What goes into a "simple" assignment?

I was going thru some older work; stuff from the early part of the century (doesn't it feel weird to type that phrase?) and I found this image from a job I did for a telecom company thru a large ad agency, here in Texas.  The telecom was doing a series of newspaper ads about a "mentoring" program they inaugurated and supported.  Our brief was to cast four models and shoot them against both a white background and a black background.  We cast these two people for our African American mentoring duo and we cast a caucasian women and girl for our other mentoring duo.  We would shoot them in five or six different configurations in front of each of the backdrops.

So, how do you budget something like this and what all is involved in shooting it?

No matter how simple the shoot, when an agency is putting together a campaign that will run nationally for a client they want everything to become "bulletproof".   And a bullet proof Honda Civic cost tons more than a "run of the mill" Civic.  We would need to cast a large number of people so the agency and client could pick exactly the right mix for each pairing.  We'd need to rent a bigger studio so we could bring in lots of wardrobe choices and so we could accomodate art directors, creative directors, their assistants and, of course, a product manager and program manager from the client as well as their assistants.  Of course we'd also need space for the hair and make up people and space for the food catering.  So, yes....a bigger studio space.  We took a creative meeting and went into great depth about EXACTLY what the clients all wanted and then we went back to the studio and bid.

The total project came in a bit under $30,000.  (I know I hear someone out there grumbling, "I woulda done it for $400.  Or a byline....."  Right.)  Here's how it all breaks out.

Our casting director (freelance and paid by the day) gets in touch with model and talent agencies in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio.  Everyone sends out books of models.  We narrow down selections until we have several dozen who all look as though they might be right for the part.  We rent the studio for three days for casting.  We schedule all of our "possible" choices to come in over the course of three days to be photographed and interviewed.  We also have a general casting call during those three days to pull from non-affiliated actors and other potential walk-ins.   After meeting and photographing dozens and dozens of people for each position we have prints made of each person, with their information on the back,  we put these into a book and send them to the art directors and producers at the agency.  After a week of winnowing down the selections and getting them approved by the clients we get their four main choices and four back up choices (in case we can't make the scheduling work for everyone.)  

Once scheduled we book the studio for another three days.

At this point we begin negotiating with the talent agencies.  Professional talent is paid for showing up and then paid residuals for each 12 week run of ads.  We were negotiating for more uses and trying to keep the budgets reasonable.  When we successfully negotiated with the talent agents we set up a schedule and started putting together a team.  After my assistants the most important two people were the make up person and the wardrobe person.  We had a budget and a wish list for wardrobe, as well as sizing for all of our talent.  The wardrobe person gets moving.  We book our favorite make up person and she books an assistant.

At this point we get a rough head count and call our favorite caterer.  The magic number is 24.  That's not a typo.  We'll have 24 heads for a one day shoot with two pairs of models against both white and black backgrounds.  We'll need pastries, some protein and lots of coffee first thing in the morning on the day of the shoot, snacks during the morning, a sit down lunch for everyone and snacks in the afternoon.

We lock up the caterer and pay a deposit.  Next up is to get parking at the downtown studio lined up.  We negotiate with a building near the studio for six of their spaces and pay a rental fee.  That will take care of the agency and client cars.  The crew will use spaces next to the building if they have lots to load in (caterer, wardrobe).  My first assistant and I will go into the studio space the day before to set up the first background and design and test the lighting.  We'll be using two Pentax 6x7 cameras with 200mm lenses and we'll bring two back up bodies and a back up lens.  We're using big soft lights.  My trademark?

In the week leading up to the shoot we check in with the wardrobe person and the caterer as well as the studio management, just to make sure.  We give daily progress reports via e-mail, to our client.

On the shooting day the first assistant shows up at 6am to open up the space, turn on the lights and meet the caterer who needs to be set up and ready for the onslaught of crew that will arrive at 8am.  The talent arrives at 9am along with the clients and agency folk.  While the first pair of talent sit in make up the wardrobe person and the client and agency figure out what they want each talent to wear on set.  These items are steamed, ironed, de-tagged and made ready.  We're doing the guys first but we choose the wardrobe for the female talent and have them change before getting into wardrobe.

For every set up we shoot tons of Polaroids and spend a fair amount of time making adjustments to the background/foreground lighting ratios and direction of light.  We also get to a consensus on what kinds of expressions we want (but we end up shooting a big range......).  Then we shoot in earnest and burn twenty or so rolls of 120 (ten frames on a roll) or 220 (20 frames on a roll), pausing every once in a while to shoot more test Polaroids, just in case.

