For five years I have photographed 5th Avenue Theatre’s High School Musical Awards. Teens from all over are invited to this event and the sheer volume of thousands of teenagers in one building rivals a SpaceX takeoff! Most of the workers wear earplugs…and I’m not joking. My partner is assigned to photograph the event from inside of the house, while I’m assigned the backstage area….my favorite.
Before becoming a full time pro shooter I got into this whole thing to chronicle my daughter’s work as a stage crew member in high school. I had little money while raising two kids, so I went onto eBay and bought myself a Casio point and shoot. As I wandered around the backstage area I came to appreciate the work and passion the ‘crew’ has for putting together a production. Those jobs are far from the glamor of the footlights and follow spots. So because of that I have a real soft spot for the crew and those who make it possible for the talent in front of the curtain to pursue their passions.
The energy and excitement behind the scenes is infectious. I’ve been honored and blessed to be able to move around freely backstage. So many of the people who work BTS I now know having worked with each of them on different shows. One of the most moving things that happened to me that night was when David said to me in such a sincere and warm way “Mark, thank you so much for doing this for us.” I simply said “You’re welcome” but thought to myself that I should be thanking him for being instrumental in my ability to know all of these folks.
So here are some of my favorite photos from backstage during the 2017 HSMA’s. The two shots, one of the group and one of the young man who played in the Music Man were portraits I just had to create backstage. I had brought my one strobe to use prior to the event and at the end of the event. I just HAD to use it to light these kids for a portrait. I know all of the kids who attend the 5th’s HSMA will carry these wonderful memories for the rest of their lives. I know I will too.
For both of these portraits I told the kids “No smiling! Give me ATTITUDE like you give your folks! LOL! And you can tell them when they see the shots the photographer told you to do that.”
UPDATE 6-6-17 “It’s far easier to unleash a half-truth than it is to correct it.”
Today I read an interesting article by Christie Aschwanden about her experience leaving social media. Her views very much mirror my own with the exception that I have not returned to the FB rabbit hole. Her article is well worth a read.
Original Blog Post
Back in mid-October 2016 just before the Presidential election the mood of Facebook along with the country took an ugly turn. People overtly and covertly began to show bigotry toward me as well as others. For me Facebook has never been a vehicle for real change, although there are some things like helping individuals that work through social media. I found that Facebook made me ‘feel’ as if I ‘may’ be doing ‘something’ but in reality it was just masturbation. The good of keeping ‘in touch’ with people who had moved away or people I had not seen in many years was a positive part of the social media giant, but for me nothing of substance was there. It was a time burner. In May I had a stroke after my mother died in April and when the doctor told me to quit smoking or I’d risk a stroke that could leave me paralyzed on one side of my body. So I quit…cold turkey. Had she said that I would die if I had another stroke, well I would have gladly kept smoking. The thought of being dependent on anyone, most of all my children or my partner was enough to convince me to quit. Even though I LOVED SMOKING. The positive result of my stroke is I found so many things trivial. I had found pettiness and trivial people and attitudes poor in the past but the stroke sharpened my keen sense of what is important to a new level.
One of the side results of using Facebook for a while was becoming accustomed to small ‘snippets’ of information, the thing I swore I’d never succumb to…the USA Today method of reading. Much like how news is presented to us in ‘new cycles’ newspapers often have very short and often unedited content. So in summary I wanted to return to the ‘old school ways’ in which I was raised. To meet with people in real life, to build physical things, to help those face to face and to greatly reduce my ‘screen time’ so that I didn’t become a drone who has a screen in front of my face more than I cared to admit. I no longer wanted to have convenience trump the effort it takes to have real life face to face relationships.
For my first week ‘without’ social media I found I missed it, yet it also showed me how dependent I had become on its use. Funny that smoking was much easier the first week to do without than Facebook. This showed me just how bad my habit had become. After about a month people asked about me through our business Facebook page which Tracy found a bit irritating. But those who really wanted to contact me did so the ‘old fashion’ way, through email or those who are personal friends through texting.
