Heidi: How did Portrait of a Skateboard develop?
Erin: Portrait of a Skateboard developed because I became aware of the female and non- binary skate community through my daughter who skateboards. She was one of the only girls who skateboarded at her middle school at the time. And she was not comfortable going to the skatepark. The skateparks tend to be filled with mostly boys and men so it is intimidating for a young girl. I don’t skate and I have never been coordinated athletically. Maya, my daughter is pretty good for her age and it seemed like a waste that this was such a barrier. But it is. I found out about some organizations like @QuellSkateboarding and Skate Kitchen that had skate sessions for women and non- binary skaters so I brought her to one in New Haven, Ct.
When we arrived she and her friend looked at the scene said, “Mom, No. Let’s go home. “ They were shy. It was an oasis of women skating and I was completely drawn in, wanting to document everything. I walked up to a woman who looked pretty good and asked her to help my daughter. Her name was Jules Moriah. She immediately agreed and took Maya and her friend Kaitlyn to the ramps and gave them some tips. This was so empowering, I had never experienced such kindness between women.
Why did you exclude men?
It’s not that I excluded men. I have just focused on women and non binary skaters. I think there is plenty of documentation of male skaters.
How long have you been shooting that series?
I started shooting the series in June of 2019.
What tools has skating given these women?
I think that the tools it gives them is confidence and determination. It takes a long time to learn how to do an ollie or any other skate trick. It also takes a lot of confidence to go to a skatepark and be the only woman or non binary person.
Did you pitch BUST or did they come to you after seeing this personal gallery? I pitched Bust because I was looking for other ways to be able to photograph the skaters that I met. Laurie Henzel – the creative director and founder- loved the series and was totally open. I went overboard because I wanted to shoot so many skaters that I had met and loved. I think she said get 4 models and I came back with 8 skaters. I begged Keia Bounds (who I know from working together photographing Dave Chappelle for Comedy Central in 2002) to be the stylist. Christine Herbeck has always been my main hair and makeup person. For this shoot Christine did the makeup and I had Nappstar Salon do the hair. Everyone worked really hard and we had fun. I was driving all the skaters in my 2004 toyota minivan back and forth from my studio to the skatepark in Brooklyn .
When is the launch party, will you skate there?
Unless a Corona cancel happens, the party is on March 12 from 7-10 at 110 Studios in Bushwick. Through the skate community I found a very cool venue which is photography and skateboarding centric. The owner Paulie, who also skates built the cyclorama strong enough to hold skateboarders and skaters bands will be performing.
Heidi: You’re a photographer, a writer and a CEO, how did all that braid together to launch this magazine? Tyler: This may sound trite, but perhaps destiny and a bit of serendipity. I studied film and photography at USC, and in a random stroke of fate my first job out of college was in Tanzania working for a safari company. I went from Los Angeles to the middle of Africa and spent six months documenting fishing, Kilimanjaro trips and hunting. It changed my life completely. This led to that, I was whisked to over 35 countries in a few years, and exposed to a myriad of cultures, conservation issues and hunting traditions. I was photographing and writing about my adventures on the side, and eventually started to pitch to other magazines and brands, utilizing my access to remote locations as a way to get my foot in the door. It worked, and I was very fortunate to work with some great people over the years. But I was constantly frustrated by two main things regarding hunting: one, that hunters for the most part do a terrible job of communicating ethics and the majority role that hunting plays in conservation, and two, that many non-hunters are either not educated about this reality, or are mis-informed by false or sensationalized media. We started Modern Huntsman to bridge that communication gap, and have based a lot of the philosophy off the wisdom, beauty and respect for wildlife that I’ve been witness to, but is rarely highlighted. Our hope is to make the topic of hunting less taboo, and to showcase how it is still very much a part of the natural order. Then I lost a bet and got promoted to CEO.