As we go along one of the assistants will pin Polaroids to a wall in linear order by "time shot" so we can be cognizant of continuity and progression.  When we hit the half way mark (as near as we can tell....) we break for a delicious lunch.  Half an hour later everyone is back to work and the caterers are pouring coffees and cleaning up from lunch.  We've got bowls of fruit and nuts and chocolate on the food table for anyone who needs a quick burst of energy.

The shoot goes on the rest of the afternoon.  My second assist marks every roll of film and logs it into a book.  We'll process the film in batches so that in the worst case scenario of a lab catastrophe we'll have enough variations to cover the client's needs.  In the end we shoot about 150 rolls of film, a mix of 120 and 220, all color transparency.  All carefully metered and double checked with Polaroid tests.  The first batch of film goes to the lab.

We booked the studio for three days.  One day was for loading in and pre-production, one day for shooting and a final day for rounding up wardrobe, packing out gear and cleaning everything out.  I don't need to be there for most of that and that's great because it gives me time to hunch over a light table with my first few test rolls and a good loupe so I can make sure we've really nailed the exposure before we begin running all the film.  One batch at a time.  

Once we get back film we snip out the blinks and dark frames caused by shooting too fast for the flash recycle.  We put it all in a notebook and deliver it.  I use the 50% advance we asked for (and got) to pay all of the crew and suppliers.  And another job goes out the door.  Did they want it produced in a cheaper way?  No.  They wanted what they wanted.  A job that almost could not fail.  If one camera dies we had three more.  If the lens died we had a bag full.  If  a light died we had several replacements standing by.   Don't like the green shirt?  We have red and yellow and blue.  Need a vegetarian entree'?  We've got that too.  It's dangerous in this business to presume that everyone wants the lowest price you can possibly offer.  Many, many times they want to assurance that everything will be just as they want it to be.  And many times photographers get hired not because they are masters of imaging (that's assumed) but because they are also masters of production.  Just a few shots against white and black?  No, not really.  It's really the intellectual property and creative content that ended up powering ads used in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ad placements.  Maybe millions. 

And if you are going to spend real money on buying space doesn't it make sense to have the right photograph to provide the visual message?  If you start bidding big jobs my advice to you is to have a checklist and never assume the client isn't interested in doing something right.  If they don't have the budget they'll tell you.  But if they do.........


Taking a walk and thinking about old tech versus entropy.

Here's an interesting exercise:  Grab any old camera and go walk around somewhere eminently accessible for two hours and shoot whatever you find interesting in a style that you find....interesting.  I've recently become interested in the idea that some of the technology that we've casually tossed aside over the last ten years may have had some hidden talents.  I've tossed aside the new Canon stuff and taken, over the last week,  my old Olympus e520,  my newish Olympus EP-2 and an old, old Contax T vs film camera out with me when I leave the house or studio.  I'm always pleasantly surprised that for every weakness I find in a "vintage" camera I also find some hidden treasures.

Yesterday I went to swim practice (crowded and rowdy) had coffee afterwards where I spilled a cup. (I was trying to be "green" and brought a cup with a lid that's damn hard to get off......).  Belinda, Kirsten (our "Yard Coach") and I spent most of the afternoon clearing brush and doing Landscapy things.  At four I'd had enough strenuous physical exercise and decided to grab a camera and take a two hour walk around downtown Austin with my old, Sony R1 camera.  In my opinion the R1 was the ultimate "bridge" camera:  APS sized chip (reportedly the same basic chip that the Nikon D2x sported....) a really cool swivel screen in addition to a usable EVF and, the capper,  a fabulous Carl Zeiss 24-120mm equivalent zoom lens.  A lens that DPReview proclaimed to be worth the entire price of the camera alone.

None of the photos is earth shattering or particularly tricky but I'm happy with them all.  Even the last one, hand held at some obscenely slow shutter speed with an almost unusable ISO 3200.  The camera just flat out works.  I'd done a bunch of jobs with this camera and a twin back in 2006 and 2007 and I remembered it as a great performer when you could use it at ISO 160 or 200 but it was a recent reviewing of a review that reminded me of it's really good long exposure capabilities.  I didn't have a tripod with me but I stabilized the camera on the railing of the pedestrian bridge over Lady Bird Lake and made a series of 15 and 30 second exposures of the afterglow from the sunset, behind the Lamar Blvd. bridge.  I think they turned out well.  Not something I usually shoot but I guess there's no law that says I have to spend all my time shooting beautiful people.......