I ventured out to the Mohave Desert to do a photo shoot with Pato and Eva which took us a year to plan. I made friends in real life with five remarkable people who I never knew before. I started to build things again in real life. I began to read and write. And slowly but surely I began to become ‘old school’’ once more. Then tragedy struck….
The Oakland warehouse fire happened in a building called the ‘Ghost Ship.’ 36 individuals died in that fire one of which was Jenny Morris, a close friend of my son. Jenny was only 21 years old and her death affected me as if she was my own child. I cannot begin to fathom the sadness felt by her mother, father and brother. Like grief I have experienced in my life my sadness comes in waves, in ebbs and flows just like my son’s sadness. Grief is not linear in healing. My son and Jenny had broken up a year ago and had they still been dating I’m sure that he would have died in the fire as well. He would have done all he could to save Jenny and others at the cost of his own life. The thought and possibility of losing a child makes everything else pale in comparison.
So how I use Facebook will be different than before. I may or may not feel like posting photos here or “Liking” this or that. I will be more of a lurker and when the mood strikes me, leave again for a time. I found that my creative ideas and feelings were much stronger when I was not participating on Facebook and I cannot explain why, but it does not matter.
So what I can control and do in my real life that isn’t dependent on social media is to be kind to others, to help in a way that is meaningful. And I will follow the words of John F. Kennedy “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
I ride my Haibike Sduro Fullnine RC almost every day. I don’t have a ‘daily commute’ so I ride for pleasure or for errands. That includes fire roads with steep hills, paved paths and street riding to do errands. Sometimes I need navigation to assist me so I use Google Maps which has a bicycle feature which takes me on routes I’ve never done in a car. Well Duh Mark of course since I’m on a bike. I searched long and hard for just the ‘right’ mounting unit for my cell phone (a Galaxy S7 Edge) to mount to my bike’s handlebar stem. You see I want my unit in the landscape position and most of the cell phone mounting solutions are for your handlebar and in the vertical position. I’m not using my phone for anything other than navigation on my bike. Here’s what I found is the best for my needs, a Sahara Sailor Phone Bike Mount. It fits perfectly on a head stem and holds a phone very securely. I highly recommend this unit.
I never mean to be an early adopter, but tend to be so with new strobes. Lighting is developing much more rapidly than cameras or lenses. But this is about a new passion of mine, riding my ebike, a Haibike Sduro Fullnine RC. Ebikes are new to the US and relatively unknown, yet are popular in Europe where using any type of bicycle for transportation is mainstream. I began my interest two years ago when I noticed a Kickstarter campaign for an eMTB called the Flx bike. At 1399.00 USD it was ‘affordable’ enough to interest me, yet since I had been burned by two crowd funding campaigns I was not excited enough to commit 1400 bucks with the chance I would not get shit. You should know that they have delivered on their product and many of their owners are thrilled with the product.
In the Fall of 2016 I was vacationing in one of my favorite locations, Avila Beach, CA. Across from my hotel is Pedego Avila Beach which is an electric bike dealership. Upon entering the store Glenn, the owner asked if I had ever ridden an ebike. When I replied “No” he said “Well we’re gonna change all of that..” and immediately put me on a Haibike hard tail mountain bike. Just outside of his storefront are two hills just like those in San Francisco. As soon as I began peddling up the hills I WAS SOLD. A mid drive, centrally mounted battery made the Haibike feel just like a normal bike, but with power that made me feel like Lance Armstrong with blood doping to the max! So I told myself that I would buy one right away.
Upon returning home to the Bay Area I found a local dealer, Motostrano in Redwood City. So I purchased my bike from Joe at Motostrano since he was running a killer sale in December. In March of 2017 I had saved enough money by quitting smoking that it paid for my Haibike Fullnine RC!
You can read all about ebikes online by searching along with all of the haters calling ebikes “Cheaters.” But just like all things such as ATM cards, snowboarding, digital cameras, chairlifts (yes there was a time when you had to WALK UP THE HILL to ski), ABS braking, etc. humans always resist what is ‘new’ and out of the ordinary. It’s really all about fear, fear of change fear of the unknown, fear of something new. So often it’s negative talk from those who feel they are the ‘purists’ like skiers who didn’t want to share the hill with new snowboarders, film photographers who felt and still feel digital photography lacks ‘soul’ or now mountain bikers who feel eMTBs are ‘cheaters’ and ‘bad for the trails.’ Hell I remember when Brownie Instamatic film cameras were shunned by ‘real photographers’ because the new little film cameras did everything for you including exposure! Hahahahaha. Fuck haters. They usually want to ‘keep’ their domain all to themselves and elite.