Your most recent theme was all about women (which is outstanding) how did that theme evolve? From the very beginning, we’ve had women involved in this venture, and my dear friend Jillian Lukiwski (@thenoisyplume on IG) was actually the one who encouraged us to keep the more poetic “Huntsman” in the title, and to shirk any criticisms that we weren’t inclusive of both genders, in the same way that the word “human” refers to male and female. As we started to do research and collect more stories, it became very clear that not only was there a treasure trove of female creative talent in the hunting and conservation space, but that many of them were not being featured and celebrated the way they should be. So we decided to do an entire book about it, and rather than pretend like I know what the hell I’m talking about, I stepped aside and brought in four women editors to take the reins. What resulted was one of the most inspiring and rewarding experiences of my life, and to my knowledge is the first time it’s been done in this way for the genre. Feels like we barely scratched the surface with 272 pages, and while we could easily do another four books, we all feel proud of what we accomplished in showing a diverse range of women who hunt, fish, ranch and fight to save wild places. It’s really something special, whether you’re a hunter or not.
Did you have any criticism from the female community? Before we start on every issue, we lay out all of the possible pitfalls and potential criticisms, and do our best to be mindful and intentional as we move forward. We knew that people would say this was a “publicity stunt,” or it was “men talking about women,” and even that “there should be no division between men and women in hunting and that it was patronizing to focus entirely on female hunters.” Our amazing team of tenacious women shot it all down, and forged ahead bravely with what they felt needed to be said to engage readers from diverse backgrounds, and hopefully generate more interest, despite the fact that women are the fastest growing demographic within the hunting industry. Surprisingly, our biggest criticism came from women within the hunting industry itself, claiming that our cover choice was not “hardcore enough to represent them as hunters.” Again, this was a deliberate choice. Yes there are many women who are just as tough, if not more tough, then men. There are photos of them with blood and dirt on their faces and animals on their backs as they hike out of the backcountry. We wanted a cover that showcased a more graceful and feminine side – that you can be both a hunter and a mother, killer and nurturer, angler and gatherer. The Salmon Sisters from Alaska are a perfect representation of that, and Dawn Huemann’s photo of them is so iconically idyllic, we knew right away that it was the cover. Being that our goal is to engage with non-hunters and hunters alike, we felt this image choice would help accomplish that, but no decision is without critics and this was no exception.
How do you compensate your contributors? I tried to base the model off everything that I didn’t like about working with other magazines: a lack of camaraderie or community, a simple exchange of services with little shelf life beyond the print release, and the sometimes “thank you, bye” tone of assignments. So in addition to pay, we do ongoing social promotion of our contributors work, website features of their portfolios, films or products, and pull them into podcasts, speaking events and newsletters. Every volume I also give some contributors a percentage of sales, which helps them feel a bit more invested in the cause, and incentivises them to help us promote the finished work. We also connect many of them with our brand partners to do additional commercial assignments. Modern Huntsman wouldn’t be anything without the contributors, so I do my best to advocate for them and provide as many opportunities as I can. We push our photographers and writers hard and demand excellence, but it’s a very involved, collaborative process that is rewarding for all of us in the end. I’d like to think that we’re doing things a little differently, and so far it seems to be appreciated with those we bring into the fold.
How did you get started and how many issues do you publish annually? While the idea for the brand and the book was in development for a year prior, we launched a Kickstarter in the fall of 2017. Our instinct that this was a much needed fresh take on hunting traditions was proven true, and we successfully raised about $110k to produce the first book. It took about four months to gather all of the content from our faithful contributors, and Volume One shipped in early 2018. We’ve done three additional books since then, and I say books because they are 250+ pages with no ads. So call it a biannual publication, and while I don’t foresee a way to publish more than two a year, we’re going to be launching some smaller collaborative projects this year in addition to a lot more digital content, podcasts, and educational events for those who want to learn more about food sourcing and conservation.
How can photographers contribute? While our next two books have been mostly commissioned, we’re always publishing stories on the site and across our social channels, and are always trying to diversify the voices and backgrounds that we feature. As much as possible, we try to present a wide array of perspectives that bring about constructive conversations. It’s not just hunters and anglers who contribute, and in my opinion, therein lies one of our strengths. Given the amount of unsolicited submissions we’ve been getting, we haven’t really opened a formal process for that yet, but hope to in the near future. For now the best channel is the submission link through our site, and typically story ideas that adhere to current or upcoming themes are the most relevant.
CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Tyler Sharp on assignment in Africa
Heidi: Did you stage this bowling alley image, tell us how this photo came to be. Steve: It seems like almost always; shoots are magical. We work really hard to create the opportunity for chance to go the right direction and somehow it works. Yes this image is staged, BUT there was no shortage of magic.
Do you grow up bowling?
I’ve been connected to bowling as long as I can remember. The couple in the photo was on a team in “The Twilight Twirlers”, the Tuesday night league my mom and dad bowled in for something like 20 years. When my dad became ill my brother and I became fixtures in the league covering for dad when he couldn’t bowl. Pete and Marie, when they travel, they bring their bowling balls and they bowl basically everywhere they go. I understand taking your passion with you but traveling for bowling always just sort of stood out to me as a little unexpected but rad at the same time.
The traveling bowlers concept marinated in my head for several years, but not necessarily as a photo, it was just something that I thought of. I’m not sure how to explain it, but I get these thoughts that are almost like recurring dreams. They evolve over time, then every once in a while, one will turn into a photograph. This one did.
I knew for sure that I would shoot it at Country Club Bowl in San Rafael, Ca. After all, it was our home field and it had all the perfect elements, the neon sign, the 60’s “inexpensive modern” architecture, a big parking lot, and I knew the owners so since it was a personal project I might be able to pay the location fee with a bottle of someone’s favorite spirit. Pete and Marie were the obvious choice for talent, they had the right look and even better the photo really was about THEM. The only problem was that they drive a minivan with no style. So the hunt was on for a big old Caddy or Lincoln, something from the late 60’s – mid 70’s was preferable.
Where did you get the car?
I got the green light from bowling alley (miraculously they had just finished redoing all the neon on the sign), and Pete and Marie were on board so I sent emails to a few art department friends to see if anyone had a line on the car I needed for my shot. Literally the next morning that Cadillac roll up my street, so of course I followed it. The owner was super stoked to let us photograph the car he had just finished restoring. His mom was the original owner.
What type of work have been doing lately? did it build from this most recent shot? I don’t care if it’s a personal shoot or a big ad shoot, when you throw the right energy at it, you get magic. “Bowlers” is on the long list of magical shoots. Since that bowlers shot, I have done several senior lifestyle shoots for a variety of clients ranging from pharmaceuticals to senior living communities and banking. The first senior shoot I was hired for after the bowlers shoot was a direct result of having shared the bowlers shot, in fact, the client used the bowlers image in selling their concepts to the client. It’s been a few years now and I’ve been shooting for that client 2-3 times a year.
Has your personal work ever translated into paid work?
Yes, about 10 years ago. An Art Producer that I used to work with a bunch loved a personal project I did which was portraits of people with wandering eyes. Her agency (Cutwater) was pitching LensCrafters. They wanted to create a book of portraits of people doing different things with glasses I think the ta line was “What will you do with them.” Jen Worth, the Art Producer presented my Wandering Eye series to the Creative Director, Joe Kayser. He liked the work, subject matter / concept / style and he asked Jen if she could get me in to shoot each of the employees at the agency with glasses and create a treatment for the body of work that would make it stand out. They got the business and eventually hired me to shoot portraits which were used in all of the LensCrafters stores as in print ads, direct mail and web advertising. My personal project led to helping the agency win new business which led to a fun portrait project used in a national campaign.
What advice would you give your younger self as a photographer? I would commend my younger self for starting a list of creative ideas for photography and other media. Then I would tell me to execute those ideas faster and more often, and most importantly I would tell me to make sure to share the results with the world regularly. I’m telling my older self the same thing.
Art Director: Jennifer Moody
Heidi: What is the Rotary?
Ian: Rotary is a global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves. They have a magazine call The Rotarian
Who assigns this work to you?
I’ve been working with Rotarian Magazine art director Jennifer Moody on these assignments. I just finished another one photographing Sarah Parcak, the Space Archeologist, for the March issue.
Who was the subject and what was the event?
