Original Post August 15 2019
Twenty four months ago a close friend of mine was told that he might have throat cancer during a routine dentist appointment. After visiting his doctor it was confirmed. As can be expected it was a devastating piece of news. Even more so since his profession is as a full time singer. Thankfully he has fully recovered after his treatments and rehabilitation which were both difficult and long. When visiting him at his home I was curious about ‘this thing’ in his music room. It appeared to be a fiberglass mold of someone’s head and shoulders. When he returned to the room he told me that it was the mask made of him and used during his throat radiation treatments.
He explained that the mask was made for him to prevent him from any movement as his neck was precision blasted with radiation. His head and shoulders were bolted to a metal table under the mask. I had a visceral reaction to that story. It was at that very moment when I knew emotionally that I wanted to create an image of both the horrors of his cancer and his recovery. I asked him if I could take the mask to do a proof of concept before embarking on the full project. He agreed.
I took his mask to a pile of black rocks along with a small AD200 strobe. I wanted to see if I could create light rays coming out of the throat area if I threw dust into the air for particulate. It worked.
My concept was to have him stand next to the mask, having light emanating from the throat area with birds flying away from his torso. I had scouted a location where the vegetation was barren after it had been mowed down. I wanted the landscape to reflect the wasteland that is the news of cancer. I had planned that with a sharp sound the birds would fly away representing cancer leaving his body. But like all things organic, that did not work out. The day was VERY windy and late in the day. So the birds could not be coerced, even with food placed into the area.
So I paid to download an image from Shutterstock, a crow disintegrating which would represent the cancer. I normally NEVER use Photoshop in my commercial work, but this was not for a client, nor was it for my friend. It was for me. And that really is my point of this post. There are times when I feel or more accurately I am emotionally COMPELLED to create a piece. Two things happened when I showed both a virtual friend and my friend whose trauma of cancer this entailed.
I told my virtual friend the backstory of the image. Once he knew his comment was “And shoot is a lot of emotion but not sure it works if you don’t know the back story.” I can completely understand his reasoning, but like all things art, what truly matters is what the creator of the piece feels. Remember that in your own work. I miss the days of LP cover art. Some of my favorite album covers which you may or may not recognize:
Know the backstory of each of these? No? Yes? What each element represents? My point is the artist who created these knows the story of the image. If an image makes anyone stop, think and wonder, then for me that’s an accomplishment. Perhaps they will figure out the meaning, perhaps not. But to capture one’s imagination for a moment and in the best of times, for a while or ultimately years later is all that really matters. Art was never meant to be literal, its purpose is to spark the imagination, to awaken an emotion.
When my friend who overcame cancer saw the image he said “I laughed because at first I thought it was a chicken! Then I thought I’d like you to make it a Phoenix and I like the one with no clouds, can you remove the clouds?”
Keep in mind that I did NOT create any of these images FOR HIM. They are most certainly ABOUT HIM, but how I FEEL about what he had to endure. And thankfully in the end, how the wonders of his treatment and his physical therapy relieved him of cancer.
As you create your own art, others may or may not offer the approval you seek. The trick is not to seek approval, but to be emotionally satisfied with what you have created. Art is not created by committee. Its genesis is emotion. And its birth begins through your hands.
I’m really happy I didn’t read an article like this before I decided to turn pro! SO MANY things left out of this article, but hey if it was easy then everyone could do it right? My advice, be wary of “articles” that dissuade you from what you want to do. Takes loads of hard work and tenacity, but the alternative is horrifying to me.
INCREDIBLE! AT&T actually published my negative review on their site! Perhaps there is hope for the world!
Original Post March 10 2019
First of all this has nothing to do with photography. Nothing. Yet it has everything to do with what the world is witnessing in the decline of brick and mortar stores. Like many others of my generation (Baby Boomers) it saddens me. Institutions that were once retail icons, Montgomery Ward, JC Penny, Sears, Kmart now only exist either in history books (meaning on a Kindle now) or are about to become history. As a young man I was so fortunate to work for Mervin Morris of Mervyn’s Department Stores. Throughout my life he has been my Gold Standard for both leadership and customer service. “Nothing happens without a sale.” was just one of the many values he instilled in his employees. I was with Merv 11 years, even after he sold the company to the Dayton Hudson Corp which is now Target Corp.
I like to keep my ‘things’ for longer than most. My cars generally live with me for 20 years. I like to pay cash for things as I deplore payments. Five years before I know I will need a car, I make a monthly car payment ‘to myself’ placing it in a savings account. Then when I’m ready to buy, I purchase the car cash. It’s just how I roll.
