Thanks for your patience. I needed some time away from the VSL blog and from all the noise on the web in order to really assess where I am and where I want to be....as an artist. When I look back over the last ten years I regret that I focused only on the nuts and bolts of getting the jobs done. At times I was too conscientious about a client's time. I presumed they only had time to get done what we had in the contract. But I come into contact with so many interesting people that by doing "just what the job required" I missed the opportunity to supplement each project with my own "take" and my own point of view. I became really good at following the "instruction manual" of image making without giving enough thought to stepping outside the boundaries of our proscribed relationships and asking, "Can I take a really cool photo just for us?"
The image above is of Austin actor, Martin Burke. He's an amazing actor. He's capable of performing comedy with impeccable timing and flair. He's equally capable of moving an audience to tears. And we work together frequently to make photographs of all the shows he performs in for Zach Scott. We shoot all of those show ads in bright color. We work to a layout. And when we've got a shoot nailed down and done according to the "blueprint" from marketing we shake hands and go our separate ways.
But not this time. I was shooting a promotion for the new theater building. As part of the fund raising for the new building the theater is "selling" seats. That basically means that you can donate a certain amount of money and a plaque will be riveted to the seat to tell everyone that you did a generous thing. The ad for the seat sales called for Martin to camp it up with one of the new seats as his "prop". We shot the whole thing on a white background. You'll see those images later this week. Martin was fabulous. He did an great range of "faces." He put a lot of energy into every pose. He was comedic. He was sparkle personified. I did my part and captured the wonderful faces and gestures he was giving me. The art director and the marketing director were beyond happy. But when the regular photography was done I walked over to Martin and asked him if he had time to let me shoot one 12 exposure roll of black and white film. Would he be able to lower the energy level and let me shoot something serious with the old Hasselbad 500CM I'd dragged along? He readily agreed and I somewhat nervously loaded a roll of 100 speed Fuji Acros black and white film into the camera. I'd only brought along the 80mm lens but I was fine with that.
I knew the exposure because I'd been shooting the Sony digital camera I used for the ad material at the same ISO. I set the lens at f5.6 and the shutter speed at 1/125th of a second. I asked him to look away from the camera which is something I rarely do in a portrait sitting. But I loved the way it focused Martin. I shot 11 frames I really liked and then we both, in unison, cracked up laughing for no apparent reason. He struck the pose below and I snapped one more image. I thanked him and he left the set.
I felt different as I packed up my lights and scrunched the white, fabric background back into its storage bag. I hadn't let inertia to finish up quick keep me from shooting a coda that I really wanted.
I drove from the theater straight to the lab and I dropped off the film. It was one of eight rolls of medium format black and white film I shot last week. I didn't want to delay getting to the lab. I didn't want resistance, or the thought of spending my own $100 to process and contact print the eight rolls of film, to stop me from following through. It would have been easy to rationalize that I could just use a frame from the regular color shoot and run it through something like SilverFX to get a similar black and white image. But the energy would have been all wrong. At odds with my intentions. When I left the lab I felt as though I'd re-confirmed my membership not with the merchant class but with the artist class.
Yesterday afternoon (friday) I fought my way through rush hour traffic so I could get to the lab before they closed for the long Easter weekend. I was anxious to get my film. I wanted to share this new commitment to my own process with you on Tues. morning. Today. And I wanted to tell you what I had in mind for the Visual Science Lab, going forward.
Well. Here it is. I'm trying to always pack a Hasselblad and a lens and some black and white film every time I go out on a job. And on every job, if it's at all possible, I'm going to find someone interesting and I'm going to work my hardest to take their portrait. It may only be twelve frames. One roll of film. One load. But I'm going to reach out and ask. And I'm going to keep doing photography in a way that makes me smile. In a way that gives me something worthwhile to share with you and my friends and the people who are kind enough to sit for me and participate in a collaboration. In a sharing. And I want to tell stories about the energy and the process. And if I can follow through I'll build a new body of work that reflects my own continuing vision. My own take on photography. And it starts today. Welcome back. I'm glad you're here.
Some notes about the VSL going forward: I'm not here to argue with anyone. I'm here to show my work and talk about the process and the art. You might not always agree. That's okay. If you decide you don't like the art or the words you can always go away. You haven't paid to be here. You don't get a refund. You aren't being asked to invest anything other than your time and a commitment to be open minded.
I haven't tossed aside writing articles about the gear we use. I have a review coming up of a camera I like and a new light I'm smitten with. I'm just strongly committed to doing new work and talking about it above everything else.
required disclaimer: Everything we talk about (gear/equipment) is purchased by me at retail. No manufacturers are giving me free or heavily discounted gear. If I get lucky and they do I'll tell you about it at the top of any review or article. Promise. If I figure out a way to get free coffee I'm keeping that a secret.
I'll try to post something cool or useful every day but I'm not promising because the work comes first. Given a choice between photographing someone interesting or sitting down and writing a blog I'm committed to choosing the photographic opportunity.
Finally, we will have a full column about swimming or running at least once a month. Balance is good. Grab your coffee. Game on.