Kiran, a Type A British-born Sikh, is president of the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN. ISC is a nonprofit that has hosted its annual National Storytelling Festival for more than 35 years. With a population of 6000, the oldest town in Tennessee, now known as the Storytelling Capital of the World, brings in visitors from all over the world every year, doubling the population during the festival.
What direction did the magazine provide?
The creative direction was very specific; Jennifer wanted to make sure Kiran wore the same outfit and that we captured him with a variety of different expressions against white. With that direction, I started to explore Kiran’s personality.
Did you have to direct Kiran?
Kiran was a ball of energy from the very start. He was excited about the shoot and fully engaged. It didn’t take long to realize that I was interacting with was the same Kiran everyone interacts with. His personality doesn’t change based on his environment or the company he’s mixing with. He is unapologetically himself.
Where was this shot?
The shoot took place at The Storytelling Center Theatre. Afterward, we went across the street for lunch. Not much conversation there, though. Kiran knows everyone, and everyone wants a minute of his time. It seems to me that the juxtaposition between the Type A individual and the Type B town is a perfect balance for Kiran.
Heidi: Why did you choose to form this? The Group: It has become harder and harder for individual photographers to secure a book showing at advertising agencies. We’ve banded together a diverse group of photographers in order to efficiently meet with agencies where solo shooters might have more difficulty securing a show. Art producers and creatives have very limited time, so this is a way to meet several artists at once.
Does one of you act as the agent or is it a shared responsibility?
There is no agent. Each of us are independent photographers and we work together to build name recognition for the group, and to prepare for and plan our group showings. We do have a coordinator that does our outreach, books our showings and acts as the point person for agency communications. We don’t book jobs through the group or have a point person working in an agent’s capacity of estimating, negotiating, or marketing any of us individually – that’s up to each of us separately.
Does everyone travel or one photographer travels and brings all the books?
We feel it is important to meet with creatives directly. These days it is about building relationships and each member is committed to doing just that, bringing a personal touch and a true sense of artistic collaboration to everything we do. Consequently we all try to attend every showing.
Do you have to apply to join?
The Group really is a democratic collaborative. We as a group definitely vet each potential member to ensure that they are like minded and of a certain caliber so as to keep the quality of work at the highest level.
What are the requirements to be involved?
Each member must contribute in an equitable fashion, both financially as well as with tasks. Each member is forthcoming in their strengths and weaknesses and everyone is quick to take on duties that speak to their strengths.
Why this over an agent?
We’ve often heard that creatives like to meet the artist they will be working with. Artists are able to create a more personal connection to their work and also verbalize their process and workflow on a deeper level than an agent might. Also with group showings, individual creatives can get more personalized attention while reviewing a portfolio, than with a single agent showing multiple books.
Heidi: Tell us why you choose to shoot digital despite having a penchant for film? Chris: Like many photographers I prefer the look of film. It is what I grew up with and how I learned, so I transitioned to digital late and without a lot of love. Yet for what I ended up doing, taking pictures of people struggling, it ended up being necessary. Digital allowed me to immedietly show people their pictures, and should they not like them, allowed me to delete them. Few of the people I photograph ever have any control over how they are seen or viewed. Allowing them to look at my pictures of them, and then delete the ones they don’t like, gave them a little bit more control over the process.
You had an early interest in cameras, then it halted, what reignited your interest? I stopped taking pictures when it became hard to get film developed (2000-ish?). Until then I kept a few old fully manual cameras around, each with a different type of film in them, and would shoot whatever interested me.When it became hard to get the film developed as the industry transitioned to digital, I just kinda gave up. Also it was nice (as any photographer who has quit for awhile will tell you) to not feel pressure to “capture the moment” That changed when I started going on longer walks into areas I had not been before. I had always spent my free time going on very very long walks (20 miles sometimes) through NYC, but mostly it was Manhattan. Around 2006 I started walking more in Brooklyn, Queens, and what I saw there, and the people I met and the stories they told, got me interested in taking pictures again. Initially it was just a cheap point and shoot digital, but eventually I got so into it that I bought a high end 35MM camera
How did you come up with front row/ back row? or what that already a term? I came up with that term after roughly four years of documenting frustrated communities. Initially that meant spending time in South Bronx & Queens & poor other mostly urban neighborhoods in the North East (Bridgeport CT, Providence RI, etc). Eventually I included poor rural communities in Ohio, West Virginia, and Texas. What I realized was despite the differences, despites some being rural, some urban, some mostly African-american or Hispanic, or White, all had many things in common. Not just physical things, but in the challenges the residents faced, and how they responded, and how they viewed the world. Also, almost all of these communities where filled with people who hadn’t gotten a lot of education beyond High School. That was very different from the communities I had spent the prior twenty five years of my life in, and where my family lived. Those communities, while spread all over the country, were similar in that almost everyone had an advanced education. The split I was seeing in the country was as much, if not more, about education than anything else.