So when I knew it was time to purchase a new cell phone I waited for the Samsung Galaxy S10+. My S7 Edge was getting long in the tooth, or more specifically short in the battery life. I had normally purchased or upgraded my phones at AT&T stores. But having passed the wireless sales booth at my beloved Costco for so long I decided to purchase it there.
So on February 26, 2018 I went in and preordered my S10+ and was happy to discover that those who pre ordered their phones would receive Samsung Buds free, a $130.00 value! Without going into all the gory details here was the comedy of errors caused by the salesperson “Jack” who is NOT a Costco employee, but an employee of the in store Costco vendor, Wireless Advocates:
The email I received to confirm my preorder came to my email address, but the name of the addressee was “Jack.”
- I went back the next day and he corrected the name. I asked him at that time if my prepaid AT&T plan would be accepted, he assured me it would be.
- The day before picking up the phone, which was also the LAST DAY one could quality for the Buds was 3-7-19, the day I was there. I had not received the last two of the three emails specified on the handout I was given, and I got worried. I again went back to Costco, spoke to Jack’s manager and he assured me that they received enough AT&T phones, so not to worry.
- On 3-8-19 at 10am I went in to buy my new phone and guess what? The manager told me he could not sell me the phone because I was on a prepaid plan. I left without a new phone and could no longer qualify for the complimentary Samsung Buds.
I was PISSED. I came home and wrote a two page letter about my horrible experience, printed it out along with all my supporting documentation and hand carried it to the Costco assistant manager. She was incredible. Her listening skills were right out of Merv’s handbook. She was GENUINELY empathetic and kind. She let me know that she would let the store manager know as well as the staff at Wireless Advocates. Merv would be proud of her for sure!
So my girlfriend, bless her heart said “Let’s go to the AT&T store right by the house Honey. You can get your phone there, OK?” So off we went and I told the clerk I wanted to buy the S10+. When I told him I had a prepaid plan he then said “Oh, I’m sorry we can’t sell you a phone for a prepaid plan.” “Wait so you’re telling me I want to pay cash for the phone, I’m with AT&T and I can’t buy a phone?” “No you cannot, AT&T does not do that. But if you go to Target or Best Buy you can buy one.” WTF. So Target is in the same center so off we went. When we found the lone clerk in the “Tech Department” I said I’d like to buy a S10+. He said the phone salesman just went to lunch, I’ll call him. So he did and then told us “He will be back in 30 minutes.” WTF? So if the ONE phone salesperson is not there, NO ONE can sell a phone? So the next time you need an ambulance and the guy is out to lunch, he will pick you up in 30 minutes!
So we left….
By this time I was more than pissed, I was completely disgusted by the total lack of customer service by brick and mortar locations. So I got online and looked up AT&T, called the Hillsdale location only to be met with voicemail jail. Round and round and round until I finally hung up. Then I got on the AT&T chat line with an agent named “Steve” and who really knows where he works. I asked him two specific questions:
Me: “Does the Hillsdale location at Zip code 94403 have any S10+’s?”
Steve: “Yes they have ten in various colors.”
Me: “Will they accept a prepaid plan for the S10+?”
Steve: “Yes they will.”
I printed out the entire chat conversation and put it in my jacket.
Once I arrived at that location the sales person Jayson A approached me. At that time I stated that I wanted to purchase an S10+. He immediately told me he was sorry, but they were all out of stock. I then produced the print out of the chat conversation I had with Steve 10 minutes earlier. He called over his manager who said “We have some in stock, only white though.” I told Jayson A that was the color I wanted and I was glad to have not taken his word on the stock in the store.
He then went to get the unit and once he came back he asked “Do you need help setting it up?” I replied, “I just need to put my SIM card into the unit to see if it works.” He then told me that the S10+ comes with its own SIM and he had activated it. Uh the box was still sealed and unless technology has changed one MUST remove the SIM from the credit card size holder and PLACE IT INTO THE PHONE. When I told him of that fact, he sighed, opened the package, removed the SIM card from the holder and placed it into the phone. It took time to activate.
I believe that since I was paying cash for the phone, did not want a postpaid plan like he asked me about even though I was SPECIFIC about keeping my current plan he wasn’t making a commission. I understand that but his level of service was so poor, so uninterested it will be of no surprise if he no longer works there much longer. Or even worse, he is the ‘new customer service normal.’
The series of poor customer service situations I experienced was not confined to a specific retailer. Wireless Advocates, Target, two different AT&T locations just did not want me to buy a $1,000.00 phone. And in a time when cell phone sales are on the decline it’s even more shocking. I literally had to be tenacious in my quest to spend the money. Based on yesterday I cannot wait for all brick and mortar stores to go the way of Montgomery Ward. Well except for Costco, REI and Nordstrom, those few locations in my experience who embody the Baby Boomer’s definition of customer service, you know service and knowledge.
