medium, photography."

-- Lee Friedlander

 

Old Photos from the Tour de France

I just finished reading Slaying the Badger, about Bernard Hinault, Greg Lemond, and the 1986 Tour De France.  Throughout the book, I'd search for images and videos of the various characters, and was completely fascinated by this bygone era of rag-tag racing. The old cycling photos seem to be charged with emotion and a rawness that is lost in much of today's sports images.  Maybe it's because they are riding without helmets on bikes that would be considered sketchy by today's standards? Or because they were shot on film, aged for 40 years, scanned 15 times, then put online? Either way, here are some images that I loved. 

And here is an insane video of Hinault, aka "The Badger", sailing straight off a cliff into space, sans helmet.  Needless to say, he gets back on his bike and finishes the stage.

 

The Best & The Worst

Last weekend, someone asked me about the best and worst shoots I've ever done.  It's a question that I get pretty frequently, and one that I've never really been able to answer. 

Picking a favorite shoot is sort of like picking your favorite person. Good shoots, like good people, are complex and challenging and layered in too many ways to warrant comparison, let alone a ranking. I've done plenty of shoots that I've loved, that were all unique and inspiring in their own way. There have also been plenty of crappy shoots where things aren't working and I'm uninspired and I just want it to end. Those are harder to recall, because I probably subconsciously erase them from my memory.

To further confuse the issue, sometimes the best shoots are also the worst. Good shoots are often really hard, and take a lot of time and thought and perseverance. Peaks and valleys.

I can however, recall the most important shoot I ever did -- the shoot that produced the first picture I sold.

My friend Mike and I were living in Ketchum, Idaho. We were just out of college, skiing during the day, waiting tables and tending bar at night. It was an easy time full of possibility, and with very little responsibility. Somehow (probably over several Schooners at Grumpy's) we came up with an idea for a photo of a guy that had skied off a cliff and landed on the road.  

The next day, we drove north to Galena Summit and found our location. I made ski tracks going over the edge of a cliff, and Mike laid down on the road, face down with his skis on.  I shot a few frames from above with my Nikon N2000 (Velvia, slides) and then we went skiing for the rest of the day.

I processed the film, sent it to Powder Magazine, and they bought the image for "Light & Dry" which was the funny section at the end of the mag. It was 1996, and I received a check for $50. 

 

I then realized that it was possible for me to make money making pictures. The day I held that issue of Powder in my hands and saw my photo credit was the day I knew that I wanted be a photographer. Since then, the shoots and the budgets and the challenges have grown.  And while I still can't pick a favorite, I can say with certainty that no shoot will ever compare to the first.