How does your previous Wall Street Job of analysis work transcend into this visual analysis and does one inform the other? While I am proud my book uses no statistics, which can only dehumanize the problem, I did spend a lot of time looking at maps, statistics, and data when I chose where do go. I wanted to give a realistic and balanced look at poverty in America, so I went to places that in aggregate reflected the statistics on poverty. By race, geography, and community size. In that sense, my prior Wall Street work was useful. Mostly however, this project was about unlearning so much I had learned on Wall Street. How to look beyond those statistics to see the individuals impacted.
Describe your drift from the trading floor to taking photos only, what changed within you? I wish I had a simple answer to this, but I just don’t. As my career on Wall Street progressed I became more and more frustrated with it and how we thought, and found my interest drifting towards other things, like my hobbies (photography & walking) and my family. I stopped spending the extra weekend in the office and spent that time going on extra long walks, or small trips with the family. It is those walks, ones that had no real point beyond seeing, talking, and photographing people, that I realized I was the happiest. Work, which I once enjoyed, became more and more a chore, and I focused less and less on
What has the past few years taught you about yourself? I hope humility. Many of us in the front row feel we have all the answers, and one of the things I tried to express in my book is we probably don’t. Which is why I didn’t include any solutions in the book. I realize I have a long way though before I can really claim to have learned true humility.
What would you tell your younger self? Don’t listen so much to gatekeepers. Those people in industries (Photography, journalism, business) who try and define what and how something can be done. There is less gatekeeping in things like Physics or Math, but they are there also. Be more confident when you think the status quo is wrong.
How difficult was it to arrive in a neighborhood with no camera and just be, try to fit in? and what myth or misconception revealed itself? For me it has never really been a problem. My general rule is be confident without being arrogant. Don’t cause problems. You are a visitor and that means respecting how things are done, and to do that you have to figure out first how things are done. That means watching and listening, not questioning and rocking the boat. I realize being a kinda large white guy makes it easier for me. I think the biggest myth is it is hard to get people to talk. Often it is the opposite. It is hard to get them to stop talking!
Why is the backrow easier or different from the front row since you vacillate between both? you said at one point on our call the back row was less measured and simpler in a way I think there is more forgiveness for failure, or for sins, or for mistakes. Partly this is a necessity. Most people in the very back row have had a life filled with problems, and have to be more forgiving of the mistakes of others. There is an understanding that life is tough and most people do their best to survive it. I also find that friendships and personal dealings feel more genuine, and less about seeing what someone else can do for you.
How does this freedom of toggling affect you? or does it make being in the row tolerable because you can leave it? It is confusing and frustrating. I am firmly a member of the front row, there is no denying that. Most of my best friends are front row, and I enjoy their company. I also like much of what the front row likes. I love academics, I love reading obscure academic books. But I also don’t feel I fit in anymore, because I don’t necessarily share the values I used to have. I don’t fit in with the back row either, simply because that isn’t who I am anymore, despite having grown up surrounded by it. So it is frustrating
Why did you stop working and start taking photographs? I started taking pictures again, more seriously, around 2009 and eventually left my full time banking job mid 2012
Tell us about your next project and how you chose those locations? I have two projects in mind. One is a continuation of the Dignity project, but with more in depth interviews and less of my voice. Over the last seven years I have briefly visited places that stay in my mind, that I can’t shake. I want to go back to those places and spend two weeks in each, talking to whoever.