In a few days I will be entering my eighth year as a full time professional photographer. I was called into my boss’s office on March 7, 2011 under the auspices of meeting with her to review a PowerPoint presentation for an upcoming meeting. When I entered her office, one of the HR representatives was there so I knew that something was up. Jean, my boss who happens to be the absolute worst supervisor I’ve ever had to endure during my corporate life began by saying “Mark, we’ve determined that your position is no longer needed. Tracy’s here to explain your severance package.” I then said “OK, well then you have no need to be here so why don’t you leave?” And at that point she lowered her head, grabbed her purse and left.
Tracy, the HR representative then went on to explain the rules of my severance package and told me, “After leaving this office you cannot return to your office or speak to any other employees. I asked Jean to have this separate meeting with you rather than in the conference room with the other people being laid off today. Now you can pursue your little photography business. Any questions?” I told her that I didn’t need to return to my office because months ago I had decided that the company was a horrible place to work so I had taken my personal affects home. I had been looking for a new job.
I’ve always believed in Karma. I heard months later that Jean was laid off, Sally the VP of HR was laid off, and years later Glenn the SVP of Operations was laid off too. All of whom I didn’t respect and felt their skills and demeanor was so poor compared to the other executives I had worked with in my 38 years in corporate America.
My partner sent me a link today of an article she read in the NY Times Magazine, “The Future of Work, Wealthy, Successful and Miserable.” As I read through the article (you may not be able to see it if you are not a NYT subscriber…sorry) I was reminded of the misery that prompted me to embark on this wonderful journey as a full time pro. The day after I was laid off I began to sit at my computer to look on Monster for jobs. It was then I asked myself a hard question: “Mark do you really want to submit your resume, go on interviews with 30 somethings, be asked ‘What is your five year plan?’ and reply ‘Fuck you’ which would not be conducive to being hired? Or do you want to man up and take all of the business development experience you have and start your own ‘little photography business’?”
Quite a few of the people who write to me here want to talk about gear. I can understand that because prior to doing this full time, I too was primarily interested in the latest and greatest gear what people used and why. But now I’m interested in concepts, light and the story. The reasons? My job of course is to produce imagery that helps market a service or concept. Yet ALL of the imagery I create involves people; people who are either performing or fine artists. My first desire is to create and capture their souls through a lens. I want them to see themselves in the way I see them, not how they so critically view themselves in the mirror. I truly feel that how someone feels about themselves in the moment we are together comes through in a photograph. I derive the most pleasure out of showing someone the beauty they radiate when they believe in who they are. I have recently decided to not photograph people who are incredibly critical of themselves. Because no matter how much effort is put forth, they will never be satisfied with how they look, simply because they are not happy with themselves. And that comes through on film. My intent is to always portray someone’s beauty, but I’m not in the business of long term projects with an individual I only have in front of me for ten minutes.
So as I read the NYT Mag article, I was struck how I could relate to the ‘high salaries, miserable at work’ mentality in the article. Prior to giving up my Direct Deposits, paid vacation and PTO time, medical and dental benefits, retirement accounts blah blah blah, I ALWAYS had a backup plan, Always. I had a ‘go bag’ in the event I was laid off, meaning a backup plan. Yet as a full time pro shooter with no safety net like having a spouse who is working with benefits I have none, NONE. No direct deposit, no paid benefits or vacation, no matching retirement accounts, no blah blah blah.
And I could not feel more secure and happy. Why? Because even given all of the things I thought I’d given up what I gained is the ability to create and meet with an incredible number of people is well worth the risk. Am I struggling financially, no I’m not. Reducing my personal expenses was key to much of that with the added benefit of financial freedom – and not through an increase in a salary. I recall photographing a theatre performance “Auctioning the Ainsleys” where one of the lines in the play ‘when the stuff you own begins to own you’ has always stayed with me. It’s so true.
Of course there are days/times when the person I have to photograph is difficult. But I get to CHOOSE if I want to continue and work with that person again. I get to weigh whether or not I can give up that income. Thankfully those instances have been very, very rare. But having the power to choose is enlightening. I have had an incredible number of people who support my efforts and work, something for which I will always be grateful.
A few excerpts from the NYT Mag article:
“What’s interesting, however, is that once you can provide financially for yourself and your family, according to studies, additional salary and benefits don’t reliably contribute to worker satisfaction. Much more important are things like whether a job provides a sense of autonomy — the ability to control your time and the authority to act on your unique expertise. People want to work alongside others whom they respect (and, optimally, enjoy spending time with) and who seem to respect them in return.
