Having spent a good portion of my childhood making stop motion films in the basement using modeling clay, legos, a Super 8 camera, and lots of time. I loved this one.
Last year at Anderson Ranch, I was talking with Tom Sachs about ways to progress what I do. First, he suggested that I take advantage of the resources available for commercial jobs to make personal work, but in a very subversive way — which was a super interesting, but sort of scary idea. Then he suggested that I make a “commercial” to advertise me and my work. Of course I’ve done plenty of marketing and promos over the years, and while a well crafted print piece can be a nice visual-tactile experience, I can never get over the feeling that I'm just printing and mailing expensive filler straight into the recycling bins of the ad world. The thought of creating a video promo was appealing, especially given the amount of directing and DP’ing that I’m doing.
So I spent some time thinking about what this commercial might say. At first I thought it would be funny to stage my death as an elaborate hoax, complete with fake news, photos, and a proper obituary -- to play with the idea that artists only become famous once they're dead. I kicked this idea around for a while, along with some other ideas based on common stereotypes involving artists.
Shortly afterward, I was installing a piece of my art in a friend’s house. At the time, he was an Art Director at CP+B, so I mentioned the idea. He told me about his high school art teacher, Mr. Williams, who used to joke with his students that “the artist’s best career move is death.” It was perfect. And I had my creative brief. Thanks Nic.
After discussing Mr. Williams' words with my friend and creative partner Evan Fry, we came up with the idea of recreating my funeral. I wrote a script and made some notes on the look and feel of the film, including the complex camera move that required a dolly/jib/gimbal/follow focus rig and four super-skilled operators. Evan wrote the VO:
The artist exists to create,
But the judgements of his creations are subjective.
And this is a profound truth.
Just as another profound truth is that,
The artist’s best career move is death.
And with these truths at the core of the artist’s life,
A question is begged:
What is the artist to do?
Finished script in hand, I met with Denver-based production house Postmodern to make this happen. They would source the casket, locate the funeral chapel, book the cameral rig (Arri Alexa for those that care) with the four super-skilled operators, and pull everything together for our shoot day. Evan directed while I lay in the casket, caked in makeup, trying to look as dead as possible.
We did 32 takes, where each take produced a small, incremental improvement. It was a complex, organic camera move that required great touch. My eyes were closed for most of the shoot. The last take was the best. Postmodern did the edit, color, and sound. With Evan's help, I did my best to make the VO not suck. Paul Spaeth composed an original score. And we were done.
And I don't have to worry about this promo getting tossed into the recycling bin.
Executive Producer -- Ben Seymour / Postmodern`
Producer -- Krisi Olivero / Postmodern
Director -- Evan Fry
Director of Photography -- Jon Firestone
1st AC -- Carl Otto
Grip -- Dylan Rumney / Light Factory
Gaffer -- Jason Tahara / Light Factory
Still Photographer -- Jon Rose
Editor -- Bandera Cruse / Postmodern
Audio Engineer -- Mike Cramp / Postmodern
Colorist -- David Baud / Postmodern
Music -- Paul Spaeth
Production Assistant -- Eva Weinberg
Make-Up -- Michael Long / Fairmount Cemetery
I was lucky enough to travel to Japan this past winter to spend a week skiing and photographing on the northern island of Hokkaido. The natural beauty of the landscape was otherworldly, the snow plentiful, and the skiing was as good as it gets.
But what really struck me — and stayed with me — about Japan, was the feeling of being there, and how different it is from home. There is a sense of courtesy and respect that finds its way into just about everything, and everyone — whether you’re ordering a bowl of ramen or filling your car with gas. People are unfailingly polite and happy. They return your credit card with two hands. They drive their reasonable sized cars like reasonable people. They value healthy, delicious food, and eat it in the company of others. There is a reverence for the environment that is apparent in their art, their design, their homes, their cities, and in their general way of life.
Everything about Japan resonated deeply with me. So I found myself constantly comparing it to home — which is an increasingly difficult task given the current direction of our government and our new “America First” foreign policy. Japan places an importance on “us”, while the U.S. seems to be more concerned with “ME.” They are a team, and we are out for ourselves. As individuals, and as a country in the global community. I have never been so embarrassed to be an American abroad.
