Posts by: Heidi Volpe

The Daily Edit – Texas Monthly: Shayan Asgharnia

- - The Daily Edit


Texas Monthly


Art Director: Victoria Milner
Photographer:
Shayan Asgharnia
Online Story here

Heidi: What type of direction did you get from the magazine?
Shayan: It had been a dream of mine to shoot for my home state and legendary publication, Texas Monthly. Victoria Millner, their art director, emailed me to shoot this assignment, my first for TM. The references she sent from my own work were my portraits of David Crosby, Ed Harris, Billy Dee Williams and my father smoking a cigar and giving two fingers.

Victoria wanted detailed closeups of his iconic face with all the history and weathered grit that comes with it, but she also wanted environmental shots that truly displayed the vast spectrum of the man’s humanity. I love working with Victoria and Claire Hogan, Texas Monthly’s photo editor. They’re so clear with their vision and their understanding of the artist’s vision. Not a modicum of uncertainty to be found in working with them, and they’re kind Texans to boot.

He’s both intense and joyful, how did you bring both of the emotions out?
Danny is intense, but even before I started seeing him in photos with rescue dogs or his smiling face next to donuts and tacos, I knew he had a gentle, fun side thanks to his role as Uncle Machete in Spy Kids. In person, the man is joy and empathy personified; the scowl is more a part of the brand.

Knowing Danny’s love of dogs and prison reform, I arrived with a framed 17×22 print of one of my photos from my personal project, Rescued, a story on a program where rescue dogs live with and are trained by incarcerated men.


While shooting, we spoke at length about rescuing dogs, prison reform, his car collection and the Great State of Texas. He told me one of the funniest stories I’ve heard from one of his recent trips to Texas pre-COVID: while walking around 6th St. with a few of his assistants who also did time in the past, his assistants were getting heated up and wanting to fight with people flashing what they thought were gang signs. Danny laughed out loud and made the sign himself: the good ol’ University of Texas “Hook ’em.” As a Longhorn, I love seeing that image in my head.

After we wrapped the portraits of him, we went into his personal gym and photographed each of his dogs against seamless just for him to have, to immortalize them in a way. Photographing animals is my happy place, and the smile that comes across their humans’ faces makes it that much more wonderful. You want a moment of true happiness? Listen to Danny Trejo babytalk his pups and see the smile on his face as they’re being photographed.

Danny lived a colorful life, how much prep did you do prior to the job?
I don’t prep too much beyond a bit of research on subjects to find some common ground I share with the subject instead of just talking about their work. With Danny, this was simple. We’re both dog rescue people who also share a passion for prison and criminal justice reform. I’ve never been incarcerated, but I spent a few months documenting the Pawsitive Change program at California City Correctional Facility. I didn’t need much of an icebreaker beyond that.

In terms of technicality, I’m not the most technical photographer. I shoot a lot of studio work with strobes, but goddamn, I love working with natural light and merely shaping it with reflectors and negative fill when need be. I wanted the shoot to feel as little like a production as possible. When a shoot feels like a conversation between myself and the subject and we just happen to have a camera nearby, that’s the best.

What did you imagine his demeanor to be, and did that live up to your expectations?
I have a number of friends who have worked with Danny in some capacity throughout the years, and not a single one of them had anything but praise for the man. They were all right; the man is a true gem. As someone who’s been told many times that I look unapproachable and unfriendly until people actually meet me, I get it. I love breaking the barrier between my genetics and my personality.

Danny and myself at the end of our shoot

 

Describe the vibe on set.
The vibe on set was truly jovial and comfortable. This is one of the perks of being at the home of your subject, especially when your subject keeps it so damn real and lives deep in the Valley. Add cute, friendly dogs running around, and you’re solid. Every shoot should have dogs on hand. While we didn’t take more time than we needed, it felt like we could have continued to hang out beyond the shoot. Danny invited us to come watch fights in his backyard in the future, so let’s hope that offer stands.

Did you direct him or was he naturally falling into form in front of the camera?
My approach to directing a subject is fairly loose. I know the general idea of where I want them to be and how I want them to be, but beyond that, I like subjects to fall into themselves. I’m not trying to create a fantastical scene. I did ask him to bring out some of his cars, I did ask him to pose with his pups and have them all jump into the vehicle, and I did ask him to take off his shirt and bare those tattoos, but beyond that, we go with the flow. I’m more of a people person and a documentarian in my approach as a photographer, so when I’m trying to get something out of someone, I meet them where they are with their energy and emotions on the day. I pick up on these things quickly and adjust subtly enough so I don’t push a subject too far, or worse yet, not push far enough that I lose them. It’s all collaborative.

The Daily Edit – Manjari Sharma

- - The Daily Edit

Manjari Sharma

Heidi: How has your relationship with the work changed if at all since moving to the United States?
Manjari: It’s been an incredible journey, and one I wouldn’t change anything about. I came here to the USA at 21 and looking back I knew very little about the “history” of America. What I did know was I was going to make a lot of pictures, meet a lot of new people and ask a lot of questions. I wanted to grow and that curiosity led me across the globe. My relationship with my work over the years has become more intimate. I am more transparent with my practice and I think it’s because simplicity and complexity in equal parts are inextricably tied to aging. Time is certainly the best teacher. When I was younger things were more black and white and now I know there are multiple realities to most all stories. When I was younger I was honing my craft, and then I started telling my own stories. This is where my path changed, where the story became so important that it had to be told at any and all costs. It didn’t matter who was publishing the work or inviting it for a show. The work had its own preordained path and it had to be born.

As you gain distance, is it reinforcing something for you?
Gaining distance from that which we love is a double-edged sword. At twenty one I knew or cared very little about the duality of stepping away from my home and my family. The sense of adventure and the draw to pursue and carve my own unknown path was so strong, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am fortunate that my family supported my unbridled wishes. Over the years I have both learned and unlearned a great deal about both my Indian descent and my adopted American culture and they are bittersweet truths. What this distance or as Pico Iyer calls it the “Gift of exile” is that it has allowed me to do is make up a culture of my own; A hybrid identity that draws from both these incredible countries that I am fortunate to straddle.

What marked a pivotal time in your career here in the US?
2008-2013 I photographed a series titled The Shower Series. I invited people I didn’t know very well to take a shower in my shower as I photograph them. The premise was risque and clothes were optional. I photographed a plethora of people showering and ended up having these unexpectedly disarming conversations with them. The water became a conduit and almost every single time I photographed someone, I felt entrusted with a really personal story. I made audio recordings of the protagonists’ short stories with their consent of course, and they were so honest and beautiful. A shower is such a sacred space that our intimacy and the cleansing aspect of water turned the experience into a really meaningful connection. I won’t lie I felt like I fell in love with every one of my subjects. I also found myself quite consumed by the process of making this work. I was addicted to hearing these raw and vulnerable stories because they turned my subjects into these complex, powerful characters that had so much depth. Somewhere during these sessions, several portraits were taken; My lens got fogged, my toes got wet and the photograph became a reason to connect to something beyond. This series was a pivotal point in my practice because I realized the camera had become an extension of my personality. Meeting a new human being, learning who they are, what takes them down, what makes them tick, is was what brought me to another country. So much of that series was a discovery that the lesson I learned here was to pay attention and follow the lure of my unconscious mind.

Now that you have lived almost half of your life in India and half in the US when you created this work, which part of you did you relate to the most?
When I look at my work I see a pluralistic lens. I am guided by American inquiry but I assess my work from an inner core that is rooted in Indian culture. Many of these experiences of growing up in India I am present with on a daily basis, and then there are others that time has made opaque, yet, I know they are deeply embedded in my inner landscape. The best example of this might be like the lyrics of a Hindi song that I forgot I knew verbatim. As an artist never losing sight of this unknown murky middle ground that lies between the known and the unknown is probably my most challenging yet rewarding part. Mining that cerebral interlude for answers is what I derive my greatest satisfaction from.

Are you talking about the lyrics to a particular song, why do you think it resonated?
Recently I was at my friend’s house Sarita, and she played a Hindi song I hadn’t listened to for a really long time, maybe even decades, but I found myself knowing it word for word. My palette for music was a gift from my mother. I specifically remember moments when she shook her head and wiped her tears because the melody and lyrics of a song could move her so much. The songs that had meaning to her were played and overplayed in my home. I listened to Indian music on my mom’s Panasonic cassette player and she exposed me to such terrific names RD Burman, Naushad, Mohammed Rafi to name a few. Anyway, I’m digressing I am using this as an analogy to share that formative experiences from 21 years in Bombay are burned and embedded into my psyche. I’m shaped by these and so is my art.

How did the sari impact you as a young woman, and how does it impact you as an adult? What life lessons can be drawn from this complex piece of fabric, once properly tied? or not tied?
Fabric in general holds a lot of meaning for me. Indian customs, rituals, and relationships are symbolically represented by color, textiles, and knots in an immense way. The act of tying and untying has great relevance in Indian culture. A knot represents a promise. The act of who ties a knot between the bride and the groom at an Indian wedding for example has ancestral significance. As a young woman, the Saree to me was regarded as a garment that commanded respect. I remember staring at my mother when she draped herself in one. Wearing a saree was an occasion in itself and from that perspective, as a young woman, I romanticized it. Walking gracefully in a saree took practice and poise and an improperly tied saree was not only sloppy but dysfunctional. In that sense spending time with folding, pleating, and draping nine-yards of fabric was a meditation in its own right. As an adult, I look at it a bit more microscopically because as life would have had it my mother (a dementia patient) can no longer drape herself in a saree. Also as I examine India from a sexist lens, I look at the saree not just as a delicate decorative but also as a symbol of patriarchal control. I have a deep and spiritual admiration for this garment, but I also critique it as a modern Indian woman. I had a teacher in a college in Bombay and her name was Putul Sathe she was a counter-culture spitfire who imbued me with radical liberal thought. The saree is incredible and incredibly limiting and I wanted to address both those aspects in my series “How to wear a saree

What was the tipping point for your recent letter titled “Love Letter to America?”
George Floyd’s death in particular shook me to the bone. “Love letter to America” as you know weaves my own experiences into the fold but what began with “Talking Pictures” came to more honest fruition with Love Letter to America. You can read it here


“Talking Pictures” was influenced by the 2016 elections, so here we are 4 years later, how has this current landscape informed your work?
Talking Pictures was an assignment through The Metropolitan Museum of Art and a big subject of that commission became the growing life inside my body as I discovered that I was pregnant during the course of the assignment. However, the outcome of the election, and particularly Donald Trump’s win was something I had to address as part of my work. Trump’s win was the first time I found myself traveling to DC on a bus at 4 am to exercise my rights and protest against the disturbing political landscape of America. I understand that we are bipartisan as a country but I have known, befriended, and even loved many republican leaning Americans. However, Donald Trump represented an America that was at odds with everything I understood and respected about this country. I am brown, grew up in India, and over the years my understanding of racism and white supremacy has grown steadily but Trump’s America permitted behaviors I didn’t realize this country was capable of. This speaks to my privilege of course, but my art practice could no longer ignore that I needed to headlong address certain racist inequities that I now found myself shielding.