And finally, workers want to feel that their labors are meaningful. “You don’t have to be curing cancer,” says Barry Schwartz, a visiting professor of management at the University of California, Berkeley. We want to feel that we’re making the world better, even if it’s as small a matter as helping a shopper find the right product at the grocery store. “You can be a salesperson, or a toll collector, but if you see your goal as solving people’s problems, then each day presents 100 opportunities to improve someone’s life, and your satisfaction increases dramatically,” Schwartz says.
As the airwaves heat up in anticipation of the 2020 election, Americans are likely to hear a lot of competing views about what a “good job” entails. Some will celebrate billionaires as examples of this nation’s greatness, while others will pillory them as evidence of an economy gone astray. Through all of that, it’s worth keeping in mind that the concept of a “good job” is inherently complicated, because ultimately it’s a conversation about what we value, whether individually or collectively. Even for Americans who live frighteningly close to the bone, like the janitors studied by Wrzesniewski and Dutton, a job is usually more than just a means to a paycheck. It’s a source of purpose and meaning, a place in the world.”
I’ve said many times that my camera is simply my excuse to meet people. It’s so true and if I had stayed in corporate America I would have missed all that I have experienced. Glad I ‘man’d up’
Update November 25 2018
It’s been over three years since I wrote this article. Since that time I have had the privilege and experience working with other disabled individuals, primarily those who are deaf. Antoine Hunter, a deaf dancer who I photographed for the magazine “The Pool“ and Joshua Castille a deaf actor who appeared in Hunchback for 5th Avenue Theatre are both remarkable in their abilities as artists. My work with both Christine and Sarah along with those who I’ve come to know since then has forever changed my life. Just like ‘White Privilege” it’s tough for anyone non white to understand the meaning of that phrase. So often when I bring it up (if at all) to whites, they immediately go on the defensive, as if they’ve done something wrong. No in 95% of the time that’s not the case. Privilege of any type often goes without any conscious thought. It just ‘is.’ In the very same way ‘able body privilege’ exists for which I have been guilty, but without meaning to be guilty. Not experiencing first hand being disabled doesn’t allow one to truly KNOW the feelings/experiences/hardships of what was once just a right.
My partner recently sent me a New York Times article that hits very close to home, Revelations in a Wheelchair by Nolan Ryan Trowe. It is especially poignant because he is a photographer. He became disabled due to a cliff diving spinal injury and decided to use his photographic skills to document how able body privilege works.
This month the Camp Fire near Oroville, CA recorded the largest wildfire in California history. A 62 year old woman who was wheelchair bound due to a stroke managed to escape despite her disability. This is especially poignant to me since after caring for my mother for three years before her death, I suffered a stroke 22 days after her passing. I am forever grateful that my stroke has not left me with any visible disability.
I know that many people visit my site to learn about my experiences with ‘gear.’ But the most important part of my life isn’t gear. It’s the people I meet and befriend. I hope you find that in your life as well.
Original Article June 29 2015
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. His 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 with those I interact with my life. How despite each person’s disability 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.
I was recently reading a blog post about the new Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head – Godox H200R. I had purchased one and find it another remarkable innovation and improvement from Godox which translates to Flashpoint in the USA. I really like the protected covered strobe bulb that I can leave on my AD200 during airline transport. Prior to this head I would encase my bare bulbs in plastic or aluminum sleeves which I would carry in my camera bag. And yes I will be conducting some tests of the output of the unit. I also appreciate the yet to be purchased gel/grid/snoot combo pack designed for the new head. Incredible innovation and flexibility by Godox/Flashpoint continues.
What struck me about the back and forth the inane pie hole ad nauseam conversations were over is about the shape of the bulb in the new round head. NOT ONE OF THE PIE HOLES had a link to their work. Why? Because most people who like to pontificate (meaning see their talking in text) on their perception of the technical aspects of anything don’t consider what actually happens in real life. Let’s see your body of work. Let’s see how you’ve used the light in question. Let’s SEE something you’ve created.
I post this to warn those of you who linger much too long on forums, sites, etc. Analysis paralysis stunts your creative growth. Instead of reading the bovine back and forth of those who produce NOTHING, go out and create.