Needless to say, coming back to the incessant flow of depressing news headlines was a bummer: Trump’s vow to scrap the Paris Climate Agreement, his inane immigration policy, and his unbelievable proposal to completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.
It feels wrong. And self-destructive. I’m confident that whatever financial or political gain this me-first approach produces will be more than offset by an eventual loss of our sense of community, followed by an America devoid of pride, respect, and happiness.
I saw this on the TGR site, and fell in love with it immediately. After 5 minutes it started to feel long, but that made me love it even more. Walking or sliding in the mountains has a way of bending time. Watching the clouds move, the shadows stretch, and the sun descend can be hypnotically soothing. Filmmaker Lois Patino was able to capure that feeling.
I'm back at it, after an incredible hiatus in the mountains. I'm feeling rested, relaxed, and creatively recharged after going off the grid for July. But my month-long mountain mission was far from idle. I took advantage of my wide open schedule to read books, attend lectures, watch obscure films, look at art, talk with other artists, and even make some pictures.
As part of the Anderson Ranch workshop I attended, which was taught by Dirk Westphal and Tom Sachs, we took a morning to shoot at Maroon Bells. It's a beautiful but very touristy place that has been photographed a bazillion times. I set out to make a picture of The Bells that hadn't been done before (image above.)
It wasn't hard. It was actually fun. It was also a reminder of the potency of creativity, experience, and vision.
It’s July and for the second year in a row, we have rented out our house in Boulder for the month and relocated to our little place in Snowmass. The main goal for my time here is to rest and recharge — physically, emotionally, professionally, and creatively. More specific goals include: daily meditation, quality time with Kate and the girls, reading books (real paper books, no Kindle or iPad), taking a break from computers, screens and social media, attending lectures, family meals, long bike rides that provide me with time to think, writing in a journal (with a pen and paper) and what I’m most looking forward to — a full week studying and making work with artists Tom Sachs and Dirk Westphal at Anderson Ranch. So yes, there is some irony in writing / posting this, but I also want to have a record of these intentions, as a future reminder.
When we did this for the first time last year, I was concerned that taking too much time away from work would become a problem, and I’d fall behind with marketing and spend months playing catchup. I was committed to turning down all but the most awesome commercial work. Fortunately that difficult decision never came up. But I try to remind myself that work will always be there. Opportunities to spend time improving the life you’ve built for you and your family are more rare, and it’s important to seize them. As a freelancer, this departure can be scary. It takes faith in the market, belief in yourself, good timing, and probably a bit of luck.
So while I had many concerns about this shift in gears, the extended time away actually had the opposite effect — I returned to Boulder last August totally refreshed and fired up to get back to work. My time in the mountains had given me a new perspective that allowed me to recalibrate my creative intentions, and I felt more focused and confident than ever before. The uncertainty and insecurity that can cloud my judgement had melted away, and I felt like I could see where I wanted to go more clearly. Looking back on the year since, I can see the effects of that clarity — I have worked on more projects that have engaged my creative skills and interests than ever before.
I’m now convinced that there is a big difference between taking a week here, a week there, versus taking a full month to achieve a set of goals and elevate your game. So I’m looking forward to continuing this as a part of my longer term plan for staying renewed, refreshed, and ready for the year ahead.
A few months ago, I shot a project with Venables, Bell & Partners, for their client, Phillips 66. The P66 brand family, which includes 76 and Conoco, was updating the designs of their service stations, and wanted to update their imagery.
After discussing the project with the AD, the first image that came to mind was Ed Ruscha’s iconic Standard station. It's one of my all time favorite images, and if I had a spare £82,850 I’d get one. I wanted to bring that clean, graphic, sensibility to my own images, and thought a lot about composition and color. And I thought a lot about Mr. Ruscha’s image:
In preparation for the shoot, I did my own test at a Conoco station in Boulder, using my friend’s vintage 911. In the process of making this image, I learned that gas stations are busy places with lots of visual clutter. And they’re dirty. There would be a lot of variables to control on our production if we were going to make great work and be efficient. In addition, there would be a lot of post production on these images to make them clean, graphic, and iconic. Here is the finished test image:
We selected four service stations that had interesting visual elements that would give us some variety with our compositions: Two in LA, one in St. Louis, and one in Denver. On each shoot day we’d close down the pumps, bring in a range of prop cars and talent that were brand appropriate, and arrange them into compositions. To visually differentiate the brands, we used constant lighting for Phillips 66 and Conoco, and strobe lighting for 76. Each has its unique advantages, and I’m equally comfortable with either, but the workflow for each is very different. Which makes the images different.