I love riding my ebike simply because it’s so much fun. I’ve raced motorcycles both on and off road all of my life. No my ebike does not have a throttle nor do I want it to have one. I have to pedal and I love that. So much so that I find excuses to ‘go somewhere’ or run an errand just to get on my ebike. Yes I’ve had a traditional mountain bike before, but rode it much less often than I do my eMTB.
I’ve given up trying to explain to people how it feels. In my crude manner I compare it to trying to explain to someone what a fantastic orgasm feels like. Go ahead; try to explain that, the FEELING of one. It’s the same about an ebike; the feeling is something that makes me smile every single time I ride. When I first got a digital camera off eBay I rediscovered the Bay Area by going to places with new eyes. On my ebike I ride to places I’ve been many times, but with a new outlook. I do Costco runs with my bike, I pack a dinner and go for a dinner ride with my girlfriend. I run errands like going to the bank, the hardware store, the donut shop on my ebike. It’s a complete joke and when my doctor asks “How often do you exercise?” and I have to remind myself that I do so every single day. I don’t think about riding 12-20 miles a day as exercise because like having a great orgasm it’s such a great feeling! (Not to worry, an orgasm is still better, but you get the point about having to feel something to KNOW)
Picking the right ebike is up to each individual. Renting one or several in your area or attending an ebike convention where you get to ride various models is the key. There are plenty of “Meet Ups” where people who love/own/are curious about ebikes gather just like photography meet ups. I’ve never been a ‘meet up’ kinda guy, but they are damn valuable for many people. I can simply say that I’ve never had anything in my life that is so much fun and enjoyable that I can do WHENEVER AND WHEREEVER I WANT TO DO SO. Not having to load my race bike on a truck or trailer, driving to the track, get fuel, etc. Sure those days were a complete blast, but the quiet joy of riding through neighborhoods, up in the hills, around town is so simple and sweet. One of the things I’ve missed about racing motorcycles is the ‘wrenching’ and although it’s on a MUCH more simple level with my ebike, it brings back some of that fun.
I don’t have a ‘commute’ per se since my job has odd hours and I often am on an airplane. But if I did have to commute and it was 10-20 miles each way I’d definitely use my ebike to go to and fro. Not showing up to work sweating because I’ve bucked a headwind or up hills to work is epic. More importantly, it’s just fun.
The questions I’m most often asked:
- Do you have to plug it in? – Yes to recharge the battery
- How far will a full charge allow you to go? – It depends, on High, into high wind or up steep hills maybe 20-30 miles. In Eco mode on flat ground probably 70 miles
- Does peddling recharge the battery? – No
- Do you need a license? – No
- Does it have a throttle? – No, not this one, but some ebikes do have a throttle.
- How long does it take to charge? – I’ve never drained mine completely so I cannot say. When my battery has been down to 30% it has taken about 1.2 hours to fully recharge.
- Where is the engine? – It’s attached to the crank on this model.
- Can you recharge the bike on solar power? – No
- Does the bike come with a headlight and taillight? – No I installed those myself.
I have always believed that as a professional photographer I should always continue to pursue personal projects. Projects which have nothing to do with imagery I create commercially. I find that it helps expand my view of the world, beyond that which is just ‘pretty’ or pleasant to view. Gorgeous people in beautiful outfits are easy to shoot. I also believe that in our world of immediate gratification I needed to maintain projects which take time to develop and those which require collaboration.
In October 2015 I began a project titled “Our Perceptions, Ourselves.” A pictorial study about how each of us views our own appearance in contrast to how we are viewed by others. My thought was to try to find a forensic sketch artist who could draw a specific person and then have several different people describe that same person to the artist. I would then paint the actual subject’s face white and project each sketch onto their face and photograph them with each sketch. I thought it would be both unique and interesting by adding a third dimension to a 2D image even though I was converting it back to a 2D image. In addition it invests the subject in the drawn perceptions of how others view them. My plan is to have at least 12 individuals with three separate sketches, varying by age/race/gender.