“When it’s new you have so many people they don’t see, they don’t have the vision. They don’t understand, they don’t want to understand. Why change something? Ah you think it’s impossible. We will show you the opposite. “ – LOFT: The Jetman Story
Today, May 20 2018 is my second anniversary as a stroke survivor. It occurred exactly 22 days after my Mom’s death and for the three years preceding that event it was both stressful and heart wrenching to watch her health decline. I didn’t have grandparents long, they passed when I was a young toddler. So experiencing the declining health of an elder was a new experience for me. Something only experience can show you and in reality nothing actually prepares anyone for that inevitable time.
I was photographing for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on that day in 2016. I was on the balcony level when it happened. I knew that if I fell I would not only kill myself, but someone below me. So I made my way to the emergency exit stairwell and laid down on the floor. I heard the final notes, the applause and just as that ended, a white male, about 50-55 years old, 6-1 190lbs with a blue blazer and grey slacks entered the stairwell. (If you’re wondering about my description I was an investigator for 8 years) He looked directly at me and paused for just a second and then continued walking. Not a word, no offer of help. I will always remember his face and if I ever see him again we will share an experience we will both remember.
The doctors told me I was lucky when I finally went to the hospital three days later. Yes I did EVERYTHING wrong by not going to the ER right away, waiting until I flew back home to go to the ER AFTER I went to sleep that night when I arrived home. I’ve always been the type who does what I want to do…given my life’s limitations. I raised two kids, put one through college, paid for her education and supported a family of four. So during those times I had self imposed limitations, kids, a family to support and that’s what I chose to do.
But even then I would seldom listen to people who made little sense or seemed to only like the sound of their own voice. But that day in the stairwell in Dallas marked an even more profound change in my attitude about choices. I no longer choose to do, say or think things in life I don’t agree with. And perhaps most important, I choose to disassociate from, avoid or confront those who are rude, mean spirited or simply ignorant. I chose to save, to lead a 1099 life and now I’m blessed to have made those choices and have been lucky. Only an arrogant person ever believes that the entire benefits of life are totally self made. It’s the same as a victim mentality, always believing it’s someone else’s fault.
It’s one of the small reasons I maintain this blog, to help others, to offer my views of things I’ve used, my experiences with them. It’s why I have an especially jaded view of trolls of any type.
My two goals in life are to live an honorable life and to help others, that’s it.
Long ago I gave up participating on forums. Why? Because like ex-girlfriends who just had to be right, I cannot stand people who talk, bitch and produce nothing. Or sadly feel their work is good! I do frequent a few sites, the-digital-picture where Bryan and Sean take their time and review camera gear with integrity. Flashhavoc is where I learn about new lighting items. And I recently started frequenting Lighting Rumours which also talks about new lighting gear but have reviews of some of the items. Markus Klinko a shooter whose body of work I admire, also posts some interesting information about gear he uses on that site. He’s a commercial photographer who has a link to his work in his articles which is very well done. One of the aspects of how he approaches gear is that the brand/cost is irrelevant to his decisions. He states he uses Elinchrom, Broncolor, Cheetahstand among others. He looks at the performance of a product, not the brand or price point. I admire that as I tend to do the very same thing in my own selections.
Most if not all fucking trolls NEVER have links to their work, EVER. Why? Well because they really don’t know how to shoot well yet love to hear themselves talk about gear. Their photos ‘may’ be ‘nice’ (my mentor’s word for shit work) but instead they like to bitch about anything and sharp shoot those who are expressing their views.
Working photographers who post reviews of gear they’ve used are people I truly respect. Trolls are the bottom feeders of any craft.
Here are examples of the comments relating the Markus’ quick personal review of the Elinchrom Indirect Litemotiv Octa 190cm. Not all are trolls, but you will be able to immediately identify those who fit that category:
Markus thanks for your personal assessments on Lighting Rumours. It takes time to write these things, I know that first hand. And thanks for supporting the craft of photography.
This article by Ilona isn’t about photography, but it is about fucking trolls. “Ever since the dawn of the internet, there have been trolls. These broken, deeply insecure people love nothing more than to bring others down to their level by preying on their insecurities.” What’s great though is if you’re not insecure it don’t mean shit.
UPDATED March 7 2018
Today marks the seventh anniversary of my departure from corporate America. Having been a small business for seven years has been both rewarding as well as remarkable. I so appreciate the tenacity and grit it takes to be a small business owner and collaborate with other small businesses. I have found that the intelligence and business acumen of those who run their own small businesses eclipse those I worked with in corporate America for over 38 years. It’s not for everyone, but for those who have always aspired to ‘be their own boss‘ be prepared to do it all, and to enjoy the rewards. If I can do it in the most expensive part of the country, the Bay Area, so can you.
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…..