The other project is on global slums. I spent a month recently in Jakarta, just walking around the poorer parts of the town, without a camera. Roughly 1/5 of the world lives in these ad hock self organized poor neighborhoods (slums, or barrios, or whatever derisive term), in mega-cities we never really talk about. Like Calcutta, or La Paz, or Jakarta, or Dhakka, or so many others
Heidi: How long have you been shooting the for the NFLPA? (National Football League Players Association) Dominic: For the last 4 years I have been shooting the incoming class of NFL rookies for the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association). This entails me photographing over 40 professional athletes over a two day period.
How long to do you have each player? I have each player for about 5-10 minutes total so there is a challenge to connect with them quickly and successfully accomplish our shot list which includes many variations in two different lighting setups.
What tools do you rely on to make a fast connection? To help achieve this I always do some research on the individual players and try to find something interesting to ask them about, play their favorite music, or any other technique that will quickly engage them. This quick connection is very important on these days as these players schedules are packed with meetings and obligations so it is easy for them to be mentally fatigued. I thrive on the challenge to connect with my subjects in a short period of time despite the fact that they all have very different personalities and their comfort in front of the camera can vary greatly.
How are these images used? The NLFPA uses the images from our shoot as a catalog of assets they can make available to corporate sponsors throughout the NFL season.
Tell us about these two portraits. Two of the players shot this season for this project will be in the Super Bowl on February 2nd and played major roles in their teams success this year. Nick Bosa of the San Francisco 49ers and Mecole Hardman of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Heidi:What was the genesis of the column? Ellen: In 1911 on Christmas day Alfred S Ochs the publisher of The New York Times was out walking after Christmas dinner when he encountered a man who had just had been served a Christmas dinner at the YMCA but had no place to sleep. Ochs determined that he was a respectable man who was just down on his luck, he gave him a few dollars and told him to come see him about a job. That encounter led to the establishment of the Neediest Cases Fund. The next year he sent reporters to social service agencies to gather the stories of 100 people in need. Their stories were published and readers were asked to make donations to help them. That first year of 1912 the fund raised $3600. Since then the fund has raised over $300 million dollars. Today, The Times works with seven social service agencies in the city to identify those in need. From October through January the stories are published in a weekly column. The Times continues to manage the investment and distribution of the money to the agencies. Other cities were inspired by Ochs idea and have set up similar funds.
How did this job come about? When Kim Gougenheim, the Food Editor at The New York Times first looked at my website she responded to the reportage work and asked if I would like to shoot restaurant reviews for the food section. These assignments have become a favorite job. They require me to go to an unknown location armed with a shot list and quickly figure out what, where, and how to shoot. The challenge of the unknown, and working by myself is energizing. After working with both Kim and her assistant Lisa Dalsimer for the past year and a half I invited them both to get together for a coffee. These days, so often we are assigned projects via email and submit the work without meeting the people we are working with, a rather anonymous process. I thought that after working together for the past 18 months it would be nice to actually meet each other. Eventually the conversation moved away from food and on to other topics. Lisa mentioned that she was also an assigning editor for The Neediest Cases column. This is a column that my very civic minded mother read to us when we were children and that I have continued to read. Coincidentally, that morning I had read a profile in The Neediest Cases column that I was touched by and thought would make an interesting short doc. Lisa said she would be happy to put me in touch with the journalist who wrote that piece. She thought my work was well suited for this column and asked if I would like to shoot one of the profiles. This was all very serendipitous, as I have been moving my work in the direction of shooting people. This was the perfect assignment.
What drew you to that column as a reader? As I mentioned, my mother read this column to my sister and I when we were children. I grew up sharing her deep care and curiosity about people. As a result, I never shy away from an opportunity to engage in a conversation with a stranger. Reading this column is like having a one-way conversation. This assignment gave me the opportunity to actually be involved in the conversation through the medium of photography.
