Regular readers of this blog may have noticed a lack of words being generated in this space over the last month. Or not! I’ve been overwhelmed with the various projects we are pursuing. Regardless, it has been a pleasure to share my stories, thoughts and experiences with younger photographers making there way, and with the veteran shooters with whom I can commiserate. I have learned a lot from both groups. And that is one clear benefit of all this social media: a community has truly been created and is communicating big time. So even if my missives are more random in the coming year, I will continue to try to engage. Here are some random notes from my recent travels and projects:
PARADE MAG: FORMER PRES GEORGE BUSH ETC: I’m starting to get back into editorial which is tremendous fun, and recently shot a gig for Fast Company and then President Bush and Barbara Bush for Parade. We flew to Kennebunkport and were very welcomed. Although I’ve been a lifelong democrat I quickly went back into apolitical journalism mode for a few hours. I am a history junkie, so meeting a former President is a big deal (I had met and photographed him during a campaign in ’88) and instructive once again of some of the better features of our democracy. There is a fair amount of plasticity that remains at play in our system. Advertising: then spent two weeks in LA shooting massive campaign which started with 52 shots for ads, then expanded into a library shoot.
STOCKLAND MARTEL PHOTOGRAPHERS DINNER: Bill Stockland and Maureen Martel invited me to join the family of shooters they have built, whoever was in LA or lives out West, at an annual dinner they host. It was a rare chance to meet some photographers I’ve idolized and admired, young and older, such as Walter Iooss, Kwaku Alston, and Hans Gissenger. I also got to chat with Vincent Laforet and his lovely wife Amber and see beautiful images of their kids. But the whole thing was so cool and such a good idea. Photographers are typically pretty isolated and competitive and bringing everyone together, especially the young and veterans into the same room, was so smart because it inspired everyone there. We all felt part of a larger unit which gives you confidence and courage to keep fighting the fight. As one of the newer members, it made me quite proud and happy to be part of it. Then I stole away early with the talented writer and editor Kristina Feliciano– she writes the SM blog among other projects– and begged her to help me hone my TED speech. We worked till 3 in the morning and then I went off to prep my ongoing shoot.
TED X SF: I arrived from LA for the most terrifying talk I’ve had to give in years with little sleep and an outsized case of stage fright. I’m always nervous when I talk but this was the first time I was presenting my images from my 15 year documentary in Silicon Valley project to actual people from Silicon Valley. I wasn’t sure if anyone I’d shot would be in the room either. It was a test also because I was given only 18 minutes. Those who know me understand this was draconian. In Portuguese I believe the term my wife applies to me is “bocao” or big mouth. Had to keep it…short. And the other speakers were a seriously brilliant collection of deep thinkers and activists so I had to raise my game. (Videos will be up in a few weeks on the www.tedxsf.org site or at youtube searh for ted talks and tedxsf). I’d like to thank Suzie Katz and PhotoWings http://www.photowings.org/pages/index.php for bringing me to TEDx SF http://www.tedxsf.org/ organizing committee attention. I also must thank the organizers I met: Jason Johnson, Christine Christine Mason McCaull, Taylor Milsal, and all the others who busted out the hours to make it happen and made us all so welcome.
As some of you may know, I shot this work behind the scenes in the 80′s and 90′s with unusual access of the leading innovators of the day. Stanford has been preserving the work but now with the help of the amazing picture editor Karen Mullarkey we are beginning again to edit the 250,000 images. What I have been able to show from that era is taken from less than 3000 images Karen edited some years back. But the work touches on the every aspect of the digital revolution and the rise of the internet and now we believe we can create a film (produced by Brian Storm of MediaStorm with our archive President Dave Mendez) and book (with text by Paul Saffo, design by Michael Rylander) that can ultimately provide educational value. Not only to deliver lessons learned for the next wave of innovation, but to help inspire the next generation of engineers. We have formed a new non profit (Backlight Media Group) to produce the project.