No matter what my job or company I always had my ‘back up plan’ just in case my day job went south. Those plans included skills in woodworking, fabrication, computer repair and finally photography. It seems I never felt fully secure in any company even though I received continual accolades and promotions. Nope it always occurred to me that it could all be ‘taken away’ at a moment’s notice. So when my last job at PlayStation ended when the HR person and my boss (the worst boss of any of my 38 years in corporate America. The worst part is the executives knew she was horrible, yet did nothing) let me know ”Your job has been eliminated” I was both relieved and surprised. You see my boss had told me that the meeting was about a “Powerpoint” presentation she wanted me to review with her.
When I heard their words I looked at my now former boss and said “Gosh then there is no need for you to be here. Why don’t you go find something else to do?!” And she quietly got up from her desk grabbed her purse and left. Tracy, the HR person went over my severance package, told me I was not allowed to go back to my office or talk with anyone. She asked to write down anything in my office that are personal items I wanted returned. I said “No need. Two months ago I took all of my personal possessions home.” She asked why and if I was sure. “Yes and I have hated how I’ve been treated here for six years so there was no need to have anything personal in my office.” She then said smugly “So now you can pursue your little photography business.”
I had been moonlighting as a part time (what some people call ‘semi pro’) photographer for two local theatre companies. My girlfriend and I were partners in those shoots. Since I had a highly paying day job there was no need for her to have full or part time employment. She did some graphic and website design from home to earn money. So when I went home that day at noon, and told her the news, she seemed shocked.
As I began a search online the next week for new ‘jobs’ I thought to myself, “Mark, it’s time you man up. Do you really want to invest time and your dignity into going on interviews with thirtysomethings and be asked questions like ‘What is your five year plan?’ and then responding with ‘Fuck you!’” It just would not be conducive to being hired or worse being hired. So with 30 years of business development, management, finance, sale, marketing experience and a love for photography I decided it was time to man up and pursue my dream.
My finance mind went to work right away since unlike others I didn’t have the safety net of a working spouse with benefits. So I tightened down my expenses and calculated what I would need to survive those first five years of being self-employed. And then the biz dev side of me took over. Little by little I obtained more clients. I never did any advertising so all of my new client work was through word of mouth. Several key people were instrumental in helping me grow the business by recommending me to others. For that I will always be grateful. I’m also not arrogant enough to not believe that luck and timing has much to do with a person’s success. One of the advantages of having a varied corporate background is most people simply consider me as just a photographer. I seldom if ever discuss my background, but it’s such an advantage.
And along the way I noticed something I had never done in my entire previous working life….I didn’t have or want a backup plan, no Plan B, no nothing! I was all in and discovered that doing what one loves to do automatically eliminated the desire for a Plan B. Sure the money was much less in the beginning, but the people I encountered and have befriended on this journey along with the experiences make everything else pale in comparison. The quality of my life is beyond what I would have ever imagined. And it all has to do with my love for what I do. It’s the people, it’s the rich experiences that I so adore.
For about 38 years I was a ‘suit.’ A pure corporate guy whose career started at the bottom and worked its way to COO of a Fortune 100 company. But now having been a small business owner running a full time commercial photography firm I can safely say that even if I had the chance, I’d never go back. I say that I photograph just to meet people and it’s true. My camera is just a convenient excuse to meet and befriend other artists.
One of my clients is a symphony in Dallas, TX. And over the years I have become friends with many of the musicians in the orchestra along with people in Marketing, Development and many other departments. Just recently I was tasked by the VP of Marketing to create an image of 90 of the musicians in the lighting style of the Dutch Masters paintings.
While doing so the two co concertmasters, Alex and Nathan began fooling around during a toast by intertwining their glasses and arms like newlyweds! Of course the whole orchestra HOWLED with laughter and no photographer would pass up that decisive moment to capture it on film. Ah the blackmail leverage I now possess!
Then during the creation of another part of the marketing collateral I was asked to do a portrait of several of the senior members of the orchestra.
But during that time two of the video team from Genius House Media were there filming their version of James Cordin’s “Carpool Karaoke” by having Alex, Nathan, Erin, Lydia and Kara ride through Dallas playing their instruments. So often there’s friction between photographers and videographers, but in the case of Adam and Darren from Genius House, they feel more like just collaborative creatives. I so enjoy working along side them when our work intersects I just had to create a photo of them goofing around.
My whole point to this post is this; what good is life without the camaraderie and companionship of other creatives? Like I said, my camera is simply an excuse.
