I recently acquired a FujiFilm X100S and have been experimenting with its capabilities (along with my own!) I plan to post my images here on an ongoing basis.
My fascination with windows began when at the mature age of 6 I took my trusty Daisy Red Rider BB gun and took aim at the neighbors large glass window, gently squeezed the trigger as my cousin taught me and fired. I heard a very distinctive and sharp ‘crack’ when that little copper ball hit the window and to my amazement put a hole through the neighbor’s window pane. I never expected that something so small could penetrate something so large.
Despite the panic that ensued, I wanted to see my handiwork, so climbed over the low fence I had used as my rifle support and began to examine the spider like crack and small hole I had created. And just as suddenly as the BB hit the glass, my neighbor grabbed me by the collar and marched me to my Mom to explain what I had done.
Regardless of the punishment that followed, my fascination with windows followed me into adulthood, but without the BB gun. I noticed that whenever I sat on a train, in a cafe or anywhere that magic transparent plane existed it was as if I was invisible to the rest of the world and what transpired around me was mine to view in complete privacy.
As a photographer I was completely mesmerized by an image Jodi Cobb created of a young woman in a London cafe looking out toward a busy street at dusk. Her expression, her posture and the reflection of the activity around her helped me realize that we all seem to feel as if our own existence and feelings are hidden as well as protected behind a transparent plane. Perhaps a window allows us to forget that our feelings and thoughts are exposed to the world. Expressions become authentic when we allow the public masks we wear to melt away as we observe the world around us. I often think that watching our worlds through glass is our very own personal ultimate reality show.
It was these events that inspired me to begin a multiyear long series of images I call Moments of Transparency. The images I present in this series were primarily taken in my hometown of San Francisco. Always driven to replicate Ms. Cobb’s exquisite moment I am often found looking towards window panes hoping that in an instant I too will be able to capture a moment of unguarded authenticity.
The other day my partner Tracy announced that the new issue of Professional Photographers of America’s (PPA) magazine had arrived and was on the dining room table. I looked at the image on the cover and thought to myself, “Wow it’s about time they had a great portrait on the cover. Great black and white with a story in the image. I rarely see that nowadays.” Later in the week she said, “Babe I’m surprised you haven’t read about Gorman, the shot on the front is his and he’s featured since he’s getting an award later this year, Lifetime Achievement!” Well I guess I better look through the article to see what’s BS and what’s not….
For anyone who follows photography the name Greg Gorman is synonymous with classic and striking black and white portraiture. When I first began to seriously pursue the hobby of photography I would find myself searching the web for imagery that left me in awe. So many of the photographers I admired had passed away, Avedon, Karsh and Cartier-Bresson were among the late artists I constantly studied. I began to follow Greg when I came upon his portrait of Sophia Loren. I found myself mesmerized by her expression, her pose and the beauty he created of an already gorgeous woman. His portraiture told a story beyond the image and it’s one of the elements I found so compelling in his work. I didn’t bother to check to see if Gorman had passed away since it mattered little to me. It was his work I was studying, not the man.
I’m going to briefly rewind this story back to 2010. A long time friend of mine was having a surprise birthday party which I attended. Jeff Resnick and I had been friends because our boys were both in Scouts together as well as in music. Our wives would often joke that it was best for us to sit together during the high school plays since we both snored during performances. We watch best with our eyes closed to appreciate the music. Anyway during the party Jeff mentioned that his brother Seth was also a photographer and we may want to talk. Little did I know that in the usual Jeff manner he completely understated his brother’s accomplishments in photography. Among his many accomplishments Seth covered the historic Miracle on Ice Olympic Hockey game in 1980 and his photograph was the cover for Sports Illustrated. During my brief conversation with Seth (he and his brothers were occupied roasting the eldest brother Jeff) he mentioned that he was in town to head up to see Greg Gorman to help him teach. GREG GORMAN? You KNOW THE Greg Gorman? Seth got his signature giggle and smile and responded that he and Greg have known one another for quite some time. Seth suggested that I attend Greg’s class and after thinking it over for 2 seconds I thought SURE! He’s not dead right?