My talk basically described how I got from shooting AIDS, and famine in Africa to Silicon Valley to cover the story of the human side of tech development. It was an explosion of creative innovation that began in the 80′s, building on the previous decades breakthroughs which had set the stage, and gained speed until an even greater explosion of innovation led to the rise of the internet and the dot com era. This of course came crashing down with the collapse of the dot com bubble. I ran out of time and was unable to deliver my observation (not original) that when this crash occurred in 2000, this was also the end of the last era in which America led the world in innovation. Tom Friedman and many others have been arguing for years that China and India, and now Brazil are eating our lunch and that we have to recapture that energy and spirit. The brilliant entrepreneur Judy Estrin argues that the investment model that was created and solidified during the dot com era, in which investors must get their money out in 18 months, actually put a brake on innovation. We may think we are still super innovative and creative but innovations such as Facebook and Twitter are just software apps that have leveraged what came before. They are not massively scalable technologies that can employ millions of people in factories across the globe such as was the case during the information/computer revolution. For that level of breakthrough, we must look to the coming wave, perhaps from green tech. But industry leaders such as Rob Walker, co-founder of LSI Logic argue that even if you find that magic, scalable green tech, we don’t have enough engineers to populate the industries that will rise from it. At least not here in America. Less than half the engineers here in America are American he points out. And under Bush we cut the visas available to bring in foreign engineers. Rob says the Americans are not innovative enough because they are not hungry enough and he would not hire them. Where does that leave us? With a soft, fat delusional culture in my opinion. So it’s worth a try to get a few kids excited about math and science and to push our educational system to serve these kids.
But it’s also about wonder, and imagination and the sheer joy I saw in the engineers I met in the early 80′s who truly believed they could make the world a better place with their technology. During the dot com era that shifted to a basic human feeding frenzy based on doing IPO’s for products that were not really ready for markets that did not really exist– enter Wall St. and the sub prime mess, all built on tech and innovation run amok. But the marketing was great! True creative innovation does not happen in 18 months. Investors have to start going long term and we have to better educate our young to make it to the next big wave of innovation.
TECH MUSEUM, THE TECH AWARDS: http://www.techawards.org/
From there my wife Tereza and I were invited to go with Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt to the superb TECH Museum in San Jose where we got to see one of the best slide shows I’ve ever seen, produced by the TECH’s brilliant David Whitman and with editing again by the incomparable Karen Mullarkey, and which had images from Salgado, Jose Azel, many Magnum images and a host of other great photojournalists. In that context, where they were giving cash awards to innovators in the third world who are struggling to bring energy, health care and education to the most impoverished people in the world, it was a powerful display of the continuing importance of photojournalism. You could hear the Silicon Valley movers and shakers commenting on the images. One gains hope for a “dying” form of communication where one can. But photoj’s not dead, not by a long shot.
After the slide show Al Gore gave a speech and got an award which although failing to move the few Republicans around us, impressed me as one of his best. The smartest line: “Oh, the earth will be just fine.” In other words, Mother Earth doesn’t give a shit what we do, she will survive. We humans have a little problem.
I ran into Steve Wozniak and his wife Janet. I shot Woz back in the 90′s showing one of the first Gameboys to John Sculley, then CEO of Apple, both of whom will be in our book and film. I told Woz that I had reminded my audience at TEDx that before “Dancing with the Stars” he had co-founded a little company called…Apple. He remains a lovely, generous person who happens to be one of the true fearless geniuses of our time. John and Marva Warnock were also there, and John and I discussed the latest big format digital cameras with 64 mp size files that look like 8×10 or bigger film and how all this has changed the game again. I was documenting John when he was starting Adobe in the 80s and he will also be featured in our upcoming project. You had the Guttenberg Press and for 500 years not much happened. Then John Warnock and Chuck Geshke created PostScript, and later Photoshop (with the Knoll bros.) PDF Acrobat, InDesign, Premiere, etc etc etc…
FEARLESS GENIUS/Stanford: I followed up the TECH with meetings about our non-profit and how to get the funding we need to produce the film and book and educational materials. I’m very excited to be working with Stanford Library on this as they have offered their support and access to their priceless collections. I had various meetings in the valley also and got a lot of strong interest and commitments to help. Documentary films typically don’t make money, so our hope is that by going non-profit we can attract those who are passionate about education and technology and want to help preserve their own legacy.
