I started this blog to express my own feelings and emotions through photography. I wrote regularly on this blog to send my thoughts out to what I considered an “anonymous” world. Street shooting has been my passion and continues to hold my attention. But something happened along the way; my time has been occupied with the demands of my professional work, primarily working with those involved in the arts.
As all of us know “arts” is a subject that is always the first to go in our schools. It is often viewed as an unnecessary subject, easily replaced and in some ways “frivolous” to other more important subjects. I am priviledged to witness the effect of “frivolous” art on a regular basis. From BBoy to the San Francisco Ballet to a Nationally Acclaimed theatre company to musicians and those who are destined to become legendary. So many schools talk of sports and the need to keep young people off the streets. This is just as true for the arts, where individuals who may not ‘fit in’ find a voice through music or dance.Read More»
Not many of you have followed my blog since its inception in November of 2005. My very first Musing revolved around my son Niko who appears in this post. Back then he had an initial interest in photography when he announced to me one night that he wanted to photograph a building by the lake. I was a bit suspicious of a young teenager wanting to venture out on a school night. But in reality he actually wanted to take a simple photograph. So out we ventured during that brisk Fall night and in a moment we forged another memory that will stay with me forever. His interest in photography waned shortly after that event, being replaced by cars, girls and dates. I was disappointed since he seemed to have a natural eye for a scene and its composition.
So when he told me that in his sophomore year of college he had enrolled into a photography course, I was a bit surprised. We ventured out one evening so that he could complete an assignment for his class to capture “Light, Shapes and Lines” for class. He later told me that his professor tagged all of his photos as an excellent example of the assignment, a first for a sophomore.Read More»
Those very words have been in the forefront of my mind since I read them. A month after returning from NYC visiting the cast and crew of Burn the Floor I read an interview where Kevin Clifton was being interviewed by Broadway Buzz. When asked about the differences between competing and performing, he told the interviewer, “I made the decision to join , where I get much more license to express rather than impress.” There have been very few times over the past 10 years when I have pondered words spoken by another for a significant amount of time. I’m sure that this is due to two primary reasons. The first is that I respect Kevin as an artist and as a friend. Getting to know him over the past year and watching him perform with an abandon only associated with pure passion is truly inspiring. The second factor that fuels my thoughts about his sage words is my own struggle to separate myself from the small successes I have had in the photographic world. “Playing to the crowd” is something I have never wanted to do, yet through competitions and juried eyes, I had found myself giving more credence to the opinion of others than to myself. And that is a very dangerous slope to begin sliding toward.
There are certainly the realities of impressing those who pay me to capture imagery. My clients have an expectation of my work and separating the commerce portion of my craft from the expressive part was highlighted only after reading Kevin’s words. In so many ways my recent work is a vast departure from the past. But allowing myself to express how I feel through imagery is the reason I began this journey. My son is currently enrolled in a college photography course and was given an assignment to capture 15 images of ‘Light, Shapes and Shadows.” So on the evening before the assignment was due (teenagers!) we ventured to San Francisco International Airport to photograph scenes which represented his assignment. During that time I found myself shooting as I had in the beginning; with reckless abandon. I was not concerned about the results, but simply the pure joy of shooting and sharing time with my son. When I returned home and put my evening’s images up on the monitor, Tracy looked over and chuckled. I knew what her laughing meant. Yet it was of little consequence since the pure joy of shooting trumped the results. My son on the other hand produced 15 images to which his professor exclaimed, “You are the very first sophomore to ever have all 15 images tagged as well done.” High praise indeed, but at some point I will also remind my son to “Express rather than Impress.” Kevin, thank you for something that has changed my approach to my work more than you will ever know.
This past weekend a friend’s wife had asked me to photograph her family. I know her husband through work and she told me she had not had a family portrait done in quite some time. So I suggested that we do an outdoor portrait where I am much more comfortable capturing spontaneous and genuine expression. While Tracy and I were waiting at Baker Beach in San Francisco for them to arrive, we both noticed a young mother and her daughter on the beach. The mother was holding up a point and shoot attempting to capture a good shot of them together.Read More»
Today, Friday March 13, 2009 is a very special day for me. 20 8 year old children will for the very first time show their photographic essays to the community at Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center. 20 kids who I had never known, or who had never known me. But over the past four weeks, I have come to know each of these kids, by name, by face and by voice. As they show their work today, stories about their families and friends, I will be both proud and humbled. They have given me more than I could ever describe. I started out to teach them, yet in their infinite wisdom through their actions have taught me something I never knew about myself.
20 faces can do that to anyone, even me.