So I took PTO from my day job and packed my bags, camera gear and laptop and headed up to Albion, CA in Mendocino County where Gorman has his second home. I checked into my hotel and went to his front gate the evening before classes began. I rang the bell and his booming voice simply said “Yes?” “Hi Greg, it’s Mark Kitaoka and I’m here as scheduled to meet for dinner.” His response, “You’re a day early, come back tomorrow.” When I said OK, he immediately started laughing and said “I’m only pulling your leg, come on in.” Indication one, I like this guy already, he has a sense of humor. Little did I know just how much of a sense of humor he has. After entering his home located on the apex of a cliff overlooking the Mendocino coast I met the three other student who were part of my class. Jamie, Zan and another guy whose name escapes me. Several of Gorman’s assistants were there as well along with Gerry, Gorman’s personal assistant and jack of many trades. We all shared a meal and got to know one another. It was during that introduction that I mentioned to Gorman I didn’t want to be coddled, or have sunshine blown up my rear during my week with him. I wanted straight criticism and suggestions about my photography. His curriculum included all of the things I came to learn, lighting, both indoor and outdoor using strobes and natural light, how to engage models (talent) and how to manage a photographic portfolio and business. Each day contained the same format, a lesson, hands on shooting, assisting the other photographers and the next morning a critique by both Gorman and Seth. During our sessions Gorman and I began to banter and since I grew up in LA I am most comfortable bantering with others. I will only say that Gorman and I began to banter in a way that is anything but appropriate. I believe it was Zan who said something like “Thank god this place has NO HR department.” In reality our banter between one another would be something the ACLU would need to address, since it was regularly beyond what any HR department could handle. It was then that I knew Gorman was my kind of people.
And when I asked him to be brutally critical about my work I got exactly what I asked for. “More contrast! His leg looks like a stump. What’s with her expression? Did you not listen to anything I’ve told you about light? This all looks OK, but put a catch light into his eye so he doesn’t look dead.”
“Not bad or it’s a solid shot” were the highlights of my compliments from Gorman.
As I read through the PPA interview for their 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award I wanted to see if his quotes match my own experience with Gorman. It’s not often that I get to read a story about someone I admire and have known to see if the quotes match my own experience. In the article he is quoted as stating, “I’ve chosen a different approach to the way I want to spend the rest of my life which is lecturing, teaching working on my own fine artwork and making a little wine in Napa Valley for fun.”
Gorman is a great teacher, but more important he is a good soul. What I observed is his passion for photography and those who are brave enough to listen to what he has to say. He his generous with his time and his knowledge. There are always those whose art we admire and sometimes we are let down by the person behind the art. Such is not the case with Gorman. It’s been three years since I spent a week learning from him and to this day when I really need help on a session, I know that I can count on him to give me the straight scoop. Gorman may not be the best looking or tallest guy with notoriety I know, but he’s OK. Congrats on your awards Gorman, I can’t think of anyone more deserving.
Unlike most of my Musings, this one is instructional since I wanted to give those using a similar piece of equipment another option. I have used Paul Buff’s Vagabond Mini Lithium battery for some time, but have not been happy with how to mount it to a light stand.
Because the 1/4 20 female socket in the Vagabond Mini may be fragile I opted to fabricate the solution in the images attached. I only use the Mini when I am on location and need to move around quite a bit and quickly. I needed the mount to meet the following criteria:
- Stable, does not swing around the stand.
- Does not place stress on the Vagabond Mini’s mounting point (1/4 20 female stud)
- I can bring the legs up on the stand without removing the mount.
- It must fit well in my gear bag, not taking a lot of space or weight.
I could not find any solutions on the web and the closest I could find was on Rob Galbraith’s site (Rob no longer updates his site, I miss his articles!) . Some of the options were just too fragile or too bulky for the amount and type of work I do in the field. The closest solution was his GT Truss Clamps (which I’ve used in my own solution) however I was still very concerned about using only the female mounting socket to bear the weight and shock of placing a stand up and down during a session.