While the R1 has a raw mode it takes five or six seconds to write a raw file to the buffer and during that time the camera locks up and won't shoot.  With that in mind I always shoot Jpegs.  My last technical observation about the camera is that its ultra-quiet shutter will synch with flash all the way up to 1/2000th of a second, its highest shutter speed.  I put this camera into the "under rated, under praised tools of the decade" category.  You'll never shoot sports with this camera but portraits and still life are natural subjects.  In many ways it reminds me of medium format cameras.

Along the same lines, the previous blog essay showed off images taken with two Kodak cameras that came on the market back in 2001 and 2004 respectively, the DCS 760 and the DCS SLR/n.  I was so happy to look at those images that I went online and ordered two new batteries for each camera.  I fully intend to shoot the heck out of them before something goes south.  Why?  Because they look different and in some ways better to me than my cameras that embody current tech.  And because I already own them.  And when I pull them out of the drawer after a hiatus of months and months it also satisfies my urge to buy something new......

We are nothing if not creatures of trained habit.  I've traded in too many cameras that I later wish I'd kept.  The lure and allure of the new is powerful.  The Sony R1 is a reminder that previous technology is also fun.  A formalist exercise?

What did I learn from my exercise?  I tend to shoot tight so I made it a practice to shoot near 24mm when I could.  I tend to believe AF, sometimes to my detriment, so I concentrated on placing focus manually, exactly where I wanted it.  I took hyperfocal distance into consideration instead of just arbitrarily assigning a focus.  I played with the edges of the frame more.  I'm trying to loosen up my composition.  Got a lot done in two hours.....

the holidays are upon us.  I humbly submit that a good book about photography will be most welcome by the photographers on your list.  Here are a few suggestions:






Lunch was happy, happy.

I'm shooting an event for a company this evening, downtown.  I probably won't have time for dinner.  So Belinda and I headed over to El Arroyo to have lunch.  I had the Sante Fe enchiladas and she had the "lite" plate.   The photo above has nothing at all to do with today's lunch other than it was lunch once.

I've done a fair amount of food photography over the years.  I've got two cookbook credits and I've done several dozen magazine spreads and probably a similar number of projects for the hospitality industry.  The photograph above was done at Uchi, here in Austin, for a lifestyle magazine.  I loved all the food that the owner/chef prepared for me.  What I like most of all was the clean and simple presentation.  I try to make the food look like it was lit by beautiful, clean daylight but in truth I lit it with a big white diffuser very close in to the left side (as you look at the food) and a white reflector four or five feet over to the right.  I used the reflector a bit further away than I might typically because wanted the little heart shaped shadow of the herb leaf to show well on the bottom right side of the frame.  I used a Kodak SLR/n and a 100mm macro lens.  I still use the camera from time to time and every time I do I wonder why I ever bought anything else.  And then I remember that it's not the most ergonomic or fast solution for anything other than slow studio work or studio-type work on location.  But what a magnificent file you can get out of it.  Just amazing.  The colors, tones and contrast is just wonderful.

It's a pity photographers didn't appreciate the Kodak products more for what they really do well instead of  insisting that every camera be the uber-camera.   You know, the super box that can shoot in inky blackness AND lock focus on five soccer players running in five different directions, simultaneously.  The camera of today:  The Swiss Army Camera.  "We can do it all."  Just not nearly as well as a precision crafted tool created just for a particular job.  I pity Kodak.  They made an incredibly good product (for portraits and food)  and then tried to sell it to the wrong market (weddings).  And, in some ways, we do that as photographers.  Hard to be good at everything.  That's why there's a lot of stuff I don't shoot.

But I like to shoot food.  And I like to eat it.  And if I can have lunch with a different fun and interesting person every day of the week I count myself happy.  As in "lunch was happy, happy."

(side note:  Many of you may be too young to remember this but Kodak basically invented digital photography in the 1980's and 1990's.  The earliest Canon and Nikon professional cameras were hybrids with mechanics by C&N and electronics and sensors by Kodak.  They owned the market until 2001 when Nikon came out with their own D1x and Canon came out with their D30.  Even then Kodak's "beast" the DCS 760 was (in my opinion) the camera to have.  It out muscled the other two in resolution and had a bigger sensor (1.3 crop factor).  It's real strength, and one rarely mentioned by reviewers or dilletantes was.......drum roll, please........Dynamic Range.  Used in raw, the files could do absolutely amazing stuff and the market is just now, nine years later, beginning to catch up.  I had reason to go thru older files today and look.  I'm still amazed at the quality of the files and the depth of the range from shadow to tweaked highlight.  The camera also had an stout buffer.  Twenty or so full raw files at one frame pers second was about three times the throughput of the other cameras of the day.  At one time I liked the look so much I had three of the cameras.  Now I keep one around for nostalgia.  At 6 MP they aren't resolution competitive with current cameras.  But for jobs that aren't going to leave the web?  Magic.)