March 7 2011 was the day I was laid off from my last corporate job. Unlike most of my colleagues who move to different companies, but remain within the same industry; I have been in a wide variety of industries. Law enforcement, security, retail, insurance, broking, energy, sales, marketing and finally software. My titles ranged from individual contributor to Senior Vice President, then COO of a Fortune 100 company. Company cars, paid monthly parking in downtown San Francisco, expense accounts first class travel you name it I had it. I was a suit…..
In December 2016 I was searching for a portable printer and discovered on Amazon a small printer called the PickIt. What attracted me beyond its size was that it used dye sublimation rather than ink jets to produce the image. In my former life I used dye sub to print marketing materials so I was impressed that such a small unit used the same technology.
On December 2, 2016 tragedy struck not only the Bay Area, but my family when the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland claimed the life of 36 young adults. One of them was Jenny Morris who just turned 21 and was the former girlfriend of my son. Jenny and my son dated for about 18 months, but had ended their relationship almost a year prior to the tragic fire. In many ways I feel blessed that my son did not perish in that fire. Had he and Jenny still been a couple I’m positive he would have been at the event and perished along with the other young adults.
I have decided to add a small travel review section to my blog. I travel extensively for client work and sometimes find hidden nuggets on my journeys. I should say that when I was ‘a suit’ in the corporate world I was able to travel well, first class air travel (prior to 9/11 and when airlines served real food), hotels like The Plaza in NYC, the Hay Adams in Washington DC, the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City, the list goes on and on. I listed some of the places I’ve stayed not to brag, but to give some reference to my point of reference. Staying on an expense account is very different than paying on my own dime.
Throughout my life other men I’ve known often talk about “The Unicorn” which in my circles means a woman who like the mythical horned creature exists only in fantasy. Too good to be true, too wonderful for reality yet an entity we all wish and hope is true.
Three years ago I was hired by a ballet company in Dallas, TX to create some promotional imagery for their troupe. It was at that time I met Christy. A bubbly positive young lady who like her fellow dancers is incredibly athletic and talented. I’m fortunate to meet so many talented artists and at first Christy fell right into that category to which I’ve become so accustomed. And believe me, I know I live a charmed and blessed life.
I am in a dilemma. All over Facebook, the internet, really everywhere I am bombarded by ads about skin retouching software. And when I see other photographers who post images of women and in some cases men as well, the amount of retouching is so great that a person’s skin looks plastic. No pores are visible, teeth are ultra white, eyes have no veins. It makes me think of the old movie “The Stepford Wives.” Men had their wives murdered and replaced with women who looked the same, yet were ‘perfect’ in every way including skin, breast enlargements, butt lifts, you name it.
This is a new series I’ve started. I’ve often wondered why we reserve eulogies for when people die. I’ve attended far too many funeral services and wondered at each one, “Why do we wait’ to ‘tell’ the people in our lives why we adore them, funny stories known so often to only a handful of people?” It seems insane to me so I have decided to write about those I love or admire….while they are alive.
Tracy is my life partner, who also happens to be my business partner. Together we are simply known as “Mark & Tracy” the folks who take photos for different art agencies. Tracy is the ‘nice one’ the one who seldom has a harsh word to say about anyone, even the most vile people we know. Part of it is because she’s Canadian, they apologize for everything! When she first moved to California she would obey every single rule. It use to drive me nuts that she would not even cross the street on a green light if the pedestrian little man was red.
You may find this Musing ironic since I chose to include only a single portrait in this article about portraits.
I make my entire living photographing people. It’s what I love to do, because I love people. To date I estimate I’ve photographed over 1,000 faces of all ages and ethnicities. My preference is to photograph men simply because I find them more versatile in nature. What does that mean? I find that the majority of women only want a single dimension of their ‘appearance’ to be shot one way…for beauty. Men on the other hand are more open to be photographed as rugged, sad, angry or in a myriad of other ways besides ‘handsome.’