I’m sure that time and time again throughout these Musings I have mentioned that the individuals I have met through photography is the most compelling part of this craft. Beyond the sheer number of individuals who I now call friends, the quality of my own life has been changed forever.Read More»
Today I photographed auditions for The King And I. This is the first time I’ve covered auditions and these were for the ‘Call Backs’ those actors, singers and dancers who had made the first cut in their auditions. I have watched shows like American Idol and witnessed the risk/reward ratio those individuals take to continue toward their dreams. But seeing that process in person is much different than the edited bits and pieces I’ve seen on television.
Men and women along with children of all ages, sizes, race and talent put themselves ‘out there ‘ to be judged, rejected and sometimes rewarded. While I watched and photographed that event, I thought back to photography blogs and contests where I have participated and often been rejected or accepted. And although there was both disappointment and satisfaction in those venues, they lacked the very human and face to face reality of being accepted or rejected in real life. Today reminded me of how much courage and tenacity is required to sit among your judging staff and competition face to face amid the sweat, anxiety and hope right next to your competitors and comrades. It adds an element that can never be replicated online and I was proud to watch each and every one of those courageous individuals as they pursued their dreams. I was reminded that I too want to be one of those who places themselves out there in the real world to develop and practice my own courage and tenacity. I want the added texture that moving from the virtual world to the real world offers.
Authentic imagery can never be obtained through insincere intent.
I’ve written in the blog many times about the people who I have met while walking around the streets of San Francisco making photographs of human expression. Today was no different. Tracy and I spent the day in the City to share the sunshine and meet a man who was selling his Canon EF 24-105 in order to collect enough cash to repair the transmission of his Mercedes Benz 500 SL that is TWO MONTHS out of warranty! I can relate, as I just recently poured $4,000 into my 20 year old German car! UGH. But my friend Vernon, who is visiting from Germany had asked me to find him this lens and it happened to appear on craigslist last night, but I digress…
Today after meeting the aforementioned man in Union Square, Tracy and I began walking around the City. We happened into the Maiden Lane area of Union Square when I spotted Robert, a street opera singer who I photographed and befriended two years ago. I ran up to say hello, introduced him to Tracy and we spoke at length about what has occurred in his life since I last saw him. I also stopped to say hello to Ben, a street bass player who I met at about the same time as I met Robert. Ben has been playing his bass at Maiden Lane for ten years. An ominous looking man of large stature, Ben does not promote people talking to him, but he is anything but dangerous – he just looks that way.
So on we went to photograph in San Francisco’s Chinatown, which is an area we had never photographed before. And after a time we found ourselves in North Beach; tired and in need of a rest and some caffine. So we stopped and sat at a sidewalk cafe to take a rest and have a cup of coffee. Just as we about to leave, a homeless man approached both of us to ask about our camera gear. He wanted to know what types of cameras we used and if we felt that the gear was worthwhile. We spoke for about 15 minutes talking of the ‘old film days’ motor driven cameras, lenses and what a used Canon XT would cost on Ebay or craigslist. He asked if he could look through one of the cameras and after Tracy gave a nervous laugh, he simply said, “Oh, that’s ok, you don’t know me from Adam anyway, so I’m not sure why I asked!” I laughed and told him that he would not be able to see anything through my viewfinder anyway, since my eye sight is so poor and I’ve adjusted my diopter to my vision. He laughed and said he had ‘shitty’ vision too.
It was at that point he said ‘My name is Michael’ and I introduced both myself and Tracy. We said our goodbyes, waved and smiled to one another as he immediately approached the man sitting at the next table to ask him for some money. As in most cases the man attempted to avert Michael’s eyes and question, but eventually told him that he could not spare any change.
It’s interesting that during our conversation, at no time did Michael ever ask us for money. No, instead we spoke as three people would who share a common interest and respect. And as we began our walk back to where our day had begun I was reminded once again that one’s intent in life governs what we encounter.
I was once told by a man whose name I cannot remember that “One never really knows how an event or series of events will affect your life. No matter how small or insignificant an event, it will affect your life.” Recently those sage words have come to pass.
When my eldest was in middle school, she participated in the theatre program as a crew member. Like me, she prefers to work ‘behind the scenes’ rather than in front of an audience. Like any father I was proud of her involvement and offered to take some performance photos of the production with my Casio point and shoot. To thank the teacher who mentored so many students on theatre, I printed the best images and framed them as a gift to both the school and her as an individual.
As my daughter continued her interest into high school, I began to shoot their productions on a regular basis. Joseph and the Technicolor Raincoat, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Bat Boy, Oklahoma – the list goes on and on. I would process and print the images the very next day so that they could be utilized for the lobby shots where the audience and more importantly the kids could view their work. I also gave all of the shots to the school’s drama department historian who would arduously labor over books she would produce for each performance.Read More»