Here are two samples from the DCS 760:

 This was shot on a sunny day for a sports medicine practice.  They have a 24 by 36 inch poster on one of their walls that is breathtaking.  All it took was a good interpolation tool at the right lab to bring out the quality inherent in the file.
This was shot for the 2006 Annual Report for the Kipp School.  It was blown up to a similar size for a fundraising event by the same lab.  People assumed it was from a Hasselblad negative........

And finally,  another example from the Kodak SLR/n.  I think the skin tones and shadows are amazingly good.

Amazingly good cameras.  Can't say I like the files from my Canon 5d2 any better.......

the holidays are upon us.  I humbly submit that a good book about photography will be most welcome by the photographers on your list.  Here are a few suggestions:






Afternoon Dessert.

Whenever I write two or three columns in a short amount of time that are critical of mass culture, or take pokes at the irrational foibles of our own industry (photography) I get an inevitable spate of caustic comments letting me know that I am a washed up "hack" and a "bitter old man" and those comments are generally followed by the assertion that I am so out of touch that I just don't understand the nuances of progress.  And there's the consistent perception that, since I complain about the systems I must be mired in financial decline and lashing out.....I thought about these things as I delivered another photography project to a large, international technology company this morning.  Of course the client had to wait until after swim practice.

I'm doing just fine, thank you.  But my tone must be quite bleak because, today at lunch one of my close friends (and a daily reader of the VSL blog) remarked that my last several blogs had him worried about my state of mind.  Over a double cheeseburger at P.Terry's I assured him that I was feeling chipper.  I guess the bane of experience is having seen how good something can be and then watching its decline.

We talked about my article lambasting cellphone use.  He argued that I must get used to it because society was changing.  I argued that in Texas we've been able to carry concealed weapons for a while now but we haven't made it "culturally okay" to shoot them off in restaurants and movie theaters in moments of unalloyed joy.  He just shook his head.

So, on a lighter note:  Dessert.  There are few things as yummy and fluffy as a lemon cake with white icing and little sweet crystals of lemon festooned all over.  I did a decidedly happy project several years ago for Tribeza Magazine.  I wrote ad article about three different kinds of bakeries here in Austin and what kinds of goodies they make.  I also took the photos for the article.  My first stop was at Sweetish Hill Bakery.  I'd like to talk about the complexities of lighting in this shot but........it was the existing light in the bakery and I just maneuvered around until I got the warm reflection in the metal backsplash, opened up 2/3rd's of a stop and shot a series on aperture priority automatic with a Nikon D200 and the 18-200mm VR lens.  Yes, yes.  I know that the camera is hopelessly obsolete and the lens has all the sharpness of a Coke bottle bottom but just three years ago I hadn't read all  that vital information so my photos were able to turn out well enough. (insert smiley face).

I was so smitten with the cake that I bought it after I shot it and Ben and I feasted on most of it, growling at Belinda so she would keep her distance.......(insert smily face emoticon).  It tasted as good as it took.
On another day, but for the same assignment, I went to the historic Driskill Hotel and gained access to their pastry and dessert kitchen.  The hotel has a nice cafe where one can go at all hours until late at night and have drinks, dessert, coffee.....whatever your pleasure.  I've always been happy with their chocolate cake, especially when they go all "Pixar" with the alien tentacles of chocolate waving around in the air.

The nice thing about jobs like this, either for the writer or the photographer, is that you are doing the businesses a big favor.  You've chosen them as one of your favorites so they know that, at worst, they'll get their name and address in the article, and in the best case scenario they'll have some of their flagship products showcased in large photographs, and the writer will describe a very positive experience that will leave the reader with at least a heightened curiosity about the offerings on the menu.  Everyone wants to discover something new.

Sometimes writing is harder than taking the photos.  In both of these examples the available light was ample and appropriate.  In fact, you can see the reflections of the ceiling mounted florsecents in the white dishes in the photograph just above.  But the writing has to spring, fully formed, from out of nowhere.  And you could handle it in a thousand ways.  I prefer to get my inspiration from the source so I made notes while I savored every bite of the chocolate cake, interspersed with ice cream.....