There is so much expression of life in the streets of India, are you drawn to mural work?
Yes public art was vivid in Mumbai and I certainly have a sense of belonging to it. With galleries and museums being shut down due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Public Art and the vitality it brings to communities is more important than ever. This mural, A cacophony of human hands rising like a wave, is also an extension of a recent piece I wrote “Love Letter to America”

What does it mean?
Sometimes we don’t see people for what they are, we see them for who “we think” they are. Are we programmed to misunderstand each other? Can we fight this programming? The purpose of the mural is to invite the viewer to examine and self-reflect on our racial lens and actions as a community.

I know you’re on the board of the organization Art Bridge, an initiative that helps early-career artists have a brilliant platform. Tell us about this piece “Simultaneous Contrast” pictured above, in a sketch and a comp.
Simultaneous contrast is a new body of work I’m only just beginning work on. Much like my series Darshan it is currently a sketch and is yet to be constructed. It is based on a phenomenon rooted in color theory. Simultaneous contrast is a term that refers to the influence of one color when in close proximity to another. The theory is that when placed side by side, one color can change how we perceive the tone and hue of another. In reality, the colors themselves never change, but in our recognition, we see them as altered. No normal eye, not even the most trained one can see color independently. This series is an exercise in challenging the framework of our consciousness. What does the color of our skin represent in society? What is our role in shaping the perception of colors around us? Simultaneous Contrast invites the viewer to examine the illusion of stereotypes, and question our role in altering the perceptions of implicit bias.

Artbridge has an auction up for about a week and people have the opportunity to grab amazing art. You can buy this piece from my series “Surface Tension” to support this incredible organization or browse some amazing other artists here. 

The Daily Edit – Ostroy NYC: Alex Ostroy

- - The Daily Edit

Ostroy NYC

Photographer + Illustrator: Alex Ostry

Heidi: How did this business come about, were you disappointed in the available products?
Alex: Cycling design has a beautiful tradition to draw on, but I always thought it lacked the wit, creativity, and subversive visual power of the D.I.Y. American art forms I grew with like Punk, Rap, and the East Village art scene. I think that’s what the people who respond to our brand like as well.

Unlike in the fashion world, most cycling sportswear companies are not started by designers, so design is often an afterthought. It’s just not integral to the process and consequently, it’s often hard to tell one company from the other. The norm in cycling is to talk about what factory made a kit. We are trying to change that and lead with design.

How did the name come about?
The Ostroy brand name is a bit misleading as a name because it was really Aaron Vecchio who came to me with the vision to make my cycling design work into a real company, so most of the success the business side has had is due to his tireless work. We have been lucky to work with many other talented, devoted people. I was just the one with a six-letter URL and a small following online so I get all the glory.

How does your love of cycling come through in the design, culture, and fabrics?
The brand started as a passion project, not just with the surface design but the cuts and fabrics. A cycling jersey is a very technical garment, much more than a baseball or soccer jersey. The tighter fit is very complicated and the modern hi-tech fabrics are amazing when they are used correctly. This process took years for us to develop and we really benefited from the tutelage of our Italian partners who have been designing, cutting, and sewing jerseys and bibs for generations.

How does your 3-D illustration work transcend into this project?
I’d like to think like any artist, all of my work and personal history are woven into what I’m doing now. I’d say the biggest difference is the work I do now is far more personal than the work I did for magazines and corporate clients years ago, and of course, it has lots more bikes.

Are you also shooting the images for the brand?
As the creative department I write the copy, take photos, design packing labels, posts, etc.

Are you doing daily sketches as a daily creative exercise?
I start everyday drawing, a bit like stretching or meditation, as a way to limber up my mind. Once and a while those drawings find their way to becoming jersey design, other times, event posters or and sometimes just a drawing I’ll post on our IG: OstroyNYC. We are a small company, so as the creative department I write the copy, take photos, design packing labels, posts, etc. I think our customers appreciate the handmade attention to detail in our brand.  One day I may miss that when we are a heartless giant sportswear conglomerate, and Im spending all day yelling at subordinates and signing my name to younger more talented designer’s work.

 

 

The Daily Edit – Patagonia Fall Journal 2020: Drew Smith

- - The Daily Edit


Patagonia Fall Journal 2020

Photographer: Drew Smith

Why is it important for you to vote for wild places?
Voting for wild places is imperative to protect the earth itself, our home. Wild places are not sustainable without our protection and preservation. I want future generations to be able to enjoy and admire open spaces with clean air and water. We need to work together to ensure the health of our ecosystems and the most effective way to do so is through voting. We need to protect our right to be wild.

With the roll back of the roadless rule, what concerns you the most?
The fact that it will be legal for logging companies to build roads and destroy National Forest land is disheartening, especially since native tribes rely on this land to fish and hunt as they have been for generations. Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist with the Earth Island Institute’s Wild Heritage project said “While tropical rainforests are the lungs of the planet, the Tongass is the lungs of North America”. I find it troubling that not only the findings of scientists but also the public consensus and native tribe’s opinions about the Roadless Rule were not taken into consideration. If anything, we should be vastly expanding protected land, not taking it away.

Thoughts on the future of our planet?
What concerns me most is that if we continue to undo our work of protecting these vital ecosystems, climate change will continue more rapidly, and our quality of life will be affected. At 19 years old, I had the opportunity to spend time in the Tongass. I returned for three more summers and that time affected me immensely. I wouldn’t be who I am today without experiencing the forest in its pristine state. I want that for future generations.

Where was this cover shot?
This shot was while climbing Zeitgeist IV+ M7- WI5R on the northwest face of Mount Ball in Banff National Park, Canada.

You’re always multitasking: enjoy the moment, take the image or focus on the climb; does that ever get hard?
For the most part, I find so much joy in capturing moments throughout the day and at this point, photography has become part of the climbing. Sometimes when it’s cold or when I’m exhausted it’s really hard to get the camera out, but I force myself to because that’s when you get the best shots. I feel fortunate to have these amazing experiences and also the images to reminisce on and relive those days.

What made you stop and capture this moment?
I always climb with a small camera attached to my harness or in a backpack, it’s just become a habit while out in the mountains. After finishing a pitch and at the belay, the first thing I do is take my camera out not knowing when I’ll see a good shot. Michelle Pratt and I were just getting ready to follow Quentin Roberts up an ice pitch he had just climbed, when spindrift from above started pounding us. I huddled against the rock and looked down, taking a few shots before we cast off.

How many days were you out?
This was just a long day in the mountains which is the norm while climbing in the Rockies. We awoke in Canmore around 3 am, drove an hour, then started a freezing 3-hour hike arriving at the base of the climb early morning. We bailed off of the climb not far from the summit, knowing it would be getting dark soon. I’m not sure how long the day was but we returned to the car safely with smiles, well after dark.

Climb partners: Michelle Pratt and Quentin Roberts who both live in Canmore, Canada.

 

The Daily Edit – Snowboarder: Stan Evans

- - The Daily Edit


Snowboarder The Magazine


Photographer:
Stan Evans
Editorial Director: Pat Bridges
Editor: Stan Leveille
Photo Editor: Mark Clavin
Art Director: Dwayne Carter
Photo Assistant / BTS Cinematographer: Alex Kavanagh
BTS CInematographer: Myles Messinetti
BTS Editor: Jeff Moustache
Publisher: Micah Abrams
Snow Location Cinematographer: Connor WInton

Heidi: Has this issue been healing or a reckoning for your relationship with the snowboard industry?
Stan: I’ll be frank. I love snowboarding. The freedom to explore, to  be in nature to take pictures as capturing unique moments in time with some amazing people but….  As a Black photographer I’d had a bit of a contentious relationship with the snowboard industry as it was very subversively racist.  In the way they marketed the sport and some of the things that happened to me throughout my career. No matter how many amazing photos I’d shoot there was always somebody there that thought because of the color of my skin I shouldn’t be here. People loved the photos but people didn’t want to hear my opinion so everyday was starting from zero and proving myself all over again. Besides being a middle class black kid I didn’t have family money to fall back on so it was  I think it’s important to view this issue and its creation through that lens.  Ironically that became the theme of the “Black experience” of snowboarding throughout the magazine –  we needed to show both sides of the coin, good and bad.  

What do you hope to share for those in your tracks?
The most difficult part of being first was not having a path. It’s a lot of trial and error and failure to be honest. There’s potholes out there and I probably hit everyone figuring it out but the tough part is the mental game of picking myself up and trying again. I had some good white mentors in high school and college but they can’t help you in navigating racists in a small mountain towns, other competitors talking behind your back about your photos. Marketing managers or team managers low balling you because they only think you are worth this much. Company employees leaving you on the side of a mountain because they don’t want to give you a ride back to the lodge. You have to develop a mental and physical toughness that nothing is going to phase you and you are going to get right back out there the next day and give %110. I want to share anything I can but the biggest thing I can give is perspective because I lived it.  For black people getting into outdoor marketing and for brands trying to earnestly help having my experience is a huge roadmap. Let’s miss those potholes this time around. Smooth the road for the next generation. 

I know you had some reservations, what tipped the scales to say yes?
To be honest It took about 3 weeks of talking before I said yes. To his credit the editor Pat Bridges called and emailed me several times. I revealed several slights I’d had from their editorial staff and in turn their publication in the past which made me adverse to getting involved. In those moments Pat gained some perspective of what it was like being the “only” –  I gave him an earful and he listened. We made a pact to try and right some wrongs with this issue.  Their publisher Micah Abrams also stepped up as I’d worked with him several times over the years and he’s always been amazing to work with. The biggest reservation I had was that David Pecker (the man who buried Trump’s Stormy Daniels story) owns ASC and it troubled me that me working on this issue potentially was putting more money in that guy’s pocket. But if I put my heart and soul into it, would it have a bigger impact than just him profiting? I tend to play the long game these days but on this one I wasn’t sure if I was winning the battle or the war? I had to roll the dice.  