News Flash: We got our first small donation from some insanely creative thinkers doing great work at the Palo Alto Institute. http://www.paloaltoinstitute.org/ Just meeting Joon Yun, wth my old friend Devi Kamdar, and hearing their plans (with Susan Oshinsky) and ideas gave me great hope for the future. And I came away convinced that our Fearless Genius project is going to attract wide support. The timing just feels right.
Photographers with book or film projects have to really act as entrepreneurs. There are so many grants out there and people with money who want to support the arts. If you can create a solid plan you can get funded. I talk about this in my workshops and I’ve done it several times in the past. But every time I do this I learn something new. And honestly, I’m not that great at it because I’m a photographer, not a businessman. Although many may confuse me with being a business guy because I write about it and share my experiences. I don’t pretend the money arrives magically. But that is because I think too many shooters hide behind their fear of taking control of their own lives and destinies. The price for doing that is learning the basic ways in which the world works and how money flows around. It’s a high price to pay for any artist, I grant you that. But the reward is doing your best work. Read Andy Warhol’s bio people.
STUDIO/ARCHIVE: Tomorrow I will get to see all the hard work our incredible team have been putting out in our new studio and archive. Moving our studio from Kingston to West Chelsea in Manhattan has been a real test of willpower, as anyone who has moved their studio can attest. But phones and printers and lights and shelves and desks and all that good stuff seem in place. I’m starting to get this wierd feeling that just maybe I will actually be able to put down roots again, for the first time since Sausalito, and I sure hope so. I don’t want to move again. Ever. Well, for a long while anyway. But thanks Dave, and Chris, Josh, Whitney, Matt, Karen, Lindsay and Peter and Dan for all the kick ass effort. I’m being coy here in that we are cooking up something new and fun there in the new studio but I don’t want to put the cart before the horse is fed and ready to march. More on this spectacular team and Menuez Archive Projects in this space soon.
PETER TURNLEY: Peter has always been a great inspiration and his generous spirit is a lesson in how to live well and do good work. He is now offering some of his limited edition master prints for sale and the prices are unbeatable. I highly recommend spending your savings on these masterful images. Here is an excerpt from his note:
“As the holiday season approaches some people have asked me about the possibility that I might offer a significant discount price on one or more of my signed collector photographic prints. Below I have included information pertaining to an exceptional holiday season discount to the usual gallery price of my signed 16 x 20 silver gelatin archival collector prints of my photographs.
My black and white photographs are printed by the great Parisian master printer, Voya Mitrovic, who has printed for 40 yrs for photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Josef Koudelka, Sebastio Salgado, and Rene Burri. His traditional silver gelatin prints are of stunning quality and make wonderful wall pieces. Every black and white print will have my signature on the front as well as both Voya’s and mine on the back.”
CLIVE BOOTH: An old friend of mine who used to be a client and built a stellar career as a graphic designer for global brands such as Toyota, is now building a second career as a fashion photographer. Clive has a documentary style that is humanist in tradition, but modern in application with his use of shallow depth of field and attention to foreground detail. His work is just beautiful and shocking for how timeless he renders the world of fashion, a world of pop culture ideas and products not known for lasting much beyond a season. Clive is also now directing short films for amazing clients across Europe and in NY and you will soon know his name and work. He is a true star with deep talent that we can all be inspired by. Check out his site:
Now for brief Thanksgiving family break then off to Brazil for two weeks of shooting…tudo joya…ate breve!