I used a small, lined Moleskine notebook and a Mont Blanc fountain pen ( a very discreet one ) to write the text.  And, of course, I have my own technical flourish for the writing......I choose to write my notes with my left hand.  Not so wild when you find that I am, in fact, left-handed...... (to my more "opaque" readers:  the previous three sentences were meant to be ironic. Or sarcastic.  Or both...)

The last segment of the article was about the Mexican Bakery on South First St. They are 100% traditional, right down to the ingredients.  I'm not sure the editors really wanted to do this bakery, but I did and I was writing and shooting the article.  So I shot here too.  It was the most fun.  I love this place because the customers have character and the food is a riot of color.  It also tastes great.

Same very involved lighting and technical information as the two photographs above.  The same Coke bottle lens and primitive body.  The same lack of all lighting gear.

I'm having a stunning afternoon.  Thank you for asking.  Potential clients have called inquiring about video projects (thank you!) and photography projects and the calendar is full of fun, contracted projects for the next two weeks. I have two book contracts.  Everyone here is in good health and my swimming continues to improve as I take Steve's advice and work on technique instead of brute power.  The dog is sleeping peacefully at my feet.

I'm taking a break in a little while to find just the right dessert for Merienda.  I'm thinking a big Mexican cookie and coffee.  Maybe you'll get up and have an afternoon snack too.  Couldn't hurt.


A portrait from the studio.

This is Ameerah Tatum.
I met her at Zachary Scott Theatre
Where she performed the lead in a musical play called:
Once Upon This Island.
She came to the studio to be photographed.
She brought her leather jacket.
The Tri-X whirred thru the camera.  

I made prints.
Some for Ameerah and some for me.

I can't remember what we talked about but the shoot 
took an hour.

When I see this photograph her performance on stage
comes rushing back in my mind.

Everybody wants a critique. No one wants to hear your opinion.

In the end it's easier just to go shopping.

Everyone seems to want a critique.  Whenever I meet for lunch with an aspiring photographer they have their black portfolio case in hand and the ask me to look it over and give them my opinion.  I'm sure they don't understand that my opinion hardly matters in the context of current commerce or in the world of art. I've learned to flip thru the book.  But not too quickly.   And then I smile and say, "Thank you for showing me your work."  Very few people want a bonafide critique because they are too emotionally attached to the connection with their own work.

When I taught at UT part of my job was critiquing students' photographs.  We'd pin up prints to the cork board wall, have the person explain what their assignment was and then go around the room and discuss the prints.  Student work is interesting.  A lot of kids re-invented wheels and shot in popular styles.  That's to be expected.  They were young and hadn't seen a lot of stuff yet and they were still in the process of discovering art history and the incredible work that's been done.  While we tried to focus on content we'd point out when bad technique got in the way of good seeing.  We'd also point out when the seeing was absent and there was nothing more than technique.  But mostly we tried to get each other to see, on an emotional and universal level, what worked and what didn't.  (ex: "You say this photo is about sorrow but all I see are lace curtains and bright sunshine....").

In college I think the most important lesson that aspiring artists can learn is that technique is secondary to having an interesting point of view.  We could readily teach technique.  Over the few years I was there we taught dozens and dozens of people every year how to use an 8x10 inch view camera, how to master film development and how to do studio lighting in concert with these Brontosaur-like cameras.  But I believe that you can't teach  an artist what to be creative about.  Or, how to have a point of view.  

It's like style.  You can buy style at any department store.  But can you make your own style visible in your own work?  It's hard because style is both a "way of seeing" and a "what of seeing."  And it's an intertwined combination of Pick-up Sticks.  Removing one supporting stick causes the others to tumble.  Style and point of view don't stand well on their own.

One of the reasons I think smart people go to workshops is that they have the idea that they will "fast track" the boring and rote learning and get onto the sweet meat of creation.  It's the way I delude myself when I want to buy a new lens.  Or a new camera.  I construct a rational that insists that some technical issue is all that stands between me and artistic success.  I know that's not true.  But it is also untrue that there is any fast track toward developing a POV or a style based on technical instruction.

By the same token, if I critique someone and tell them that a photograph should be cropped  this way or that way for success I am giving them a roadmap to make their vision more like my vision and less like their vision.  Like politics, we all have opinions about what constitutes good art.  But in the end it's just as immeasurable as political right or wrong.  Many of Garry Winogrand's photos had tilted horizons.  Should mine have tilted horizons?  Do I want to be another Garry Winogrand?  Here's a hard truth:  There is no roadmap to art.  None.   There are no mentors or dojo masters.  There is only your vision and your clarity about your vision.  And the idea that, until you die, it's always a work in progress.