What boundaries and qualifiers did you set in order to move forward?
Snowboarder called first about having my portfolio included as I was the only Black Snowboard photographer but I pressed them as to who was overseeing production, we all saw a glaring hole in credibility. They had Dwayne Carter who is black as Art Director in editorial staff but his background is mainly skateboarding really no one to guide the ship to the black “snowboard” experience with a print production background. After some discussion they hired me to consult in the capacity of Contributing Editor.   Within that I shifted the narrative from just showcasing “Black Professional Snowboarders” to how “Black Culture” has contributed to snowboarding? Once we turned that corner we were off to the races.  I helped develop the well, posed the idea of creating a timeline of Black history within Snowboarding similar to Fast Company infographics, we made a selection of creators that contributed to the industry, (team managers, designers, reps, shop employees)  I advised some of the creators on their messaging and I layed out my portfolio. I delivered the basic template to Dwayne via  Indesign and he made it prettier with room for my extended captions.  Once most of those wheels were set in motion it became fairly obvious that I should write the opening oped as well. Stan (their editor) suggested it as a way to pass the mic and as he usually opens the issue with his Column “Stan’s World”  It was an ironically fitting swap. Specifically they paid Cover Shoot expenses, word rate, portfolio and consult time. My mantra is hire Black, let us create, pay us what we are worth. Snowboarder Mag followed through on that promise. It empowered ALL the contributors black, white, male, female, straight or gay and instead of anyone holding back for fear of judgement, everyone gave their all.  That’s why the issue was so profound.  

How did the pre-production of this issue help authentic stories come alive and how did you develop trust and community?
I think all of the riders had a personal relationship with the editor Stan Leveille. They all trusted him to give them a safe space to express themselves. Their staff is talented and I’m a huge believer in if you have talented people let them do their jobs. I gave them this analogy. “ You guys are driving the car, I’m just riding along to navigate and help keep you out of the ditch” One thing I did before agreeing to the magazine was have a zoom call with most of the professional riders featured. Most knew me and my history and felt more comfortable with the issue and  telling their stories if I was actually in the building making sure there were no missteps.

How did they editorially make space?
Snowboarder pooled the advertising to the front of the book (the first 4 pages) with simply a logo from each advertiser freeing up room for more Black voices to speak within the volume. It showed a deep commitment from Pat to get each of the advertisers to set aside their products for an issue to tell stories that needed to be told. It allowed for so many voices that don’t get a chance to share their story for a moment in the spotlight. 

How will this issue help move things forward in an actionable way?
At the end of the issue they also showcased several nonprofits that work with marginalized communities to get them involved in snowboarding which I found highly important as they highlighted resources for people to get involved in continuing the work. 

How did the issue come together, how many years of work did you look through?
The editor and photo editor went through archives of my past work which ranged past 20 years and I went to the office to shoot the cover, sit in on production,  review copy and art direction with the editorial staff. Originally the mag was going to  be in 2nd issue with an October release but they moved to the first issue which sped up my timeline line. I had 3 weeks to complete my work while working on 3 other photo / video shoots simultaneously. So it was a push. I didn’t sleep much that month. 

What was the biggest hurdle to overcome in creating this issue?
There was a lot of reconciliation, sharing of responsibility and effort to get things right. Beyond being proud of the mag I was proud of how the staff approached it.  They insured and created a safe space for me to do my thing (not to say there weren’t a few head butting moments) but for the most part, everyone came together to make something great. 

What are some emotions that come up when you think about the title of “Only Black Man in Alaska?”
The “Only Black Man In Alaska” is a play on stereotypes. Whenever I tell someone I grew up in Alaska inevitably they go for the (drumroll please) “You must be the only Black Man in Alaska?” joke. I figure at this point I might as well own it. I loved growing up in Alaska. Moving there as a young child literally changed my life. So I felt it was an appropriate title for BTS on the shoot and my past.  For the cover shoot I suggested we have a BTS video team just covering the shoot process. This was a once in lifetime moment  having the first black professional snowboarder shot by the first black professional snowboard photographer. We should have it on video for posterity. The interview came  about spur of the moment.   Their editor Stan Leveille actually came through with some poignant questions for me and we shot it one take.  

The Daily Edit – Photographers Without Borders

- - The Daily Edit

Photographers Without Borders

CEO + Founder: Danielle Da Silva
Photographer: Keri Oberly

Photographers Without Borders will be talking with photographer Keri Oberly about standing in solidarity with the Gwich’in, her work with Patagonia, activism, and why she believes investing in people, relationships, and grassroots movements are going to save us. Tune in Tuesday, October 20th 10:00 am EST for the chat with Keri and CEO/photographer Danielle Da Silva.

Tickets are ‘pay what you can’ upon purchase, and all funds will go directly to support accessibility for our Storytelling School: Online program, specifically sponsoring BIPOC, Disabled, and LGBTQ+ individuals. Storytelling School: Online is an interactive online workshop to provide photographers with the tools and strategies to harness the power of storytelling and pivot their work online.

Photographers Without Borders is a collective of storytellers comprised of creatives coming together to support their community partners on volunteer assignments and inspire new generations of storytellers through PWB School and  other initiatives and resources.

Their mission is to make storytelling more accessible for communities around the world who are contributing to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and UNDRIP.  Classes are taught by CEO & Founder, Danielle Da Silva, photographers will learn how to use the power of storytelling to shift online – a critical skill in today’s uncertain times.

Bob Gilbert stands with his grandson, Victor, while looking for moose along the Junjik River outside Vashrąįį K’ǫǫ. The Gwich’in fear for the future of their children and grandchildren, if the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is opened to oil and gas development, they believe it will threaten the very existence and identity of their people. To the Gwich’in, wilderness is not luxury; it is a way of life.

In late summer, the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrates toward Northwest Canada for the winter. The herd has the longest land migration route of any land mammal on Earth, migrating over 1,500 miles a year between their winter range and the calving grounds on the coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Gwich’in call the coastal plains “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” (The Sacred Place Where Life Begins). They treat the animals and land with reverence, because without them, they would not survive.

Kelly Fields hangs strips of caribou for dry meat in her cache in Gwichyaa Zheh (Fort Yukon), Alaska. The caribou was sent down by a family member in Vashrąįį K’ǫǫ. Today, the Porcupine Caribou Herd only migrates through two of the fifteen Gwich’in villages. Many families will send caribou to family and friends in villages that don’t see caribou anymore.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, an 800-mile pipeline that transports oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska. The third richest state in the country, Alaska depends on one industry to fund its state spending, oil and gas. Since the price of oil has fallen considerably in recent years, the state is currently facing a $2.5 billion deficit. Republicans have been proposing to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development for decades. Each time it has come close it was denied by Democrats or vetoed by President Clinton. With a Republican held House and Senate, Senator Lisa Murkowski snuck into the tax bill, that President Trump signed into law, the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for industrial development. Aggressive steps have since been taken to fast track development; seismic testing is scheduled to start this winter. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the proposed drilling area contains 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil, an amount that will not have a large impact on world oil prices.

Portraits of Gwich’in and their allies by photographer Keri Oberly.

 

The Daily Edit – Modern Huntsman: Field Outrider

- - The Daily Edit

Wild PlacesMystery Ranch: To the ends of the earth and back, there are some amazing places out there, and we want to see them. Whether hunting, hiking, climbing, fishing, or just exploring with your dog, it’s often about being in the right place at the right time. Show us those moments in some of the wild places you’ve found.

Wildlife – Vortex – Fur, feathers, fins or fangs, we constantly draw inspiration from the wildlife around us, and leave us with unforgettable memories and lessons learned. Show us the moments of your closest encounters, narrow misses, or moments of connection.

The Pursuit the process of hunting – First Lite – Hunting is a process that sometimes yields a result, but it is the act of pursuing wild game that takes us to amazing places, tests our limits, and teaches us lessons. Show us your process of pursuing game, whether on land, sea or otherwise. The journey is the destination.

Harvest Hunting, fishing, agricultural – EPIC: Food gathered from the land. This could be wild game, fish, foraging, agricultural, or even viticultural. Food brings us together, and we want to see your interpretation of this.

Western Tecovas: Many have a fascination with the idea of “The West,” and while much of it lives in tall tales, legends, or days gone, some still live it everyday. Show us your version of what western means, whether past, present, or uncertain future.

Emerging – Less than 2 years of professional experience: Whether you’re a student or just getting started with less than two years of experience, we want to see your best work. While it doesn’t have to be one of the above categories, it would certainly be relevant to stick to them.

 

Art (paintings, illustration, mixed media, etc) – There are so many talented artists out there, but we’d like to see more of them. Whether painting, illustration, mixed media, digital art, or something else, we’d like to see it. While you don’t have to stick to the other category prompts, it certainly helps to keep it relevant to an outdoors theme.

Portraiture: Whether stranger from a faraway land, or a neighbor with an interesting past, we want to see the most interesting characters you’ve come across in your ventures. There is so much emotion and story that can be conveyed in a single portrait, and it’s an interesting exercise to try and read their emotions, intentions, and even their story. We want to see some storied faces and individuals here.

Audience Choice – our judges will pick 5 finalists from the entire pool, and we’ll give our audience/followers a chance to vote on who they want to win. We’ll be awarding the top 3 picks.

Modern Huntsman

Field Outrider
CEO + Editor in Chief: Tyler Sharp
Creative Director: Tito West

People often raise their eyebrows at photo contests, this one is different, this one is worth entering. You can submit your archival or current work in more than one of these unique categories. Field Outrider is offering more than acknowledgement, it’s an opportunity to also win paid assignments, have your work published in their beautifully printed magazine along with one on one portfolio reviews. In terms of judging contests there is nothing more exciting then to be surprised by an emerging photographer or someone who has a passion for the craft. Most professionals have every waking moment occupied with calls and screen time, work, child care; realize this is an opportunity to get your work in front of a broad range of people wanting to give back to the photo/creative community they believe in.

