Something to SAY

Legendary creative director John Doyle recently asked me to make portraits of kids who are working to overcome severe stuttering problems with the help of a nonprofit organization called Our Time, which John is rebranding as SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young. I have an old friend who built a career as a top photojournalist despite a severe stuttering problem. From him I learned a lot about the challenges people who suffer from this disability go through and was so impressed by how he overcame his problem to succeed. Shooting kids is always a tough job. Even as a parent and someone who has always shot kids, I know from experience you can’t push things or try to control things too much. You have to be patient and open to the kid’s frame of mind, and try to connect. Essentially, you are a passenger on their train.

John said he needed a lot of portraits, all in one day to save money as the project was pro bono. In this case, we were talking about young kids but also teens. Which raises a whole host of other issues around self-esteem, identity, and general discomfort with self-image that are just part of the package of growing up. Add in a disability like stuttering, and I knew it might be tough to deliver the portraits I envisioned.

I wanted to connect emotionally with the kids and try to show their sense of pride and accomplishment for what they were overcoming. It was an exciting opportunity. John and I talked at first about photographing to seven or eight kids, then maybe 12 or more. I thought on the outside we could get to 15.

Then he asked if I could shoot 20 kids—in one day. Hey, I’m game for anything. But to connect with these kids and shoot a range of images in the time allotted with a limited crew and budget (the crew was paid) was a daunting thought, to put it mildly.

Then came the shoot day––big surprise: The kids came in and rocked the house. They burst into dance, they sang, they talked and talked. We had a blast! It was such a gift to meet them and be part of their world. And we got the 20 kids done, barely, as the natural window light faded and our studio time ran out. It seems the Our Time/Say program is working wonders with these bright kids. And I just got a lovely note from John thanking us and saying how happy everyone was with the pictures. It’s a project I’m extremely proud to have been part of.

Sunday
09
March 2014

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La Lettre Features “Fearless Genius” Project

For constant inspiration, education, and exposure to the unexpected please visit the vast photographic universe that is La Lettre de la Photographie. The range of material they present is incredible, eclectic and global. I know of no other source quite like this. We all get locked up sometimes in our own private hell of work. We know we should go out and see the shows. When we do, our world brightens a bit, we get ideas, we get energized. La Lettre is like that, but via the internet. Cé tout.

So I was honored to see my long-term project about Steve Jobs and the development of new technology in Silicon Valley during the digital revolution in the 80′s and 90′s featured on La Lettre. I must thank Jean-Jacques Naudet and Gilles Descamps for the lovely presentation. Gradually the project is progressing, with a lot of new scans, plus getting some interviews done for my film and book. But seeing it here makes it a bit more real after all this time working on it. Have a look if you get a moment:

La Lettre de la Photographie

http://lalettredelaphotographie.com/archives/by_date/2011-12-06/4844/doug-menuez-la-saga-de-silicon-valley

Tuesday
13
December 2011

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GEORGE OLSON: A VERY FUNNY MAN

I first met George Olson during a sniper attack in San Francisco in the late 70′s. A deranged gunman, reportedly with an M16, was firing from a high floor of an office building down onto the increasingly concerned rush hour population of citizens who happened to be on foot on the streets and sidewalks around the office building. George was clearly a professional news photographer, a photojournalist, with at least three cameras around his shoulders and a Domke bag and a serious yet studied expression betraying the slightest hint of weary jaundice… he’d seen it before… I was thrilled to see him as I imagined that I might be like him someday and be able to leave my miserable job washing cars at the Lincoln Mercury dealearship around the corner.

Since I only could afford the single wide angle lens I remember turning away from the rifle shots above to photograph the pinned down pedestrians pushed up against the wall where George was standing. His dry humor was evident from the start. He deadpanned that I might prefer to get my ass out of the street and have my back safely to the wall with my eyes looking up.

Humor is probably the hardest thing to photograph. And it’s often said luck favors the photographer who is prepared. But luck does not explain the many, many very funny images this man has accumulated. Here’s a few:

Humor is a personal thing so obviously this is my opinion, but it is just uncanny what he’s done. Sort of irritating actually because it’s just not explainable. I mean I walk the streets all the time, and if I get one image a year that is even mildly amusing I’m grateful. I think you’d have to spend almost all your time each and every day cruising for this kind of thing with an amazing antenna up for the set up– the sign that sets up the joke–and the action he’s captured. And then you’d have to be psychic because otherwise you could not possibly anticipate that someone or something was about to happen that would illustrate the opposite of what the sign intended, thus making the punchline. I mean I just don’t get it. It’s way beyond the decisive moment. I can’t even begin to explain it. And so I won’t, but I will recommend taking a look at these images here and more at George’s site: georgeolsonphotography.com
and from his recent show at the iWitness Gallery in Portland, Oregon, here: http://www.pnwcp.com/iwitnessgallery/galleries/George_Olson/George_Olson.html