How long did you spend with the subject and tell me about the interaction? The morning of the shoot I met Julio at 7 am outside of his home in the Bronx. His openness, obvious warmth, and winning smile immediately drew me in. Julio shared bits of his story with me, pointing out the first apartment he lived in when he was put into foster care at the age of 13. He explained that he was moved from his family home on the lower east side to the Bronx. As we were walking the sun started to rise. I was drawn to the strong morning light and began to shoot. We took the subway together to his office in Times Square where he works at Ernst and Young, one of the largest professional services companies, continuing to shoot along the way. During our conversation I learned that Julio is a passionate Salsa and Bachata dancer. Although he did not end up dancing for me I continued shooting him, choosing places where the late fall setting sun created strong swaths of light, a natural dramatic backdrop. In between shooting we continued to speak about his life, passions, and goals. It was a pleasure to spend those few hours photographing Julio, a young man who has faced more adversity in his life than most of us can begin to imagine. His tremendous inner strength and focus has taught him how to turn his disadvantages into advantages. Julio is laser focused on achieving his goal of becoming a CPA, exploring the world, and living a life that he creates and shapes just as he would like it to be. Being chosen as a Times Neediest Cases recipient allowed him to move out of the 1 bedroom apartment he was sharing with his aunt and 7 other family members. He moved into an apartment around the corner with a cousin where he now has his own bedroom, allowing him to shut the door of his room and quietly study for his CPA exams. Funds from the New York Times Neediest Cases helped him pay for his first month rent, utilities, and broker fees.
What direction did you get from the NYT? The direction from the Times was to meet Julio in front of his apartment at 7am on the morning of the shoot and to photograph him during his commute to work.
Why has your work evolved into portraiture?
I have spent most of my career as a photographer shooting food and still life. In the last few years I have begun to shift my focus to people this started on one of my many trips to Cuba. I had made a short documentary film about four elderly Cubans who had lived in their homes all of their lives. Our homes are a reflection of who we are. The idea was to explore the relationship between a person and their home, After the film I went back and began to shoot portraits of people in their homes – shooting both a portrait and an object or interior which could alternatively be seen also as a portrait.
Tell us about these portraits. Two years ago at an event at a church to welcome immigrant children from Latin America who had been “ shipped” to NY from the border that summer, I met two pastors from The Church of Living Hope in East Harlem. They told me that they wanted to open the church on 3 Fridays after Thanksgiving to neighborhood families for family holiday portraits. I had been looking for photography opportunities to work with organizations which had need of my skills. Immediately I volunteered to photograph the holiday portraits. It was both a challenging and rewarding experience. Challenging because I had very little time with each family as we had a line out the door. Although I would have chosen a different environment in which to shoot the families, I had to understand that what they wanted was a holiday themed portrait, which meant a tree was set up on the side of the makeshift set to set the mood. What I had to do was let go of controlling the aesthetics and focus on the families. The challenge was that in the few minutes with each family I had to make a connection, put them at ease, and take the picture. I was very touched by the thankfulness and grace of each family. This year I did this again in a shelter in East Harlem. I have promised to go back before Mother’s Day to shoot portraits of the children for Mother’s Day gifts. We have a make-up stylists who is willing to come and do make-up for the moms while I shoot the children. I hope to find a cosmetic company who sells products for Black and Hispanic women who would be willing to donate cosmetics. Doing these projects satisfies my desire to use my talent to do community based work. It has also shown me that after years of working in a studio shooting food and still life that I want to now shift my focus outward to people. I hope to find more opportunities to work with non profits, NGOs or social service agencies who have a need for portrait and location photography to visually explain their mission.
Heidi: How many days were you with the Salmon Sisters and what was the biggest challenge to the shoot or what about the most inspiring moment? Dawn: The biggest challenge overall was getting to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska where the weather is really sporadic and dramatic. It was a two day journey up to Dutch Harbor from the Bay Area and I stayed there with the Sisters for 4 full days, then journeyed home for 2 days. The day I flew into Dutch Harbor the air was still and calm and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. The Sisters were coming in on their boat to meet me but also because a huge storm was coming in and they needed to seek cover for a few days. They pushed their last day of fishing and I stayed in Dutch Harbor while they fished all night. We met up the next morning and I shot them unloading and selling all of the fish at sunrise.