The Daily Edit – Modern Huntsmen: Field Outrider

- - The Daily Edit

Photographed by Jenn Judge
Photographed by Jenn Judge Photographed by Justin Moore

Photographed by Tito West

Modern Huntsman

Field Outrider
Creative Director: Tito West

Heidi: Why the contest? What are the benefits to the photo/art community and why now?
Tito: Since its inception, Modern Huntsman has always strived to give voice to those who have struggled to be heard. Most of our team comes from a long past of freelancing and we are all too familiar with the incredible difficulty that arises when trying to break into the world of professional photography, whether that’s commercial or editorial work or even a more artistic approach such as galleries or long form projects. More often than not, it boils down to luck or to a fortunate meeting of happenstance. This is all good and well except for the fact that there are more people than ever who are making truly original work; work that deserves to be seen, but through the cards of chance, they have remained unseen and their voices unheard. All of that being said, I’m not entirely opposed to the difficult path that photographers face at the outset of their careers. This is one of a few fields in which the difficulty of achieving success serves as a sort of weeding out process. It separates those who truly want to be here from the ones who only think they want to be here. As frustrating as that can be, it has served me well. In times of desperation or hopelessness I found renewed strength in the history of the medium and the legacy that has been passed down from the legends who came before us for our careers are made possible by the photographers who preceded us. I think this is what Umberto Eco meant when he wrote, “We are dwarfs, but dwarfs who stand on the shoulders of those giants, and small though we are, we sometimes manage to see farther on the horizon than they.”  However, there comes a point in the development of your artistic vision where the groundwork has been laid, the foundation is set and now it is time to venture out into the world and for your work to be seen. That venturing out is the most difficult step. So many photographers, artists, etc feel that they’re ready. They know they are, but the question remains…”How do I take that first step?” This is where “Field Outrider hopes to comes in.

What are your hopes and what do you want the community to know about you or this project?
This is not a competition in which our aim is to obtain an endless stream of “content”. In fact, that’s a word we are wholeheartedly uncomfortable with. Our primary focus is and always has been STORY. This is the heart and soul of Modern Huntsman. We have a goal here with this publication and that is to bring respect back to the printed editorial world; to reinstall print as an outlet for photographers who are making meaningful work. We cannot do this without a reliable and core roster of contributors; in short, we cannot do it without the people who are out in the world exploring the issues and the places that are the core focus of the stories we publish. However, Modern Huntsman is bigger than the stories we print in our publication. The PEOPLE who tell these stories are the lifeblood we depend upon and as such it is the people to whom we must provide support and access. Furthermore, “Field Outrider” is NOT a means of making money. Yes, we are charging a submission fee of $15, however, that money will go towards commissioning stories for the publication with the winners of each category. We have assembled an incredible team of judges, all of whom are donating their time and expertise out of a desire to give back to the photo community, a community that has given them so much. This is their way of paying it forward. Some are photographers themselves yes, but largely the judges are made up of individuals who actually have the power to put you to work, because as much as we all value feedback, what we really need is a chance, an opportunity to test ourselves in the arena. That is where careers are made. That is where photographers are born.

This competition serves a stepping stone in the larger, long-term mission of Modern Huntsman. What began in the spring of this year as an Instagram competition has evolved into this, a digital competition in which the winner’s photograph(s) will not only be published in print, but will result directly in a commission that we’ll publish, and drive attention to. Again, this is a stepping stone. It starts online, but ultimately our goal is to work towards in person seminars, workshops and portfolio reviews. But another big component of that is doing what we can to get more folks from different backgrounds involved in these discussions, and increase diversity amongst the perspectives we’re pulling from. While we’ve always sought this out, we’re taking larger steps here to get this opportunity out to more communities, as we think the future of conservation, land management, hunting and food sourcing will depend on having new voices involved in the conversation.

How did you come to this job?
I came onboard with Modern Huntsman as the Creative Director back in February of this year. I have known Tyler Sharp (the Editor and CEO) for about 6 years now and we have very similar career paths, from starting out in Texas to working in East Africa both as filmmakers and photographers. We’ve always stayed in touch and I was a part of the conversation regarding Modern Huntsman from the beginning, but I was still traveling extensively overseas at the time and very much involved in several ongoing projects. So we kind of tabled the conversation for a bit, all the while knowing that there would come a time when things would align and we’d be working together on this incredible thing he has built. That time finally came, and it was lucky to be right before lock down, as we were all able to focus on putting out great work with Volume Five, and trying to find ways to help other freelancers.

I am still very much a dedicated photographer myself and that is really my vocation, but this role as Creative Director allows me to work with other incredibly talented people from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds and it keeps me involved in the photo community which is really important to me. Once you’re bitten by this photography bug, you really don’t stand a chance. It will consume you in the best way possible and so to be able to work with these individuals, some of whom I have looked up to my entire career, really helps keep me fresh and informs my own work. It pushes me to be better and I can’t really ask for much more than that. It’s truly a privilege that I feel very fortunate to be a part of.

How does this all braid together for you (photography, design and storytelling)
Well for me, books are where the heart of the medium lies. I have a deep and abiding love for books – for all books, not just photography books and that’s exactly what we do at Modern Huntsman. It would be really hard to call what we make, a magazine, even though in essence that’s what it is. However, the quality of the work, the printing, the writing and design – they all make it more than this idea of what we imagine when we say magazine. It really is a softcover book. Over the years, I’ve learned to present my work differently and more intentionally and that requires an understanding of and an appreciation for design. While I am not a designer myself, I do study it and I try to pay attention to what the design is saying. I think as photographers we really have a responsibility to learn aspects of design that can help show the work in the way we want it to be received. I believe this is more important than it’s ever been. In fact, I really see the design as being the final component in putting these stories together, the previous two obviously being the writing and the photography. Each story warrants its own unique design approach in the exact same way that each story warrants a unique photographic vision. Again, I’m not a designer myself, but I do believe in being design literate. Ultimately, however, the design of each story and the publication as a whole falls to our incredibly talented Design Director, Elias Carlson, whom I met three years ago at the Collective Quarterly Portfolio Review in Chico Hot Springs, Montana hosted by Jesse Lenz of Charcoal Book Club. Elias and I have stayed in touch over the years and so it’s been really incredible to see how these early relationships, at the outset of my career, have informed the later stages of my working life and how our paths seem to converge when the timing is right.

Lastly, from a storytelling standpoint I think editorial outlets are historically, with the exception of maybe books, a photographer’s preferred outlet. Unfortunately, these have largely disappeared over the years and of the few that do remain, it can be incredibly difficult for a photographer to begin a working relationship. The goal for Modern Huntsman is to bring that back to the forefront of possible outlets for working professional photographers as well as to open that door to talented young photographers who are just beginning their careers.

How does this model of guaranteed work serve as a benefit and community builder?
I have participated in a number of photo workshops, portfolio reviews and competitions and many of them have been great experiences, while others were not. Some of them have been free as a result of corporate sponsorships and others have required a significant out of pocket expense, something most aspiring photographers cannot afford. At the end of the day, what photographers need is work. Critiques are important, and feedback can be inspiring or informative, but work is the lifeblood of the photographer and it’s the work that we need in order to survive. That’s our goal with all of this, to put talented photographers and creatives to work, while at the same time expanding the diversity of voices in the conversations surrounding the hunting, angling, and outdoors communities. Being that we were all freelancers before and know how hard it is, we created this to try and be something that is meaningful, beneficial and supportive of photographers and artists. We tried to think about what opportunities we would’ve loved to have back then, and think this does that justice. It’s been a hard year for a lot of people, and while we certainly wish we could do more, this is our effort to really step up and try to create some positive momentum and paid work for photographers who need it. Again, we can’t thank you enough for being a part of this and helping share more about what we’re trying to do here. We truly hope that we’ll get lots of work sent in and be able to create some incredible stories with the winners!

The Daily Edit – Max Whittaker

- - The Daily Edit

BERRY CREEK, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 9, 2020: The small town of Berry Creek, California which was destroyed by the Bear Fire, part of the North Complex Fire, on September 9, 2020. The North Complex Fire has burned 254,000 acres. 

FEATHER FALLS, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 9, 2020: A tree burns in the Bear Fire, part of the North Complex Fire, on September 9, 2020 in Feather Falls, California. The North Complex Fire has burned 254,000 acres. 

BERRY CREEK, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 10, 2020: National Guard soldiers cut a fire line on the West Zone fire, formerly the Bear Fire, part of the North Complex Fire, on September 10, 2020 near Feather Falls, California. The North Complex Fire has burned 244,000 acres and killed ten people. 

BERRY CREEK, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 10, 2020: National Guard soldiers cut a fire line on the West Zone fire, formerly the Bear Fire, part of the North Complex Fire, on September 10, 2020 near Feather Falls, California. The North Complex Fire has burned 244,000 acres and killed ten people. 

VACAVILLE, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 19, 2020: Justin Haan wipes his face while putting out spot fires ahead of a wildfire to save his in law’s home in Vacaville, California on August 19, 2020. The LNC Lightning Complex fire has burned over 32,000 acres. 

HEALDSBURG, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 22, 2020: The Delta Conservation Crew, made up of inmate firefighters, takes a break from clearing a fire line on the Walbridge Fire, part of the LNU Lightning Complex, in Healdsburg, California on August 23, 2020. The LNU Lightning Complex fire has burned 341,243 acres and destroyed at least 560 structures. 

HEALDSBURG, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 22, 2020: The Delta Conservation Crew, made up of inmate firefighters, takes a break while hiking out from clearing a fire line on the Walbridge Fire, part of the LNU Lightning Complex, in Healdsburg, California on August 23, 2020. The LNU Lightning Complex fire has burned 341,243 acres and destroyed at least 560 structures. 

FAIRFIELD, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 19, 2020: Fairfield firefighter Rex Dorrough burns a hillside to protect a neighborhood from the LNU Lightning Complex as deer flee the flames in Fairfield, California on August 19, 2020. The LNU Lightning Complex fire has burned over 125,000 acres. 

POPE VALLEY, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 20, 2020: Neighbors help protect a home from the LNU Lightning Complex fire in Pope Valley, California on August 20, 2020. The LNU Lightning Complex fire has burned 215,000 acres and destroyed at least 480 structures. 

SPANISH FLAT, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 25, 2020: Andrea Shumate comforts her husband, Josh Shumate, as he sifts through the remains of his grandmother’s home at the Spanish Flat Mobile Villa, which was destroyed by the Hennessy Fire, part of the LNU Lightning Complex, in Spanish Flat, California on August 25, 2020. 

NYTWILDFIRES BERRY CREEK, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 10, 2020: A forest burned by the West Zone Fire, part of the North Complex Fire, on September 12, 2020 near Berry Creek, California. The North Complex Fire has burned 254,000 acres. 