Lately I have been asked by a few people, “Mark what gives you inspiration for your shots?” Food inspires my work because when I view an image I’m creating I want to ‘taste‘ the deliciousness of the story, to feel satisfied, to actually smell the environment or mood with my eyes. I often listen to music and get inspired by the tones, the pauses, the crescendos of each passage. If all of this sounds like bullshit to you, well I don’t know how else to explain what inspires my work. I am also inspired by films; the lighting, the flavor, the moods, THE IMAGINATION brought to REALITY. I recently watched a BTS video of Game of Thrones, Beyond the Wall. At 2:22 in the video one of the creators explains why he likes to shoot on location. His statement is exactly the reason I prefer on location shooting to in studio work, especially for personal projects. I bow to their creativity and ability to execute what is imagined. Whenever I hear people say “Oh I thought of that years ago…” I always laugh to myself and think, “Yet you didn’t ACTUALLY MAKE IT HAPPEN.” And sure it’s always easy to say “Well if I had the kind of money GOT has then I could do that.” I often feel sorry for those who think that way….
So many forums/sites/people in photography or other endeavors talk on and on and on and on about gear. They can argue about which gear is ‘better’ in what almost seems like forever, just to ‘be right.‘ Gear has never been a motivating factor for me except when I was just starting out. Back then I thought, “Wow if I only had this camera/light/modifier, or had access to what the pros have….” I found that “if onlys” prevented me from actually DOING. For me inspiration is born from watching, tasting, listening, touching LIFE. And not necessarily things people would consider remarkable. Simple things like a smell, a taste, an expression, or an experience spark ideas that I want to create.
The reality is coming up with a concept, translating that concept into reality by developing all of the elements necessary is also one of the things that so inspires me. The planning, the ‘figuring out’ what to do, how to make it, what location I want to use, searching for that location, adding atmosphere, what kind of lighting, how will I overcome wind, do I want wind, what kind of flavors do I want to include in wardrobe? It goes on and on and on. And even the limitations are inspiring! It’s so easy to believe that if EVERYTHING is available, that there are NO RESTRICTIONS on what you hope to do, what you create would be possible.
REAL life is all about restrictions, limits and hurdles. For me they are the spices in the recipes for what I cook with my camera.
All of the final images I created on location below can be seen in my Conceptual Gallery.
Inspiration comes from many different places for most people. In addition to what I mentioned at the beginning of this post, one of my largest inspirations comes from the experiences I have with people. Sure I’m happy with the images, but what I remember are the interactions I have with the people I “cook” with and who invariably become close friends. And that is the most inspiring aspect of all.
This has nothing to do with photography, so if that’s what you’re after you can stop reading.
Nope this is about two simple things I’ve done in the past eight months that have literally changed my patterns of life. Like any ‘normal’ person who owns his own small business I had a perfectly satisfying routine. Work, do business development, edit, practice, shoot, send emails, go on vacation, sit in front of my computer. It was a nice satisfying life and like most people I’d go on vacation to relax.
What frustrated me to no end was whenever I stayed at hotels for client work, many of them have those wonderful rooftop patios with fire pits, lounging areas and wonderful views. Yet I never really got to enjoy them due to the very tight shooting schedules I maintain. The other issue is I found that I didn’t get outside as much as I like because I tied myself to my computer. So here’s what happened that enacted changes for the better than I could ever imagine…..
I have raced motorcycles all of my life. My Dad thought it would be a great idea to keep me out of trouble, make me save money for gas and bike parts and delay my desire to ‘be with those kinds of girls.’ “If it has a period or uses gasoline boy, it’s gonna be expensive!!!” Yeah my Dad was THAT kind of Dad. (he was right though….LOL) So from motocross to desert racing to road racing I LOVED two wheel competition. But when I finally figured out I’d never be the next Valentino Rossi I hung up my leathers for a camera. Yet the need to be on two wheels never left me. And racing, riding a bike on the street didn’t hold any appeal. I had taken to mountain biking for a while riding a Specialized Hard Tail with a front Rock Shox. But on a very muddy winter day I landed on the cross bar with my two soft parts and had to go to the hospital, to have one ‘drained.’ I’ve been in my share of hand to hand battles, been kicked in the family jewels plenty, but nothing felt like being ‘drained’ by a physician. So I gave up mountain biking.
But when the whole ebike thing appeared I was intrigued. I followed a Kickstarter campaign for over a year that was developing an electric mountain bike. I’d been burned by two Kickstarter campaigns so the thought of losing 1k of my money didn’t appeal to me. Then while on vacation I visited an ebike shop right across from the hotel. The owner asked if I’d ever ridden an ebike and when I said “No” he rolled out a full suspension mountain bike and simply said “Get on and take it for a ride.” And once I rode up a San Francisco type hill just in front of his shop I WAS SOLD. It ended up that my girlfriend got one too since the shop owner wanted to trade a film of his shop for her bike. Shit, I had to pay for mine!