Thursday
03
February 2011

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EFFORTLESS BEAUTY: ALBERT NORMANDIN

Every so often it is a pleasure to share work that I find inspiring such as  Albert Normantin’s elegant photographs of Myanmar. He’s returned 7 times to this hidden country and made a series of images well worth checking out here: http://www.myanmarphotographs.com/

This work exhibits such effortless grace and clarity of vision that you almost don’t notice the rigor with which he shoots. In fact, at first it appears as seriously good travel photography as it pulls you in. As you go through the different portfolios you see winner after winner and the classical composition, perfect lighting combined with subjects that are completely at ease and it all adds up to something much deeper: a master photographer at the top of his game. Albert conveys a profound empathy and respect for his subjects while drawing on traditions of photojournalism and documentary work to capture moments in time. All of this is wrapped up in gorgeous light and color. Lovely to look at. Also his work is a reminder of the importance of learning the basic, classic traditions. Even if we are out to break all those traditions it’s great to know them before we try to break them. Sometimes simple is best. Thanks for the inspiration Albert.

Sunday
19
December 2010

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CK OUT 100 EYES: CHRISTIAN POVEDA TRIBUTE

Photograph ©2009 Nanni Fontana from "Honduran Death Trip"

Photograph ©2009 Nanni Fontana from "Honduran Death Trip"

Andy Levin’s always amazing blog features a tribute to the slain photojournalist Christian Poveda who was gunned down at 52 in El Salvador while covering the gangs. Ironically he was just having a resurgence of success with his work on the deadly Maras gang and documentary “La Vida Loca.” Reportedly the gang was demanding money as they learned of the increasing success of his work. Many issues to think about and discuss here. Nanni Fontana’s outstanding images from her essay on gangs in Honduras illustrate the tribute to Poveda with an essay by Carlos Lopez-Barillas. See it and all the other stunning work on 100 Eyes here:

100Eyes: Photography Magazine and Photo Workshops for Emerging and Professional Photographers

Tuesday
15
September 2009

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100 EYES: Stunning New Issue

Picture 2

Photographer Andy Levin has created a singular publication well worth following, but with a new issue out he’s brought together an extraordinary collection of important photo essays. Please take a look:

100Eyes: Photography Magazine, Photo Workshops

Tuesday
07
July 2009

F Stop Beyond: Interview with Doug Menuez

Picture 8

interview audio

Ron Dawson is the rarest of talents– he has built a career and business around his passion and is a special example of how to merge art and commerce to live your dreams. An exceptionally gifted and accomplished writer, director, and award-winning video producer, speaker, instructor, and columnist, Ron also conducts some of the most useful and interesting interviews with photographers I’ve come across. Check out his show F-Stop Beyond: The EXPERIENCE. Ron asks all the right questions, getting photographers to open up and delve into the deeper issues behind the work.  And that’s what he did with me, pushing me to question my own beliefs and understanding of the issues. Everything is changing so fast these days, the more discussion the better it seems to me, and Ron helps focus the discussion around how to maintain creativity while surviving these times. Here is our talk: interview audio

Sunday
31
May 2009

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INSPIRATION #4: Driftless

 

©Danny Wilcox Frazier, from "Driftless"

©Danny Wilcox Frazier, from "Driftless"

Danny Wilcox Frazier’s new piece on the rural life in Iowa is breathtaking in it’s simple power. Working with Brian Storm, Bob Sacha and the team at MediaStorm, Danny has created something that not only gives us a profound understanding and new respect for the farmers who struggle to bring us our daily bread, but a perfect, elegant film that synthesizes moving images with still. This will be a lasting document of a place and time. Well worth a look.

 

MediaStorm: Driftless: Stories from Iowa by Danny Wilcox Frazier

Tuesday
19
May 2009

INSPIRATION #3: FACING THE OTHER

 

©2009 Lyle Owerko/CLIC Gallery

©2009 Lyle Owerko/CLIC Gallery

 

I’m torn sometimes between my core desire to capture moments and to create photographs. I’m also prone to seek the bliss of isolation after periods of intense work. I have to force myself to get out and see what’s going on, but I rarely regret it. So when I am knocked off my feet by such beauty as I recently saw at Lyle Owerko’s show of his project on the Samburu people of Northern Kenya at the CLIC Gallery in Soho I am inspired and overcome with the desire to rush out and do portraits. Lyle goes deep with these lyrical, sensitive portraits and the stunning large prints are hypnotic.