VACAVILLE, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 19, 2020: Dan Frank calls 911 as his garage and neighbor’s home burns in Vacaville, California on August 19, 2020. The LNC Lightning Complex fire has burned over 32,000 acres. 

VACAVILLE, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 19, 2020: Deer flee a wildfire in Vacaville, California on August 19, 2020. The LNC Lightning Complex fire has burned over 32,000 acres. 

VACAVILLE, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 19, 2020: A firefighter tries to burn out some weeds ahead of a wildfire in Vacaville, California on August 19, 2020. The LNC Lightning Complex fire has burned over 32,000 acres. 


Max Whittaker

instagram

Heidi: You’ve been covering wildfires for the past 19 years, what made this season different?
Max: This season is different because we’ve had so many large, destructive fires so early in the season. We’re just entering the meat of the fire season, which typically only gets going in Southern California in the fall with the Santa Ana winds. California has already had more acres burn in 2020 than any other year, and the fire season isn’t close to being over.

Looking back over those years, what were some pitval moments?
However, I think it’s important to look back a bit further. When I first started covering wildfires in the early 2000s, they were primarily in forests, away from population centers. Isolated homes and small, rural communities would be threatened, but it was still primarily something that happened deep in the forest, typically on public land. Gradually, the fires began to move more quickly and explosively, driven by high winds, high temperatures and dry fuel, and threaten more and larger communities more frequently. The real eye-opener was the Tubbs Fire in 2017. Driven by high winds, the fire jumped six lanes of Highway 101 and burned the very suburban neighborhood of Coffey Park in Santa Rosa, destroying 2,900 homes. Since then, the Carr Fire in Redding and the Camp Fire in Paradise in 2018, continue this trend of wildfires increasingly burning into residential neighborhoods.

How did your love of National Parks influence your work?
I grew up camping, backpacking, climbing and skiing. I still remember the first time I saw the Tetons and later on the same trip, taking my first photo of a buffalo charging, blurred by my mom yanking me back into the car. Our family still spends two weeks every summer exploring National Parks and public lands. I think my love for wild places colors everything about my photography. It’s so inextricably part of me, that I’m not sure it can be separated from me and how I view the world. I feel most comfortable in wild places and more empathetic to those who live and work on the land. I hope that shows in my work.

What type of “training” do you do to stay ready in the off chance you’re out all night?
Honestly, I don’t think there’s much training that helps with sleep deprivation other than get a good night’s rest when you can. That said, I’ve gotten assignments on very short notice that involve a decent amount of physical fitness (in 2019 I climbed Aconcagua for an assignment with two weeks notice), so I do my best to stay in shape despite my ever-varying work schedule and life demands. I’m a firm believer that being in decent shape helps out in all kinds of ways – even if it is just a week or two of sitting in planes and cars, like many assignments.

What drove you to break the rule of staying close to your car for this assignment?
I left my car behind for the day I spent documenting the effects of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire on Big Basin Redwoods State Park mainly because the active fire had passed and the area was just smoldering. Since the area had already burned, it was in many ways safer than areas that hadn’t. Nothing is without risk, but this seemed like a reasonable risk to document the damage to the park and that was the only way to do it with the downed trees blocking the road. In hindsight, I’d underestimated the danger of falling limbs and trees. That’s something I’ll consider more carefully in similar situations in the future.

What type of respect for nature comes from doing this work?
With people there’s negotiation, with nature it’s more observation and keen awareness of the moment, situational awareness….

Fire is natural. It’s a natural part of our ecosystem that’s gone haywire from man’s effect on the landscape and climate. To see fire eat and charge its way through brush, trees and homes is to engender massive respect for the power of nature. You need to be always watching, looking behind you and making sure your escape path is still clear and your vehicle isn’t endangered. But over the years it’s gradually had another effect on me: to view forests as ever-changing organisms, not as a museum exhibit frozen in place for our viewing pleasure. Typically, as humans we can only see a forest or landscape change over a lifetime of observation, a wildfire changes things in minutes or hours. It’s always cool to go back to a burned area the next spring, and see just a few months later how much green growth there is after the winter rains.

I’m no firefighter or scientist, but I have learned to distinguish between the creeping fire that burns brush, deadfall and the understory; and the cataclysmic infernos we’ve seen more of recently, that completely nuke the landscape and leave nothing alive.

How much do you interact with the firefighters and what kind of earned trust is developed?
It’s rare for me to spend more than a few hours with a firefighting crew. I always show respect by asking permission to photograph them, and they’re almost always friendly and very accomodating. If it’s slow, they’re often hungry to chat with someone outside of their crew as they’re often out for weeks at a time, going from one fire to the next. I’m wearing the same PPE they are, do my best to stay out of their way and not become a liability. I think they appreciate that.

Above all, I’ve gained massive respect for firefighters. Being a wildland firefighter is incredibly demanding, physical work. Hand crews hike miles through rugged terrain during the hottest months, lugging hand tools, chainsaws and fuel, all while wearing thick, fireproof nomex clothing. Then they carve a fire line through impenetrable brush and trees, officially working 24 hours straight, but often much longer. They’ll often do this for months at a time, away from their families, who are often living in the very wildland urban interface they’re working to protect.

Do you show your daughter your images?
My eight-year-old daughter has seen my wildfire images in passing. I don’t make a big deal about them and she rarely asks about them. She’s usually just excited I’m home and wants me to play dolls or Legos with her. But my experiences do lead to a more informed discussion when we do come across a burn scar while out hiking.

What are the lessons that these fires teach you, or what is it a reminder of?
I’ve learned lots during my years covering wildfires, but most importantly, I’ve learned how much of an effect man is having on our environment. Although well-intentioned, our decades of fire suppression has only increased the number of catastrophic fires. With one record-breaking fire season after another, the effects of climate change transcends statistics and is plainly evident in the ashes of our forests and communities.

The Daily Edit – The Portrait Project: Priscilla Gragg

- - The Daily Edit

The Portrait Project

Photographer: Priscilla Gragg
Instagram
Project Instagram

Heidi: You started this in 2016, how has it evolved over the years?
Priscilla: Yes, it has evolved a lot! From lighting to color palette to the creatives that get involved, each year it gets better and better! It is always so fun to see the project come to life. Our first year was just me, hair and make-up and wardrobe stylist. Last year, aside from the crew that works on the photo shoot and get the kids ready, we had vendors coming in and collaborating with goodies for a tote bag for families. Other vendors brought in fun toys, books, accessories that families could shop around while kiddos were having their photos taken. I love supporting local businesses so bringing them in to be a part of our photo shoot was a no brainer! This year due to Covid the experience will be a bit different as we will be minimizing time on set and number of people.

Aside from your love of photography, what other emotions come from a project like this?
I believe that when people get together to do something for the good, there is a certain energy that happens and it is hard to explain. It is like magic. Usually when I am on a photo shoot, I have certain goals to achieve in order to help communicate my client’s message. There are lots of meetings, talks and planning about mood, feel, crops, spacing for type, etc. For The Portrait Project my only goal is to get the very essence of my little subjects. It is honest, organic, it is the simple action of capture who they are. Then the profits from the sessions go directly to purchasing children in need toys during the holidays. The idea of using my photography skills to give back to the community is overwhelming. To me, it is a simple thing to do, to the parents it means so much and to the children receiving the toys, I have no words! I have done lots of monetary donations to different organizations and different needs, however, the feeling of rolling up your sleeves and using this one talent you have to help someone you have never met and never will is truly amazing to me.

How did you overcome the Covid this year?
There was a lot of adapting. It has been a very humbling experience from the photography/business perspective. I was used to always working with a big crew of talented people and all of the sudden, I was wearing many hats: steaming clothes, prepping hair and skin, changing them, setting up lights, shooting and wrangling; then editing, prepping, organizing and sharing files. Finally, packing up clothes and dropping them off at the post office to be returned. That’s at least 5-6 different roles on set! I have always appreciated my photo and production crew but now I have a different level of respect for them! Things are changing these days and we can shoot with smaller crews while keeping it safe;I am truly excited for that! And for The Portrait Project, we are keeping a bare minimal of people on set: 1 family per 30 min. This gives us some time to disinfect in between sessions. Everyone is required to wear a mask and the kids get to take them off for photo time only. Parents will get to prep the kids, and they should arrive camera ready. All images will be selected by parents at a later time via Zoom call to minimize time on set. It is all a big adjustment but with a little creativity and hard work it can be done safely.

Why did you start this project? 
I grew up in Brazil and lived in a neighborhood that had shawty towns all around. During the holidays, my dad – who did not have much at all, would go purchase a few simple toys that me and my sisters helped deliver to the children at the shawty towns. Seeing the happy faces of those kids is something that stayed with me my whole life. I have two children of my own now and they are lucky that most of their holiday wishes come true, but I need them to be aware of the fact that is it not the case to every child. By creating TPP, it is my way to give back and plant that seed of hope that our girls will one day do the same. I also make sure to communicate with the families that come for The Portrait Project about how important it is for their children to understand how they are helping with the donations by participating in this project.

If someone wants to book a session or volunteer, how can they find out more? 
Booking a session is tricky because it sells out quickly, like last year within 5 minutes after going live. So the best way to know when they will be live and ready for purchase is by subscribing to our newsletter over at casastudiophoto.com . For volunteering please email studio@priscillagragg.com

What have you learned about yourself and your work by doing this project? 
That when you pour your heart into a project that is meaningful to you, it truly resonates with people. I have countless clients that came to me because they saw images or videos shot for The Portrait Project.

The Daily Edit – American Window: Ethan Pines

- - The Daily Edit

Pictured: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Pictured: thermal pools and mineral deposits, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

RV road trip with family and friends through Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Utah, July 2020.

PIctured: buffalo, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

PIctured: Eddie Mitchell, store owner, 74, Greybull, Wyoming.

PIctured: Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota.

Pictured: Old Trail Town, Cody, Wyoming.

Pictured: streetscape, Greybull, Wyoming.

PIctured: Rocky Mountain goat along the highway, Glacier National Park, Montana.

Pictured: deer at a sawmill along the road.

PIctured: Mount Rushmore, as seen from the highway, South Dakota.

PIctured: buffalo crossing the road, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.


Ethan Pines: American Window

Heidi: How did this project start, and why?
Ethan: After being housebound for months, we and another family — along with much of the country — decided to take a summer road trip. We rented an RV, packed it to the gills (my camera bags lived in the shower) and headed out with few reservations and a loose 4,500-mile route through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Utah.