The aluminum flat bar stock I’ve used can be sourced at any hardware store. I prevent the band that goes around the Mini from spinning on the GT Truss clamp by tapping a small Allen Set screw into the aluminum truss clamp and then drilled a corresponding hole into the band. This prevents any spinning of the unit.
With this setup I am now able to confidently take my Einstein and Mini on any location shoot and my assistants are able to easily bring the legs up on the stands and quickly move to another location without the worry of having the Mini moving about the stand.
To save space in our gear boxes, we can remove the mounts from the Mini units which prevents odd sized packing. I have found this to be the best solution for my needs.
I cannot recall any photographer who entered the profession before enjoying the craft as a hobby. I am certainly no different. But as a commercial photographer I’ve come to realize how important personal work is in order to maintain one’s perspective in the world of imagery.
I am fortunate to have clients who allow my views to season the concepts for which they hire me to shoot. Yet in order to maintain my own creativity personal work is vital. This musing is not just about the photographic process, but about how life plays an important role in how I arrive at the personal projects I undertake.
The imagery I present in this musing were taken today, December 1, 2011 yet my journey to this moment started years ago. And for those of you who like to ‘jump ahead’ I am NOT referring to the years it took me to make an image. No, instead I wanted to give an abbreviated summary of how I arrived at today.
Back in 2005 I met the parent of one of my daughter’s friends, Leigh Toldi – a fine art painter. Over time we forged a friendship sharing a mutual bond of raising teenage children. As the years passed and our children became adults we maintained our friendship which transitioned from parenting to art. Leigh taught me much about texture and keeping an open mind as I began my focused journey in photography. As I moved into the world of commercial photography I still maintained my personal blog, yet have a limited amount of time to capture personal work. Leigh continues to visit my personal site, yet only comments on my personal work, even though I find myself posting some commercial stuff there simply to have new content. I always appreciate her private notes to me when one of those pieces strike her fancy.
Last year during a dinner party she held at her home I was introduced to Rob Browne, the sculptor who appears in this musing. Rob and I began talking about sculpture, photography and art in general. Later he contacted me about a potential joint project. After he had visited a local performance gym he was motivated to sculpt an aerialist, but wanted to know if I would be interested in photographing the art form so that he could have reference materials from which to work. I agreed, but due to scheduling conflicts we were never able to make a connection with the performing artist.
Then during a commercial assignment I was hired to photograph a performance by a silk aerialist, Bianca Sapetto. After capturing her performance I knew immediately that the subject Rob and I had discussed had appeared before me, completely by chance. Through my partner Tracy we contacted Bianca and asked if we could meet her for tea to discuss a project. On a sunny San Francisco afternoon, we met at the Ferry Building and presented our idea. During our discussion we learned that Bianca had begun her journey to her art form in an old grove of oak trees in Topanga Canyon. Once her performance schedule was completed, we agreed to meet her in Los Angeles and do an on location shoot of her in Topanga Canyon where she began her aerial art. The form you see Rob sculpting is one of the images taken of Bianca in Topanga Canyon. Our plan is to chronicle the creation of Rob’s sculpture of her until completion.
What is most important about this musing is not the sculpture or the photography, but the journey which led me here. I am blessed to lead a life where I am surrounded by creative individuals from many different art forms, music, performance, dance and fine art. Having had a lifetime of experience in the corporate world, it’s cathartic to now travel through a world where contrived hierarchy is replaced by authentic collaboration, where profit is replaced by the pursuit of expression. Certainly there are the realities of mortgages, utilities and food, but when profit is not the ‘end game’ the fabric of my life has changed. Today three statements stay with me each day – 1. “Mark a whole world happens out there while we sit in our offices that we’ll never be a part of.” - Ron a former boss 2. ”People don’t get into the arts to make money, they are there because they love the expression.” - Melissa WolfKlain 3.“Son, no one will give you anything, so do what you love. I’m just hoping it’s engineering!” - My father
So what I’ve found late in life is this, by letting go serendipity found me. I sincerely hope that it finds you.
To be continued….
Progress on the project as of December 9 2011. Rob adds detail and depth to the sculpture by working by a single light at night. In this manner he is able to easily see the texture he adds layer by layer.