Of course there were obstacles to overcome: Including the client’s signage / branding in every shot in some way. Scheduling the shot list to work both with the sun and the shade. Controlling car traffic. Controlling foot traffic. Removing snow (we were shooting in December) to make it look like Summer. Removing power lines and cars and oil spots and Taco Bells to make everything look better.
But the main challenge with this shoot was coming up with many different and interesting ways to photograph gas stations, when really they’re all basically the same. In the end, we delivered a comprehensive library of images for all four brands. Some images are straightforward, and others have been worked on extensively, with many elements rearranged, removed and rebuilt. Huge thanks to the team at Danklife, who brought loads of expertise and vision to this project.
That said, here are a few of my favorite images. See more of the project here.
It’s award season in the photo world, when we photographers round up our best work and pay a bunch of money to enter those images into an ever expanding range of photo contests.
Over the years I've had mixed feelings about these contests. It’s impossible to say if winning alone actually does anything for a career. I believe that marketing is a long term cumulative effort, and that the results are due to the sum of the parts, not any one part.
I have been entering my work in shows since around 2002, when I was just getting started as a full time pro. My reasons for doing so then were mainly because I believed that winning would be my ticket to an endless stream of creatively and financially rewarding commissions. Which is mostly not true. But each year I’d enter work, and pay the uncomfortably high fees, and feel sort of weird and icky about the whole thing.
Then I read Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto For Growth. And when I got to #26, which says “Don’t enter awards competitions. Just don’t. It’s not good for you,” something clicked and I spent several years believing it.
So I didn’t enter any of the big contests, because I believed that they weren’t good for me. It was an easy thing to believe, and it was even easier to not submit work or pay entry fees. It was also easy to not make new work because there were no deadlines. And for me, deadlines are fuel.
Since then I have come around, and realized that the real value is not in getting published in a award books. Winning awards is more a validation that you've done something well. With this in mind, this year I drove to Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs to shoot ski jumping.
My goal was to come away with one image that I could enter (with confidence) in the Communication Arts Photo Annual. Jumping is something that I have always wanted to shoot, and seemed like a good chance to try something new and maybe learn a thing or two.
And I did learn two things:
1. Shooting ski jumping is very technically challenging — especially with strobes.
2. The real value in photo contests hasn't been in the winning — it's in the making. The awards are a byproduct of that achievement.
One of my former interns, Jordan Felix, contacted me recently. He’d just moved to Miami to pursue a job with a private museum. He was also doing some writing on the side for Juxtapoz, and asked if he could share some of my Freemasonry images on their blog. I said sure, answered a few questions, and sent him an edit to use.
The story appeared on the Juxtapoz site a few weeks later.
Then the project was featured on Fast Company’s design site, Co.Design.
Then, on to The Week.
To its most recent appearance on The Huffington Post.
Fortunately, this particular project has a timeless quality to it. So while some of these images were made almost 10 years ago, they are still relevant, as Masonic culture is in a sort of a glacially slow downward slide. Not much has changed.
There are two things that I love about how this has played out:
1. The speed and ease with which images and thoughts can spread online. No other medium can travel as far and wide, and do so without consuming resources like paper, postage, and fuel.
2. You never know when little things will lead to much bigger things. In this case, one email that contained a few pictures and some words went on to travel the world and reach a wide, international audience. Similarly, I'm reminded of the first picture I shot for this project, and how I almost dismissed the moment and moved on. It's an image of the light in an old stairwell, and it's the image that kept me coming back for many years, searching for that elusive, beautiful light.
It’s a good reminder to take an extra minute to pay attention to the little stuff, and treat it with importance.