The project started on Day 2 of the trip. Before that morning, I didn’t know what I’d be seeing or how meaningful it might be. Waking up in a small town in Nevada, which was only a brief stop on the way to Idaho, I realized that we’d be seeing some special places and moments, both on and off the beaten path. And as I started looking at everything not just as a traveler but in a more studied, photographic way, I started seeing vignettes and juxtapositions that struck me. There’s a lot out there, especially in the areas of the country that haven’t been heavily commercialized.

What struck you about this personal project and why were you proud of it?
I was itching to shoot something personal and meaningful. It’s always important to shoot personal work, but this summer it felt especially rewarding to be creating fresh, self-guided work. I was doing something for myself. I was creating images I wanted to share. And I felt like a hunter — hyper aware, watching for those moments, shooting with intention, working the moments and juxtapositions until I had something. Hopefully they resonate with others.

I’m proud of everything I put out there. In this case, I felt like I was capturing not just what we saw, but what it was like. I also feel like I pushed myself in terms of visual mood and language. While my commercial work tends to have pop and contrast and clean color, here I worked with exposure and color grading and reduced contrast to bring out more mood, tone, emotional range. The restrained highlights and slightly chalky blacks also generate a painterly feel. I’m putting up a new fine-art website, and I’m going to launch it with selects from this project. But the series is a photo essay and should be seen as a whole.

What was it like traveling with your newborn?
It was the best. Moxie would babble and pant excitedly every time we strapped her to our chests and left the RV to see new places and people. Of course a nine-month-old takes work, and it certainly disrupted her sleep training. But whom you travel with is as important as where you travel to, and she was a sunny, funny travel companion.

Was your child a catalyst for this observation out the window?
I wouldn’t say she was a catalyst for the observation; more of a limiter, in a good way. Having a child with limited patience — in fact, two entire families with limited patience — forced me to look keenly, choose wisely and shoot selectively. I also shot 95 percent of the series on medium format (Leaf Credo 60 on an H4x), which is a slower, more deliberate way of working than 35mm. I love the big viewfinder and sensor, the aspect ratio, the color, the depth, everything about that setup.

What window did you photograph from?
Very little of the series was actually shot through a window. I was in and out of the RV all the time. As I thought about how to title the project, I wanted to convey not only that it emerged from a road trip, but that it offered a view of this country, a series of vignettes that show something about the U.S. American Window seems to carry that. There’s metaphor in a window. It’s a view, an opening, a portal through which lies something more. It offers a framed glimpse into what’s out there.

What do you hope Moxie would learn from these images?
Don’t judge; there are good people everywhere. Use asymmetry and imbalance in your compositions. Remember to include context. Stop and get that burger and fries. Shoot the odd moments and scenes that don’t really seem like photographs at first. Get out of the car and position yourself where you need to be. This country isn’t all one way or the other. Look deeply when you can. Think about what you’re seeing. Why is it that way? How did it get here? Look at things twice, even three times. Use your photography to illuminate. There’s beauty in things that aren’t beautiful.

The Daily Edit – Sajid Wajid

- - The Daily Edit

Sajid Wajid

Heidi: Your graphic design, painting, and drawing work have now evolved into motion, why the evolution?
Sajid: Evolution is because I am more interested in designing the process as a game to be played and the resulting work is a byproduct of it and with each play, I get more and more at ease with the game, allowing me to enter a state of flow.

The point is to take it to a level where you don’t have to force anything and let it happen on its own. Allowing the impulse to just nudge you into the action of getting the work done. Furthermore to explore the horizons of my consciousness, which are shared.

The line from Waking Life defines it more appropriately: The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure while always arriving. It saves on introductions and goodbyes. The ride does not require an explanation – just occupants. That’s where you guys (the audience) come in.


How has this forced repose inspired you to revisit the everyday objects?
I look at it more in the sense of combining the minimalist philosophies to surrealism, where the object is celebrated for its objecthood and given a spin with a surreal idea. The more you look at the object itself the object tends to reveal more than meets the eye. I also am not taking responsibility to explain the work, as it’s more to do with the concept, not the aesthetics, which opens the room for interpretations. Allowing the images to tickle the brain, inviting people to read the visuals, and make their own reasons, making it more interactive.



How are you making these videos?

I am making them currently on my phone cam with natural light and a white elephant size white paper for the backdrop. I am keeping the aesthetic minimal to make the objects appear in a limbo, completely devoid of any distractions, and allowing the eye to jump straight to the point. I am getting really interested in the videos as it opens room for performance-art as well which is why I am planning to shift to a smaller town in a bigger studio to experiment with scale.

You are taking everyday objects and observing something, how do you know when it is time to create a piece?
Being aware is the key. Familiar objects tend to hit a road-block in their perceived understanding. This gives a solid base to push it just a little to challenge that notion attached with the object, it just needs a very small degree of push to shatter the perceived understanding and once you are able to convince someone of this you can work towards changing the perspective.

I work on impulse and a strong belief in intention. So I can cause things to happen if I intend to, it’s just like rolling the dice. What you get is not certain but the only certainty is that you will get something, and one must be content with what he finds when the dice lands. Welcoming everything with arms wide open and no judgment is the point. In other words, the only lock one cannot open is the one that does not exist.


How many days did it take to create this piece? What was the concept?

I confinded myself for a week in this room to draw on each and every corner. The concept was to design an experience which allows the viewer to look inside my head, the grey matter and the things that happen inside the grey matter, and allowing me to look inwards and bring things to life as a process of meditative drawings.

The project was a pure celebration of moving forward and making and not looking back letting me glimpse into the vast ocean of my subconscious. I remember drawing in pitch dark as there was no need for me to see what I am drawing, liberating me of the confinements of the canvas as I was able to draw anywhere and everywhere possible.

What can you share about this piece? Where was this painted and how long did it take?
I painted it on the stairway to my building’s terrace; I am in the midst of moving my studio from here to a smaller town. I thought it would be a goodbye piece to the building. An intentional mark for people to see and ponder who did this? This piece took me about an hour to finish with a stencil and spray cans.

Was it inspired by this/your journals/is this a continuous line?
Yes, the lines are not continuous but are a result of making one thing as much as I can. Repetition is something I find really interesting.

Do you journal with words or only images?
I journal with both words and Images. I make as if my hand is dreaming and when I am in the process I come across motifs and compositions which make me wonder and that’s when the writing happens. I am tapping into a flow writing.

The Daily Edit – Samant Chauhan: Fashion Designer, Photographer

- - The Daily Edit

The Egg. The memory. The people.

Fashion Designer + Photographer: Samant Chauhan
Instagram


Heidi: When did you start this series?

Samant: The first egg I flipped on the first day of the lockdown was an act of imitation.

Why did you choose eggs?
My father would flip the egg perfectly when he would make omelettes for us in a small town where we lived back then. Egg was a treat in those days. It wasn’t everyday that we had eggs for breakfast. In fact, my mother could never flip the egg the way my father would. And over the years, I forgot about that art he had mastered. Lockdown meant a role reversal. A total overhaul, a complete reimagination of things, of life itself.

What did this lockdown project represent for you?
I was going to do everything on my own and it started with the flipping of an egg. The first egg I made was an ode to that memory. In silence and isolation, memories become a guidebook. I remember having stitched a school bag, having painted the walls of my house, and a lot of other things I had given up because I was chasing other dreams and ambitions. It might sound trivial but I decided to make eggs every morning as an ode to people who made them for me, including lovers, friends and family and even random strangers.

Why breakfast?
The first meal of the day is a significant one and for me, it would be an exercise in memory, a way of paying homage to little acts of love, of camaraderie, of togetherness. So over three weeks, I conjured the memories of those mornings and those breakfasts and strangely enough, some of the people recognised the eggs and wrote to me. And that was it. A revisitation of sorts when you are alone and you want to hold on to people. The breakfasts became a ritual for me in the lockdown. I would make the egg, decorate the plate and capture it.

How did this honor your father?
And it all started with the first egg I flipped and I could flip it the way my father would. It was pure joy because for a son, the act of growing up culminates when he can be like his father. And for me, it came with the flipping of an egg. Like he did in that house of love where we learned to be with each other. That’s how it started. The egg. The memory. The people.

The Daily Edit – KR Sunil: Vanishing Home

- - The Daily Edit



Photographer:
KR Sunil

Home (Images 1,2,3) 
Vanishing Life Worlds (4,5,6)
Manchukkar: The Seafarers of Malabar (7,8,9)

Heidi: How did this idea of “Home” come about, which was your first image, how did that inform the series? How long has it taken to photograph this body of work?
KR Sunil:  I hail from Kodungallur (the ancient harbour town Muziris which was a significant presence in India’s port towns and trading history). So I have grown up closely related to the coastal life in this historical region. As a photographer, I have spent a considerable number of years with various series related to the sea.

The idea for this particular series (‘Home’) occurred to me following an incident while I was working on the ‘Vanishing Life Worlds’ series in Ponnani (another port town). I photographed a thatched home of a young girl by the sea, which was on the verge of collapsing. On circulating this photo, few friends and well-wishers stepped up to rebuild this home for the girl. And they did too! But unfortunately, the renewed home too collapsed under the force of the tides in some time. This was the inception of the series for me, as I began to observe a growing number of desolated homes by the coast. For me, what struck was how hard-hitting this was for the people, as ‘home’ is a deep sentiment for them; it is much more than a shelter. For many, it is a lifetime’s endeavor to build a home. It is literally a dream come true for them. Also, for a close-knit community as theirs, the concept of home extends to the whole environment they live in. There are neighbourhoods, religious places they frequent and a camaraderie that they have to leave behind when the sea takes over. This encroachment by sea can be attributed to worldwide climate change and phenomena like global warming. But the unfair part of it is that these communities barely contribute to causing these. In fact, they are a community that holds utmost regard and respect for nature, to the extent of calling the sea ‘kadalamma’, which translates to ‘mother sea’. Yet, they’re forced out of their own homes by the same sea. This has been a growing effect in recent years, especially in the coastal regions of Kerala, which includes my hometown too.

Do you know any of the homeowners affected by this climate event, or do you know where they migrated to?
I have known a few of the families that were forced out in recent years. Not personally up close, but I would’ve seen them during my visits and walks to their localities. Now only remnants of their homes are seen there. They have been dispersed to different places – near and far, but safer. They have to then spend uncertain number of days (many of them in rented houses), pondering about the home and community they have had to leave behind. As far as they are concerned, this shift to a safer place is not a resolution; they are only left with an angst about their home.