In the critiques we often talked about production values.  That means mastering your technique.  Many times it just means taking the time to make a believable prop or find a better location or shoot a better negative or file.  We can talk about those things objectively.   But the idea is always subjective.

Show Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic work to an audience at the Crystal Palace and you'll have a riot on your hands.  Show the blue ribbon, award-winning work of a PPofA wedding photographer to the SOHO art crowd and you'll have a "sneer" riot on your hands.  But no matter how hard you work to credential yourself in the art world your opinion counts as just one more educated vote.  

It's fine to do photography as an exercise.  My dad plays the piano for enjoyment.  Has for all of his life. But he never makes the mistake that by playing Chopin he is, himself, becoming a composer.  That only happens when you write your own music....

(photos from The Spanish Steps.)

the holidays are upon us.  I humbly submit that a good book about photography will be most welcome by the photographers on your list.  Here are a few suggestions:






A post from mid-summer that goes well with my recent sunday "end of the world" post.....

Search back to july 2 if you want the original comments...

FRIDAY, JULY 2, 2010

Is technology destroying art? Does anyone care?

This is the naked die of a micro something or other.  We shot it last month for the semiconductor company that makes it. Its brethren will go into some sort of consumer product that will make some person's life more efficient.  And the promise of that increased efficiency should have meant more free time for that person to do things for themselves.  Play with their kids,  wash the car, see a movie,  or do art.

But it isn't working out that way.  Society is using the increased efficiency to get more out of the next person.  More lines of type per hour.  More lines of code per day.  More products more quickly to the marketplace.  Cameras that autofocus faster and have aquarium modes. More profits to the shareholders. More stuff.

Cellphones seemed like such a good idea.  They would free us from the umbilical cord that tethered us to the desk or to the house.  But it didn't really work out that way.  Faceless corporations found that they could get more "free" work out of their workers by using a virtual umbilical cord that keeps workers connected to their offices nearly continuously.  And injects a sensibility that there's duty to make the job one's life.

And please, make no mistake, when I say workers I don't mean it in the old communist way:  as a description of the uniformed factory people who made things with their hands or dug for coal.  When I say workers now I also mean the lawyers and executives and nearly anyone who has a job working for anyone other than themselves.

I've watched the progressive strangling of people's time by new technology.  Executive dads sitting in the bleachers frantically jabbing at Blackberries with their thumbs trying to get in front of a new "issue" while little Johnny makes a soccer goal that dad doesn't catch.  I watched three investors glued to their iPhone screens in the middle of a play and wondered why they'd taken the time to come to the theater.  You could quiz them and they wouldn't know whether they sat thru "Oklahoma" or "Romeo and Juliet".

Everyday I watch couples at restaurants staring into their screens instead of each other's eyes.  They seem afraid that they'll miss something.  That the world will introduce the next miracle and they want to be in on the genesis and get the announcement.  So much so that they miss all the important stuff.

So, efficiency was supposed to give us time to exercise and relax and invent and enjoy and do our own art.  But what it's really done is increase the work week of the fully employed, robbed them of their own un-contracted leisure time, convinced people that a salaried position means 24/7 contact (and mindshare) and left them ragged and unable to concentrate on the present and the  here and now.  It robs them of living life as it's happening.

And the ability to process great volumes of information hasn't done much for us either, as far as I can tell.   May be it's good for predicting sales or elections.  Data mining can't stop hurricanes or earthquakes but endless data availability progressively robs us of our privacy and financial security.

But none of that really bothers me.  I understand better than you might think that the nature of western man is constant innovation---for good or bad.  No, what bothers me is that we've used all these tools to turn our lives into something that's measured based on productivity.   Volume.  Throughput.

I heard a great actor speak two days ago.  He defined art.  It's not about which lens renders hairs on the kitty photo the sharpest or who's got the best toys.  And it's certainly not measurable.  He defined art in this way:  Art teaches us what it  is to be human.

But this is a problem because art is notorious for being unmeasurable.  And in a society that values ranking and measuring above all else it gives one the feeling that art, which teaches us what it is to be human, is being replaced more and more by craft just for the sake of craft.  And the craft is powered more and more by precision, performance and production and less and less by ideas and translations of human experience.