One of the largest benefits of living a life full of experience is it allows one to gain self confidence. Experience brings with it lots of knowledge of human nature as well as an understanding that we are all alike in so many ways. We share the ups and downs of life, the successes and failures which are all a part of humanity, of our lives as brothers and sisters on this Earth.
In the 38 years before becoming a professional photographer my life was in the corporate world. And as I look back I’m a bit shocked at how many different careers I’ve had. Law enforcement, retail, security, energy, finance, brokerage, risk management, software and training are the major industries in which I’ve worked. I’ve held titles from part timer worker to COO of a Fortune 50 company and have had the chance to work with many different personalities and genders. What I found over that time, no matter what our status is in life; was we all breathe, pee, poop and put on our pants one leg at a time. The major differences are how we feel about ourselves and how we treat others.
I has taken me a very long time to write this article. My goals for writing this was twofold. First to explain as clearly as I could the concept of white privilege without raising the immediate and understandable reaction from the Caucasian community “Oh here we go again, I’m certainly NOT one of those.” and to place on paper my feelings from long ago which still extend into today. It has always been on my mind, but was highlighted when I recently house sat for my cousin in Oahu. I grew up in Southern California both in Crenshaw and Orange County. After my grandfather, uncles and aunts got out of the WWII internment camps grandpa managed to save enough money to purchase an apartment complex in Crenshaw so he and all of his adult children could live safely as neighbors. This was after all of his property was taken from the family during the Japanese American internment.
Many of my younger friends are having children and quite a few of them are having daughters. I wanted to write my thoughts about raising my own daughter and offer my feelings about raising a little girl to become a strong woman.
My first child, a boy was stillborn. Late in the pregnancy a small tear in the amniotic sack proved fatal. Examining the ultrasound broke my heart. He had wedged himself into the part of the sack which contained the remaining fluid to survive. The pediatrician told us that there was a 50/50 chance of his survival, but as the final weeks approached it was apparent that he had died. We were devastated. My wife delivered our son and since we had not gone through any birthing classes I had no knowledge of what to expect. It was horrible. Once our son was delivered, he was placed in a stainless steel bowl covered with a towel. The doctor asked me if I wanted to see our son. As he lifted the towel to reveal a full formed infant, I broke down sobbing and tried to comfort both of us. Yet in the moment some things in life cannot be comforted. Only the mercy of time has that ability. Once I got home I threw out all of our stainless steel bowls and to this day I cannot bear the site of one.
I tend to be the type of fella who keeps stuff. Not in the way you’d think of a hoarder (although my gf may beg to differ), but in terms of how long I use things I own. My last car was over 20 years old with just over 260,000 miles. I plan on keeping my current car at least that long which in my view means the rest of my natural life. I have the same pocket lighter I’ve had for 30 years. I carry a Don Maxwell handmade pocket knife I’ve owned for only 10 years, but it will be buried with me. I’ve kept my wristwatches until parts are no longer available to fix them. You get the point.
I appreciate hand crafted items, those that are made well and are supremely functional. And just like my taste in restaurants, I lean toward finding mom and pop gems, those establishments owned by a person, not stockholders because I find quality is more than just their latest PowerPoint Titling, it’s their passion.
25 years ago I wanted to begin carrying a wallet that held a pad of paper and a pen. There were times I wanted to leave a note for someone, or jot down some of my thoughts. The internet didn’t exist in my world (or many others) so it was old school researching for ‘something’ I had in my mind. I finally found just what I was looking for at Edward’s Luggage. A small leather wallet with a corresponding sized pad of paper along with an integrated pen holder made out of leather. I substituted the cheap pen which came with that wallet with a Fisher Space Pen. Since purchasing the item I have never been without it.
Three January’s ago I got a call from my sister in LA to tell me that our Mom had a heart attack. Mom was 85 at the time and has always been healthy, active and mentally acute. She has lived on her own since 1976 when my father passed away at the age of 51. She loved golfing, dancing every Friday night, watched her diet and exercised daily. She loved showing me her weights by the fireplace and would brag about how many lifts she would do each day.