Then once we got home I started to think about my backyard. It’s not a large backyard since I live in a townhome in the Bay Area. But I started to map things out I wanted that I saw at hotels; a hot tub, a fire pit, some lounging furniture. I began to figure out “I can do this, and not for a ton of money.” So after doing my normal Excel Spreadsheet calculations I found out that instead of going on an annual vacation, we’d spend the money on the patio. Between Amazon and IKEA the items you see in my patio became a reality.
But the point of this whole thing is now I find we’re outside when we’re not working. We’re riding our bikes all of the time and even though it IS exercise, I never think of it that way because IT’S SO DAMN FUN. We ride to dinner, pack dinner and ride to the sea. And the patio? In the morning we have coffee out there, lunch out there, dinner out there. We sit in the hot tub before bed time. My ideas for new shooting scenarios have grown. Why? Because my routine is different, my mental attitude is different than before. Change can be scary. But changes like these can be wonderful. It’s simply a matter of figuring out what you want to do with life and then take action.
More disgusting lack of oversight. “Facebook outsourced contractors to listen in on your audio messenger chats and transcribe them, a new report reveals.“ So not just FB employees but contractors! Holy crap
“The real reason you can’t quit Facebook? Maybe it’s because you can judge your friends.” You can read the article here.
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.”
UPDATE August 14 2017
I am honored to have been a finalist in this contest. I’m most proud to have been able to tell my family’s story.
A long time friend sent me a text message with this photo attached:
He suggested I enter this contest not for the money, but to express how I view Japanese American Culture. I thought about it for a week and then decided to enter. I feel so proud to be Japanese American, as a race we have endured much. Japanese Nationals feel that if ‘we’ had been successful in Japan there would never have been a need to move to the US. People here didn’t trust us upon our arrival. And the United States sent American Citizens of Japanese decent to Internment Camps during WWII “For our own protection.” Which was such utter fucking BULLSHIT!
Actual Posters from the 1945 era:
The official US Notices
Here are my submissions and the stories behind the imagery I created.
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 October 23 2017
Four flats in 1200 miles….is that normal? Well I found that the OEM tires that came on my Haibike Sduro Fullnine RC were light, but fragile. Schwalbe Racing Ralph Performance, 29 x 2.25 pinched the inner tube like nobody’s business. Granted I am far from a hard core MTBer, but since I raced motocross for many years I love to bomb downhill when the need arises. It seems that that’s when it happens, a flat. Front, rear it doesn’t seem to matter. So I switched to Maxxis Tread Lite Dual Compound EXO Tubeless Ready 29er’s. Much more robust sidewalls and the tread pattern is more suited to the type of riding I normally do. Hard pack dirt covered by gravel, pavement and some sand. The Tread Lites are not full blown MTB tires, but then again I’m not hard core MTBer. I believe in using the right tool for the job at hand. I laughed when I raced a Honda RC51 because I used Dunlop slicks and when talking to street riders they wanted to know why I would not run slicks on the street. Enough said…..
I continued to run tubes in my Maxxis tires and guess what? More flats. So I switched to tubeless by converting my OEM rims to tubeless ready using:
Not including the tires the conversion is about fifty bucks. I still carry a tube in case I get a flat out on the trail, but being able to run much lower air pressure when needed and only worrying about large cuts in my tires is much better. How hard is the conversion? Easy!
UPDATE: September 29 2017
On December 23 2016 I purchased my Haibike Fullnine RC from Motostrano in Redwood City and took delivery seven days later. With 1100 miles on my bike I can safely say that it’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made in my life. That includes umpteen motorcycles, handguns, knives, cameras, etc. What makes it so different is that whenever I ride I feel like a 12 year old kid who is getting away with something for free! No matter how foul a mood I’m in or how tired I may feel, once I get on “Sofia” and begin my ride I forget about all of the shit that put me in a bad mood. It’s the same feeling I use to get when I would smoke. I’d go outside by myself and literally “Zen Out” while I smoked. I’d have some of my best ideas about photographic concepts while smoking. Giving up smoking literally paid for Sofia after ten months! I don’t have a regular commute and I live in an area where I only have to ride 1/2 mile to get to the wonderful Bay Trail. Yeah I’m a lucky SOB, but I’ll tell you, it’s literally changed how I look at life now. Go figure!
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.
- California eBike laws
- The Rise of the eBike
- US Forest Service Guidance
- October 07, 2015 California eBike Legislation, Assembly Bill 1096
My favorite ebike retailers