It starts in school.  We, as a society, need to give as much weight to the study of art and art history, music and drama as we do the math and science courses.  We need to make sure our kids are as content literate as they are process literate.  I can assure you that, as technology becomes more and more pervasive the real value; the "gold",  will be content.

Multitasking?  I've got a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in.....

My photo session with a very famous attorney.

Charles Alan Wright.  Here's his profile on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Alan_Wright

The short version.  One of the foremost authorities on constitutional law, ever.  Attorney for president Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate hearings.  And so much more.  An amazing figure in an amazingly profession.

I was hired by Private Clubs Magazine ( an American Express publication for Platinum Card Members) to photograph Mr. Wright.  This was back in the days (mid-1990's) when you could actually get a legend on the phone and set up the logistics directly.  Because of his very busy schedule he requested that we shoot at his office in the University of Texas Law School.  Fine with me.  I liked working on location.

I've always been a contrarian and this day was no different.  While I contemplated packing for the short trip from my studio in downtown Austin to the UT campus I looked over a drawer full of Hasselblad cameras and half a dozen Zeiss lenses.  I also contemplated taking my Profoto power packs or a set of monolights.  In the end I gave in to my "on again/off again" infatuation with my old, twin lens Rolleiflex cameras.  One to use and one to sit in the case as backup.  Not the most intuitive choice for a premium assignment with a premium magazine.  Just to do some "reverse" gilding of the lillies I passed on the studio lighting and grabbed an old Metz "potato masher" flash, a Vivitar 285 flash, a shoot thru umbrella and a couple of small light stands.  Reminder:  This was a decade before the word "Strobist" showed up in our collective vocabulary.....

Everything fit in two bags.

I showed up and we chatted for a few minutes.  We decided to use his office as our studio.  He walked down the hall for a few minutes to make a few phone calls and when he came back I had my lights set up, the optical slave tested and everything carefully metered.  No polaroid and no instant preview.

The first thing he remarked about when he returned was the Rollei cameras.  He knew all about em.  Had friends who'd shot with the for decades.  Then he asked me where to sit and what to do.  I had just done a job for another magazine about a friend of Mr. Wright and we talked about the famous banker for a few minutes.  When I saw expressions I liked I asked him to "hold" and I clicked the shutter.

I loaded a new roll after every 12 frames and, in the intervening time, we talked about law and presidential power.  He was a republican and I a democrat but that was a time when people could hold different opinions and still have the benefit of mutual respect.  I shot three rolls of twelve exposure film and then our time was up.  The magazine picked and ran the close up.  I like the medium distance shot.

At the time it was just another assignment but over time I've come to understand the stature of Charles Alan Wright and I marvel that he was so patient and accessible.

Why did I choose to use "lesser" gear to do the shot?  I knew I wouldn't have time to spend on fancy lighting set-ups and I knew that in the small law offices I wouldn't have the option to go long and compress and still get a feel for the office.  I'd just read a book by Fritz Henle, published in the 1960's and marveled that he was able to do an incredibly wide range of images, all with the Rollei twin lens cameras.

Back in the pre-paradigm days we did things a bit differently than what gets done now.  I shot with ISO 100 transparency film which was pretty unforgiving where exposure was concerned.  We always metered carefully.  We didn't have RAW to save our butts.  Going "sans" Polaroid was a bit of hubris but I was on a roll.  Now we'd cover it with 200 frames in raw.  Back then we had more confidence.

One person asked me why I had him sit for the photos.  I remembered that he was about six foot three inches tall and, with the waist level finder on the Rollei I would have had to be on a ladder to pull off the right camera/subject elevation.  At five feet eight inches tall I've stood on enough boxes, thank you.

Sometimes we take a photograph because we just love the subject so much.

Ben was so young when I took this.  It was so long ago.  We'd moved into the house the year before and I'd just bought the white chair and the ottoman Ben was sitting on.  To Ben's left is a set of French doors and soft, late afternoon open shade flowed through the big windows.  Ben was sitting and listening to his mother read something like "Winnie the Pooh" or something by Dr. Seuss.  I walked in and saw the light floating across Ben.  I had a Contax G2 with the 45mm lens over my shoulder.  I'm pretty sure I had a roll of Tri-X inside (what else could it have been?)

I smiled and slowed down as I came thru the door.  I got down on my knees to get to Ben's level and pulled the camera up to my face.  I know the meter would read "hot" because the back wall was out of the light stream.  The wall was a gold color.  I instinctively dialed in a minus 1.3 stops but that sounds a bit disingenuous as I write it.  The reality is that the "dialing in" was in my brain.  The camera was set in manual so the "dialing" was more an increase in shutter speed over the meter indication.  I shot three or four frames and, at first, Ben was intrigued by the whole process.  Then he started moving and, with the light levels being what they were, I could no longer freeze action.