I flew down the next day and went to the hospital. Sis told me that Mom was in the kitchen and had just finished eating her Big Mac dinner (one of her few guilty pleasures) and had the heart attack, fell down hitting her head on the handle of the oven and went unconscious, for how long we don’t know. She awoke and saw that there was blood on the kitchen floor and her favorite sweater was covered in blood. So what did she do? Instead of pressing the Life Alert device we got for her four years earlier, she got a bucket, filled it with cold water, put her sweater into it (so it wouldn’t stain) and cleaned the floor. After that she changed into her PJs and went to bed. Keep in mind that my mother is such a neat freak that when I would get up in the night to pee I’d come back to a made bed. (Just kidding, but you get the idea!
The next morning she awoke and panicked because her pillow was covered in blood. So she called my sister and that’s when she went to the hospital. Of course Mom was upset with my sister for calling me because “It’s not serious, he doesn’t need to come all the way down here…
Three years ago I was inspired to be uncomfortable when I met and worked with Adrian Blue, a deaf actor/director. He immediately struck me as an individual I wanted to know, and even though he would read lips I was motivated to learn ASL, at least enough to sign a few sentences. I’ve always been crappy at languages, but I noticed I had more of an aptitude at ASL than I did in learning French!
It was during my interaction with Adrian that I realized I knew NOTHING about people with disabilities. Growing up I had one family friend who had been born with Down’s Syndrome. I was not very popular in school simply because I was the only Japanese American, but each and every time Karen came to visit, she would run up to me yelling MARK! and gave me the largest hug I’d ever received. I noticed my father was very uncomfortable around her which bothered me quite a bit. He own discomfort arose from not knowing what to do/say to her. It was while watching his reaction that I realized growth can come from placing myself in ‘uncomfortable’ situations so I could grow as a human.
So for the past two years I have embarked on a personal journey to learn more about those with disabilities, to educate myself about something I know very little about. I originally started with a young girl and have now worked with two young women who from birth have used a wheelchair. My voice is to use photography in describing how I see my world and those who interact within my life. How despite each person’s handicap we are in the end more than our disabilities. And each of us has one or more. Some are visible, some are not. How we deal with our own disabilities determines how we will live our lives. How we view our brothers and sisters will determine how we view our world.
At the end of this project, at least the photographic part I will amass all of the lessons I have experienced at the grace of those who have allowed me to share a part of their lives with me. But for now I will simply say that we are all the same, we are all human souls who all want the very same things; love, respect and community.
WARNING: This article has absolutely NOTHING to do with photography. So if you’re here to read about my latest review of gear you may want to move along. Nope this is one of my classic “Musings” which are simply my thoughts and observations about life, my life.
OK now that that’s out of the way I’m currently in Hawaii, Honolulu to be exact. My cousin and the rest of his family went to Japan for a visit and asked me to house sit for them for just under two weeks. Including this trip I’ve been to Hawaii five times. Most have been for about four days so it and those were more about sight seeing in ‘normal’ tourist locations scurrying between the beach and hotels.
Being in a local neighborhood is very different than those prior trips as is the length of time I get to be here. After about four days here I’ve noticed a subtle but very distinct difference from where I live in the Bay Area. But before I talk about that let me outline a bit of my history. I grew up in two very distinct areas of Southern California. First in Crenshaw which was predominately African American and then in Orange County which was predominately Caucasian. In both neighborhoods I was definitely the ‘minority.’ In Crenshaw I was “The Chinaman” and in Orange County I was “The Oriental.”
This week I was saddened to hear that Paul C Buff had passed away. In so many ways Paul was a pioneer in photographic lighting. About six years ago I saw with much delight that he had developed a new monolight, the Einstein strobe. Until then I had been using Photoflex strobes, their 650ws and 300ws units. As my studio work advanced and I began to shoot more and more portraits I was frustrated with the recycle times of those units. Human expressions change in an instant and I found I was missing more and more shots waiting for my strobes to recycle. So I became an early adopter of his new Einsteins and purchased four at his introductory price, which was well below the value I could find in other units of similar performance.