What draws you to the sea?
I have spent a good part of the last 5-6 years on various series related to the sea. ‘Vanishing Life Worlds’ was a photographic series based on the lives of people at Ponnani, an old harbour town in Malabar coast. It was exhibited at the Kochi Muziris Biennale in the year 2016. SImilarly, ‘Mattancherry’ was a series about life at another port town Mattancherry in Kochi. Then there was a series on the last surviving group of seafarers of Malabar, titled ‘Manchukkar – The Seafarers of Malabar’. This text-and-photographic series narrated the stories of men who worked in traditional dhow (or uru) and endured painstaking lives. Another series is in development right now, which follows the life of performers of Chavittunadakam, a dying artform that survived through the coastal community.

So to answer you, I’d like to point out that it’s not the sea that draws me, but rather it is the lives related to the sea that drives me.
Port towns have a unique history of having welcomed and accommodated people from all parts of the world. The people of these towns get a better sense of the world, thanks to the visitors. This has defined a broad-minded trait in these people about life, which I believe is universal for coastal or port town communities. For instance, while visiting the port town of Ponnani, I came across Abubacker, who I’d describe as one of the finest personalities I have ever met. Operating from an abandoned go-down facility, he sources and gives out free medicines to the needy – medicines worth thousands of Rupees on a daily basis! And this, without seeking any recognition or returns. In the same town I have met people with varied traits and vocations. Like Asees, who was a pick-pocket but known and familiar to everyone in the region. (Sharing a video by Kochi Muziris Biennale featuring these personalities, for reference –

 

I always found these people fascinating – they even have a glow on their face which I believe is attributed to their positive approach about life. So these lives appeal to me rather than the sea itself…

For “The Seafarers of Malabar” how much time did you spend with each subject prior to bringing out the camera?
The series occurred to me in a rather coincidental manner. I used to frequent the port town of Ponnani and interact with the people there. On one occasion, I came across Ibrahim, a very elderly man, who was singing a folklore about life at sea. I was intrigued by his rendition and listened to him for some time. When I started talking to him, I realised he was a seafarer in his youth. The more I spoke with him, the more fascinating his story grew into. He used to work in the traditional uru (or dhow ships) that carried out trading between port towns. He had spent his prime travelling around the world! I couldn’t have been more excited. He ended up inviting me to his home, where we sat and talked for quite a while. His home could not have been more basic, barely accommodating his own lonesome life. This man had travelled around the world, but his humble home and living conditions reflected nothing about his experiences. There, sitting in that tiny space, he was describing the great endless seas and journeys he had been part of.  He narrated adversities, facing death and escaping it – he had even survived a shipwreck, clinging on to a wooden log for two days in the sea!

Was there a common thread for you during these portrait sessions?
A whole new chapter of coastal life was opening up for me right there. He spoke of his fellow seafarers; many of them had passed on and the rest were struggling with a difficult old age. I was compelled to pursue the story and these lives, because theirs was an untold story. There were celebrated stories of travellers, traders and explorers who may have ridden the same ships as them, but the story of such common labourers and their hardships had never been documented or told. Even for me, it was a fortunate coincidence that had opened this avenue. From meeting this lone seafarer, I ended up tracing up to 35 of the surviving lot – each of them with unique stories, mostly of hardships.

How did you build and earn trust?
I spent a considerable amount of time interacting with them. In fact, a few years passed while I continuously met them and discussed their stories. This meant we had gotten accustomed to each other with a cordial rapport over time. The portraits were in fact taken during those conversations, as and when I felt the time was right. So it was all an organic process…mostly with a human-to-human basis, rather than a photographer-to-subject one.

What compels you to share their stories?
I felt compelled to bring their stories to light mostly because they were untold. Like I mentioned, stories of sailors and traders were celebrated worldwide. Even a single journey to a far off land was sometimes lauded as discoveries and achievements. But the labourers spent a lifetime making the same journeys and enduring a much higher degree of hardships. But being labourers or common men, their lives were neither pursued by historians or researchers, nor did they have the voice and ability to speak out their parts. This was typical of the working class in any part of the world, in any industry. I happened to come across their lives by chance, but I always felt advocative about the stories of such subjugated, marginalized lives in society. The coastal life as a whole had this general trait, which is the reason I was always inclined to retell their stories.

How have you been creatively engaged during these unruly and isolated times of the pandemic?
The lockdown came with a lot of travel restrictions. But I have been able to visit the coastal strips and photograph the effects of monsoon there. The time has helped me develop the ‘Home’ series.

The Daily Edit – Bhagvati Khalsa: Pattern Plotting

- - The Daily Edit

Pattern Plotting

 

Photographer: Bhagvati Khalsa
Ceramic work

Heidi: Has photography always been a part of your creative life?
Bhagvati: Yes, very much so. Photos play a big role in my work as an apparel and textile designer, I use photography to storyboard my ideas, identify concepts and visually communicate the direction I am headed. My love of photography started early; I was the yearbook photographer for my high school where I learned to print in the darkroom. I loved the control and artistic understanding that it gave me to go beyond just creating an image, but also to express a specific feeling. Photography also gives me a good excuse to get out, be in the world and document all it’s amazingness.

When did this idea of pattern plotting come together?
While living in Denver I was taking daily walks at a local park. I had been making photos and paintings of clustered items for a long time.  On these walks, passing the same spots daily I started seeing how the patterns in plants changed with different lighting. It made me start to think more about how lightning affects structure.  By playing with the light in the editing process my images started to feel more akin to patterns rather than a representational photograph. The border around the images helped with a cut-off point giving ambiguity to the subject.

Why B/W?
By taking out the color from my images, it allows me to focus on the structure of the form and they can be more easily manipulated without having to also consider color. I am also influenced by 19th century German photographer Karl Blossfeldt. His microscopic plant-based images feel so architectural and perfectly toned.

How long has this series been going and what are your plans for it?
The idea for #patternplotting started in 2013 as a series on Instagram, and for the last 5 or 6 years I’ve printed a calendar from selected images made during that year.  I am not sure what the future holds, but the excitement that I get when I see the perfect lighting, or a cluster of objects compels me to photograph it, and in turn, the series continues. There have been requests for a book, but we shall see.

Did you start that hashtag #patternplotting? 
Yes, on Instagram.  The early adopters of Instagram had a big influence as there were a lot of artist and photographers that were using the platform as a place for creative expression, and I wanted to do the same. So, finding a hashtag that I could claim felt important. After a long while of being the only one who used it, I started to see people posting pictures with a similar aesthetic and the same hashtag. This gave me an interesting sensation knowing that the combination of those words was ringing true with others. To this day I have people send me pictures of things that they have seen that make them see the world through #patternplotting eyes.

How do these patterns inform other creative efforts in your life?
For me patterns are about systems, process and a sense of order. I recently had a show that was called “Meanderings” and it was a combination of both oil painting and ceramics. The paintings were all based on moving water and were sketched from life.  They were titled “choppy”, “stormy”, “crashing” and “flowing”, but instead of photographs like in #patternplotting I used my observations and sense order to find and plot the patterns from memory.

As for the ceramics all the forms had something circular in nature.  One particular piece I made was called “move me”. It was a big table filled with sand, there were four shapes but in multiplicity.  The idea was that the people could come in and rearrange the objects and make whatever type of patterns or order they wanted.  Observing the different sense of order that each person brought to the piece, in a way moved me. It moved my sense of order and expanded it.

 

The Daily Edit – Revolver: Kevin Scanlon

- - The Daily Edit

Revolver

Creative Director: Jimmy Hubbard
Design Director: Todd Weinberger
Sammi Chichester: Managing Editor
Photographer: Kevin Scanlon

Heidi: How did the project evolve?
Kevin: Jimmy Hubbard called me last summer and asked me to shoot High On Fire, a stoner-metal three-piece band with legendary musician Matt Pike at the helm.  The assignment was to shoot group and individual portraits in studio, and reportage imagery of the band prepping and sound-checking for a music fest in Las Vegas. This is my favorite kind of assignment.

What do you like about these types of assignments?
The controlled conditions of studio portraiture, and the run-and-gun of reportage.  The sound check was in the morning.  Tuning drums, changing bass strings, testing mics.  One of the best things about sound checks is the freedom I have to move around on stage while they’re playing songs.  I can’t do that during a concert.  It’s a more casual atmosphere, to be sure.

What makes the sound check different from a live show?
Musicians aren’t sweating, smoke and lighting isn’t as dramatic, the fans aren’t there.  But with High On Fire, the performance at that sound check was as authentic and energetic as a live performance of most other bands.  So being on stage, amongst the band, feet away from them, it was incredibly exciting.  Wrap sound check, load into the studio.

What type of cover direction did you get from the magazine?
Jimmy wanted portraits that considered the legacy of Matt Pike for the cover.  Stoic and introspective.  I went with simplicity for a lighting approach.  Trees for the background and an Elinchrom octabank key.  I had a smaller umbrella on standby for a fill, but I didn’t want it.  I shot mostly digital, but I spent a few rolls of film too.

Tell us about the shooting film.
I’d been bringing film cameras to set in recent years.  Hasselblad 500c or Fuji 680.  In most cases, the client opted for the digital images, relegating the films shots for after-the-fact darkroom adventures.  But Jimmy and the team at Revolver wanted one of the film shots…and they wanted it for the cover.  My first thought was the deadline.  As photographers know, it’s one thing to quickly turn around a digital shot.  But a darkroom print?  Maybe not so easy.  For safety, I had the shot scanned at Vista CRC in Manhattan.  That way the Revolver team could start designing the cover with a hi-res image. Then, off to Bushwick Darkroom to print.  I spent the day printing straight prints, and also variations using solarization techniques.  In the end, Revolver went for a clean look for the cover.

The Daily Edit – Cedric Terrell

- - The Daily Edit

Cedric Terrell

Heidi: Why did you create that series, Marwang?
Cedric: Last fall I set out to capture the beauty and diversity of black skin, which is poorly represented and rarely celebrated in mainstream media. I wanted to create a project focused specifically on that. I’d worked previously with another model with a rich dark complexion and Marwang was on the same roster and riveted my attention. The conversation during our shoot was insightful; I was curious to know what kind of projects he typically worked on and whether the industry really understood how to represent models like him. And it was clear that the industry needed to do more. To do more than treating black representation as a trend. It was a reminder to me that this work was important.