The orignal frame has more on each side.  There's an unmade bed to the left of the frame but the white of the sheets was too much of a lure for my eyes so I chopped it off.  That left the right side unbalanced and showed too much of the white chair so I chopped that off too.  Sadly,  this print was made long after I gave up my black and white darkroom so I scanned it with a Nikon LS 4000 scanner and had it output on a Fujix printer.  Had I still had ready access to a darkroom I would have printed it on a multigrade paper and tweaked the contrast in little areas while softening the edges.  The grain would also have been more demure.

I can't really articulate why I think this is a wonderful photograph beyond the biographical reality that it is my own kid.  Since he keeps getting better and better the old print somehow gets better and better to me as well.  I should have the print mounted and framed and hanging somewhere nice.  In reality it is tacked up just over the top of my monitor.....right next to my favorite photograph of his mother, my wife.

The prints are a reality check.  What's important in life?  Has technology made a difference in the quality of my work? (no.)  Do I now understand a bit better why people want family portraits and photographs of THEIR kids? (absolutely.)  Can I do as well with current cameras? (not to date.)  The prints sit where they sit so I can compare current work against known quantities.  While I might have honed my technical chops over time I understand that emotional chops are not time-linear.  Everything gets created in context.

It's important to surround yourself with a work you've done that you really like.  It inspires you to try and try again.

Predicting the past is easy. The future, less so.

I had an interesting lunch with a friend today at Maudie's Mexican Food Restaurant on Lake Shore Blvd. today.  It was an interesting lunch because my  friend, whom I'll call Bob, works at a mid sized public relations agency.  He actually owns his own creative company providing art direction, creative direction and ad design to the surrounding firm.  I love having lunch with Bob because he works with top clients from as far away as Japan and, while he's closer to my age, he is surrounded by 20, 30 and 40 year olds every single day.  We talked about family and hobbies and funny stuff that happens and then we got down to the meat of the meeting:  What's going to happen next year?  Where is the ad business going?  What will the trends be?

Here's something interesting.  Bob was a very early iPad adapter.  His justification for purchasing it was as a presentation device.  Now he admits that the screen is too small and, given a choice, all (regardless of age) of his clients prefer to see presentations and portfolios as PRINTS.  So last century.....but that's the way things go.  Big prints.  It's the wave of the future.   Also, little prints.

We've both been watching magazines come back strong.  We agreed that perhaps all the marketers overshot the whole "everything will end up on the web" pitch.  Seems that clients really do want audited results, tangible proof of circulation,  direct feedback and so much more.  While magazines folding up their tents make the most splash in the gossip forums the reality is that there are more titles than ever before and the ad revenues to the standing players are recovering quickly.  Amazing.  Two years ago we were ready to leave them for dead.  Prediction?  A lot more paid placement in print and direct mail, supported by the web.  That means designers need to dust off their "print chops" and remember how to manage color for paper and all that other stuff.  But now clients want to measure all this stuff.  And remember, you'll need better technique for print.  The file are much bigger and the details and faults are ten times as obvious.

And, who ever guessed that this would happen? Holiday parties are back with a vengence.  Wheeeeeeeee.  And they're actually buying nice wine and good food.

So, what the heck does that have to do with the photo above?  And why is all out of focus?  And why is everything blurry?

I was walking around the train station in Rome with my Mamiya 6 camera.  I'd been taking photos all over the place all day long and I was getting ready to meander back to my hotel.  I noticed how Italian business guys fell into two strata when crossing the station.  If they were in groups of two or more they'd walk slowly and chat and gesture.  When they were alone they would do this brisk walk.  I like the brisk walk so I waited around until a likely candidate emerged from the crowds and headed by me.  I wasn't paying attention to exposure like I usually do.  I'd set the camera to auto exposure.  I lifted it up to my eye and waited for the right moment and then shot.  I could tell as I heard the slightly extended action of the shutter that I was down in the 1/8th to 1/15th second exposure zone.  Yep.  I screwed up.  I think.

But much later I printed this negative and I started to like the feeling of motion.  I started to like the way all of the background mushed together.  I liked the way Tri-X handled the grey tones and the highlights. But I like most of all the energy of the man heading home.  It's okay to do things wrong.  It's okay if you're the only one who likes them.  But it all goes into the learning mix.