Clic Bookstore & Gallery – New York, St. Barth – ABOUT

In a related vein, Elisabeth Sunday’s AFRICA VI: The Tuareg Portfolios, 2005–2009 presents dramatic figurative portraits of the nomadic Tuareg from the Sahara Desert in Northern Mali, which I also find haunting, lyrical, mystical; they push my inner Jungian dreamscape blast-off button. And I’ve not yet seen these up close, but will next week.

Gallery 291

Back in the US, I was pulled in by Richard Rinaldi’s new monograph “Fall River Boys” from Charles Lane Press, which yields the stark, honest reality of young men coming of age in a struggling New England town. The work rises up and bites when you least expect it to. Eloquent, and also haunting and sad, the images are not without glimmers of dignity and determination as seen on the faces Rinaldi reveals with care.

Charles Lane Press | Fall River Boys

Inspiration alone is a pretty great thing, no?

But it’s deeper than that. I’m responding also to the search for the other, as these artists all seem to me to be pursuing in their own ways. By the “other” I refer to the stranger we encounter in our travels, or even in our own street. Through our understanding of the other, we define ourselves.  The famous journalist Rsyard Kapucinski discusses this phenomenon extensively in his posthumous book “The Other,” Verso, 2008, and refers to the great French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas who said “…the self is only possible through the recognition of the other.”

Through my own portraits on my travels I’ve noticed a continuing theme in my work over the years that explores this idea. In all my work, since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with images that could be called portraits but are made as street shots where the subject has momentarily looked into my lens as I was grabbing the moment––probably they were lost in thought while waiting in a line or while working or whatever––but they looked up at me as I pressed the shutter. There is an unguarded quality as if I have known them all my life and they are trusting me. It’s a lovely fraction of a second when defenses between strangers are down. I have the nerve to look the stranger in the eye and they are completely open to me in turn.

I’ve written a bit about this and how I see this as a search for my own identity and place in the world, and that’s about the size of it. Not at all a conscious effort, just part of what I’m doing. Which may be why the above artist’s work is so exciting and inspiring to me.

And by creating a photograph, as opposed to capturing a portrait as a moment, I mean a situation, most likely a portrait where I’m in dialog with the subject. I’m choosing the background, location and position of the subject, or a still life, or some other conceptual approach such as some of the fashion or advertising work I’ve done that may be more illustrative.

These really seem two sides of the same coin because even moments captured in camera are later partly “created” in terms of how I render the print in the darkroom, digital or wet. There the print becomes an expression and subjective interpretation of how I saw the image. While digital manipulation in terms of switching out heads or changing skies and whatnot is not my thing, burning and dodging is definitely another form of manipulation, and is something very important to me. Since your eye goes to the lightest areas first I can control where your eye moves around the image to yield a heightened emotional response. Some of this may be planned in the exposure and depth of field of course, but in the final print comes the full expression of the idea. And that leads to a discussion about the magic of the print… to be continued…

Tuesday
28
April 2009

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INSPIRATION #2: KEENPRESS

In my workshops I’ve tried to pound home the point that if you want to do good work, be happy, avoid burnout and stop beating your spouse and kids, you ought to think about longevity– how to achieve a creatively satisfying life for the long term. Once that is your goal, all your decisions line up to move you in the right direction.

Two photographers who epitomize this philosophy and never fail to astound and inspire me through their work and the lives they live are Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson, founders of KEENPRESS. Married for 30 years, parents of two talented children, and now working not only as business partners but as creative collaboraters, sharing credit on their images they create, and exhibiting and selling prints from their base in Copenhagen.

Although Sisse is Danish, many of us were surprised when they sold their house in Mill Valley, California, one of the world’s sweet spots and moved to Europe. OK so Copenhagen is pretty sweet but you have to love winter to stay year round. Both have spent the majority of their long careers documenting the world for National Geographic. Cotton spent a hiatus as a picture editor at US NEWS (where I shot a cover for him) and in Silicon Valley at CNET as a VP developing content and then resumed shooting full time after they moved back to Europe.

Recently Cotton sent me their updated web site with some new work which knocked me out. Here’s the first image from their series “The Besmirched.”

the-besmirched2

Part of what I’ve always admired about these two is their incredible storytelling ability from their Nat Geo work. And now here we see a giant leap into abstraction, pure expression and a shift into new and challenging waters. It really is true that to grow as photographers we have to embrace risk and try new things and I can’t think of a better example of how this strategy can succeed. But this is not new for Cotton and Sisse, this is just the latest iteration.

What’s surprising is that they keep pushing themselves after all they have accomplished. Whenever I talk to them they exude the passion and hunger of 20-somethings. This is both inspiring and terrifying. Whether they are pursuing this strategy consciously or instinctively doesn’t matter. It has led them to careers of longevity and a level of creative satisfaction and professional success that is spectacular and instructive. You can see more of their lovely work at:

KEENPRESS Photography

Saturday
28
March 2009

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