What was your creative vision, I know you styled and also cast this project?
For this project I was drawn to the idea of contrast, so I pulled white and reflective wardrobe for the studio shots. I offered some direction for him to be physically expressive, and he responded by dancing. His movement through the light made each shot different. For the naturally lit images I actually used an ND filter to create a more dynamic image and really draw on the richness of his skin. 

How did your photo career begin?

I took up photography as a way to share my journeys abroad with family and friends back home in the states during my time as an active duty Marine in China, El Salvador, and Morocco. But it also became a creative outlet in an otherwise restrictive environment; I felt freedom behind the lens. The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy was still in place during my time on active duty, and photography gave a true voice and allowed me to fully express myself in at least this one part of my life. The camera gave me a home and grounding when everything around me was foreign and temporary. Putting a lens between me and the people I encountered actually brought me closer to them. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that I could make a career out of it. So I taught myself technical skills and started to build a portfolio.

What was the catalyst for your start abroad?
My time in the Marines ignited in me a passion for experiencing the world. I documented everything; cultural sites and heads of state to local people in remote villages. I was constantly learning, absorbing, and inspired by the beauty of life and captured every detail. After establishing myself as a photographer I was eager to use my skills to build an international presence. The work I do abroad these days is often reportage, fashion or beauty. I’ve focused my international energy on working in places that inspire me, especially Mexico, France, and the UK. I feel fortunate to be able to blend my curiosity about the world with my livelihood in photography. The pandemic has thrown a wrench in those ambitions, but I am hopeful that the world will open up again and we will be stronger as we reconnect face to face.

How does your military experience influence your work today? 
From large scale productions to streamlined minimalist studio portraits, I love the complexity of a big idea and the refinement of simple elegance.  I think my time in the Marines sharpened my attention to detail and ability to work under pressure. I find myself always problem solving; just in case. Because having a few tricks in your back pocket in case something doesn’t go as planned on set it alway a good thing. I also see my time as a diplomat influence my ability to work with high profile subjects.

How were your portrait skills informed?
Because I always had a camera on me during my time abroad in the Marines I was quickly appointed as the unofficial photographer for the units I joined. With that came a responsibility to maintain the official headshots for each Marine unit. I had no portrait experience before that, and that experience gave me a great crash course.

Today those same early portrait skills have been influenced by the likes of Irving Penn, Gordon Parks and Jerry Schatzberg. I look to the clarity and simplicity of Penn’s approach. Portraits of the strong, graceful, and sensual bodies of both men and women are my continuation of his implicit challenge to see feminine and masculine as one. Even in commercial work and anonymous work I seek to express the precision and intimacy that his images teach.

 

You witnessed the the peace and the aftermath of the protest, can you share the two very different experiences?
I live in downtown Los Angeles and so was immersed in the initial uprising in response to the murder of George Floyd. The constant and overwhelming presence of police sirens and helicopters was almost unbearable. There was so much uncertainty about what would happen or when the violence outside my window would end. Needless to say, very little sleep found me that first night.

As I saw the sun start to peek through my window, I decided to sneak out of bed and go out and see what the city looked like. And I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. Armed with my camera, I documented my neighborhood: the remnants of burned trash cans and cars, and shattered store fronts in every direction. I couldn’t help but notice that many of the damaged shops were owned or operated by people of color and had been looted by people for reasons likely having nothing to do with the cause of racial justice.

How did you take ownership of the situation, by documenting it?
Documenting the aftermath of the initial violence left a touch of sorrow on my soul. I knew this destruction would cast a shadow over the massive uprising and critical issues at hand. But I wanted to bear witness; it felt so important. But in the days and weeks to come, I would also bear witness to the growing mass of humanity coming together in peaceful outrage over the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and so many others. I felt part of this movement by joining the protesters in the streets – not just a photographer documenting from the outside, but as a protester myself, capturing this movement that would change the world.

How does that experience linger for you today?
While the immediate unrest has settled and the size of the crowds in Los Angeles have gotten smaller, there is still so much work to be done. We all have a responsibility to use our skills and tools to witness and participate in this moment. The pandemic has made this moment harder; it’s tempting to feel helpless at times as our communities are under siege from so many different directions, and it’s difficult to know how to connect with each other and make a difference in this disorienting time. But being among the protesters reminded me that there are so many people all around us who deeply care and are willing to make sacrifices to uplift others and fight for them.

 

The Daily Edit – Forbes India: Anjan Das

- - The Daily Edit

Forbes India


Creative Director and Photographer:
Anjan Das

Heidi: Did you shoot and series and then curate this work?
Anjan: I have been brainstorming in my head about this idea (Against all odds), revolving around how the livelihood of people have been affected during this pandemic. How to approach the subjects? What would be that common link/connection? Prepared a storyboard, listed down some professions which were badly hit & people who were associated with it. Started to connect with all of them, followed by brief phone conversations and lining up the shoots at various potential locations in and around the city of Mumbai. The idea was to create a particular style of environmental portraits with interesting backdrops which tells a story.

Pre covid, would you have noticed these people, how do they rise up in your eyes now?
Mumbai is a city of 22 million people, you are bound to come across a lot of people struggling for their livelihood every single day. You’ll most definitely cross paths with many people with their survival stories. The city is brimming with working class people. Majority of that also includes the migrants and daily/weekly wage workers (cabbies/auto rickshaw drivers, construction workers, maisons, plumbers etc.) Each individual has their unique stories to share. While travelling in cabs/auto rickshaws I have heard many such stories of their survival every now and then. When the pandemic hit the urban population in mid march, they were the the first ones whose lives were altered in many ways than one. With no savings at their disposal the ongoing survival and struggle became even more difficult. Making ends meet and taking care of their families and keeping them safe was becoming their single biggest challenge ever. I was truly amazed by their perseverance everyday in surviving the pandemic. While speaking to most of them I sensed a common connection of that fighting spirit, that can do attitude even though their livelihood were at stake with a gloom of uncertainty. There was a spark of positivity in between fear and frustration. There’s nothing they can do but to fight and keep hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel. Each one these brave souls made me realise the ground realities of life and why giving back to the less privileged would be the most humane thing you could have ever imagined doing.

Was it difficult to convince people to be photographed? What did you tell them about this project?
Coordinating the whole thing was a logistical nightmare at some levels, especially reaching out to people during a lockdown was not easy. Thankfully with the help of a close friend who’s a partner with a popular production company here in Mumbai, eased up coordination hugely. With his help we reached out to them and began our conversations explaining to them the crux of the story in which they were going to be featured and shot. It was difficult to convince them at first with few reservations about their struggles and featuring their photographs. We had to go to that extra mile of making them understand how they should portray their struggles & bravery so that it becomes a living example for others to fight the troubled times ahead. We insisted that everyone should know about their survival stories and it cannot happen if they don’t volunteer to be a part of this project. Portraying them as ‘Warriors & survivors’ also helped to ease their reservations. We had to go through this exercise with every individual whom we had to convince with a completely different frame of mind & explanations.

What was the commonality amongst the subjects? I know the theme was everyday heroes.
For this particular photo essay the subject was purely based on ‘Survival during the pandemic’ I had outlined it with various titles namely; ‘An ode to survival’ ‘The lives of others’ Against all odds’ etc. So survival was a common link to all the subjects belonging from various work/professions. While talking to them I figured there was more than just survival spirits. Even through all these hardships no one seemed to give up, they want to fight on, for a better life, for their families and most importantly the pandemic.

Is this an ongoing project?
This was my third photo essay in a row which i have worked on for the last 3 months through the lockdown. The first one was titled ‘Frontline warriors’: It was about people (Doctor, traffic cop, city police force, Bus driver, medical shop owner, veggies & essentials shop owner) who are working tirelessly on the frontline to help others in many ways, the second was titled: ‘Lending a helping hand’;  It was about group/team of people (Teams going out of their way to ensure the smooth functioning of banking, IT and health services). And ‘Against all odds’ is the current one. We have even started a hashtag of #frontlinewarriors where we do a lot of social media posts (single story, photo of the day etc) on everyday covid-19 warriors. There has been a lot of traction on that lately.

How often are you shooting, as your main role at Forbes India is running the show as Creative Director.
Currently I am harnessing the power and potential of iPhone photography and this would be an ongoing process in the months & years to come. I shoot whenever I can and whatever I can. Digital photography has always been my passion but never really managed the time to pursue it fully. These projects were like an eye opener for me, I really felt thrilled, excited and rejuvenated completing these essays successfully and with such moving stories/subjects. The role of Chief Creative Director at Forbes remains unchanged with the workflow of the fortnightly editions back to back, managing deputies, designers, production artists plus off course manning shoots & storyboarding ideas. But I would definitely try to unhinge myself a bit to focus more on digital photography.

Tell us about the difference of designing this project, as you were the content generator in entirety. A trifecta!
Well, I was imagining the structure & layout of the feature whilst storyboarding the essay idea. I was absolutely sure of shooting them in B/W and thought about a well structured and clean design template. I wanted the photographs to speak for itself by doing justice to the title. The photos/portraits/expressions should convey a sense of uncertainty and that needed to be achieved from every subject. I chalked out a copy style (name, age, residence, Struggle & survival and Future) which should be common to all and was used as subheads in which the format should be self explanatory. Choosing the clean san serifs & serifs for the headlines, introduction & rest of the text was part of the part of the style sheet. White spaces in and around the layouts was mandatory. The feature was part of the back of the book section of the mag called ‘Forbes Life’ and hence thought the connection with the word ‘Life’ was apt.

How are the cases in India in general, what are the lockdown protocols of late?
The current confirmed cases in India is almost 1.04 million with 654K recovered & almost 27K deaths. It’s increasing at an alarming rate with every passing day. We’re currently the 3rd country with the highest number of cases after the US & Brazil. The lockdown protocols are getting stringent every week due to the rapid rise of positive cases in every state in the country now. The nation has completed its lockdown 4.0 with partial lockdowns in between. Some state borders have been shut and there are movements of only essential goods & services. Amidst of all the chaos & commotion the authorities are trying their level best to ensure that the mortality rate is on check. But given the population and congestion in many unplanned urban areas across the country it’s turning out to be the worst nightmare. Every state government is trying their best to create containment zones to prevent further community spread. There have been extra hands on deck consisting of doctors, city police, health workers who have been put to work. Moreover disregarding protocols now and then has become an integral part of everyday lives and social distancing is turning out to be a myth.