By noon, the storm had come in and for two days we were stuck inside while sideways freezing rain and 40 MPH wind gusts beat at the boat. We couldn’t shoot a thing. I was there for four days, but we only got to shoot for one and a half due to weather. It was tricky and took patience, a great attitude and tons of flexibility. These are the best kind of adventure shoots and really you just have to be ready for anything! In the end the storm gave us incredible light, so I was delighted!
How does your education in philosophy express itself in your work?
Philosophy has given me a really broad and creative foundation of thinking. When you study philosophy you have to keep your mind open to all kinds of contradictory arguments and ways of life. There really isn’t a right or wrong – just theories, ideas and concepts. Philosophy taught me to think creatively and to be passionate about ideas. It also taught me a huge amount about inclusion and diversity of people and the way they think as well as the diversity as to how we were all raised and shaped. People in general are also just very interesting to me and I always want to learn about them!
How did your upbringing shape your eye or experience of the world?
One of my oldest memories is my father pulling over to the side of the road in our old 4×4 van at sunset, pulling his massive video camera and tripod out and shushing us little kids while he recorded the natural sounds and sights of the world and whatever beautiful sunset we had come across. Since my parents were travel filmmakers image making was just a part of our lives. Looking for beauty was unending and my father found it almost everywhere. Without even knowing it, he was training me since before I can remember.
As my parents made travel films they would tote us all over the world. I wasn’t raised with a religion and one of the first things I noticed traveling the world was how all these other humans in different cultures all had religions. In the end, it was actually religious studies that landed me with my interest and later my degree in Philosophy. I was curious lifestyles, traditions and Gods. Now, as a photographer I travel meeting different people; I love connecting with them all equally no matter their race, religion, viewpoints or lifestyle. Also, I am comfortable, even happy, in airports and on airplanes and that’s really been a big bonus from traveling so much as a kid.
Are you part of any female creative collectives?
I am a part of the Luupe and I am a member of many private groups that meet both online and in person. When you find capable, strong women out there – you stick with them, keep in touch and work together over and over whether you are in a group with them or not. For me it’s really about finding your tribe and in such a male dominated industry us ladies stick together pretty well.
Did you pitch Modern Huntsman or did they choose you for this story?
After receiving the publication for the past year I became obsessed with it. I resonated with the beautiful photography and inspirational story telling and really wanted to be a part of it. I sent a few printed mailers to the whole team and wrote personal notes as to how much I loved their work and would be just over the moon for a chance to work with them. Then I waited and crossed my fingers. Shortly thereafter, an amazing woman in my life who’s a writer, advocate, ecologist and the CEO of Wylder Goods, Lindsey Davis made the connection on a hunting trip with Tyler Sharp who is the CEO and Editor in Chief of Modern Huntsman and one of the people I had sent the mailer to. As far as I know my name came up and Tyler remembered my mailer and Lindsey, who I had worked with on several occasions gave him the thumbs up on me. He contacted me and I pitched the Salmon Sisters (who I had worked with and met before and just adored) for the Women’s Issue.
Director of Photography: Kathy Ryan
Former Art Director now Partner at Pentagram: Matt Willey
Heidi: How much time did you spend with each athlete before taking their portraits, was it before or after Mavericks?
Dina: I did two trips for the story, to Maui, Hawaii and Mavericks, San Francisco. Traveling to catch the waves is tricky, there is only a 24-42 hour notice of when the waves will swell. I had to be packed and ready
, waiting for the last minute green light. When I got to Maui, the weather was too dangerous for me to get on a boat for the shoot so I concentrated on making portraits of the athletes.
Tell us how you got the cover image, where were you in the water?
This was taken at Mavericks. I had 3 days to shoot the waves before the swell was over. The shoot was done on a small boat, aboard with both of the surfers, Bianca Valenti and Paige Alms (cover). Each day trip took from 3-5 hours. The boat had to keep circling around the waves to avoid being overthrown. That, with the combination of looking through a 400 lens trying to pick out Bianca or Paige among the 30 other surfers, contributed to my first ever seasickness. The cover image was taken on the second day when I came more prepared with anti-nausea pills. Physically this was probably the most difficult shoot I’ve done. In the end, I came out with less than 30 images of the women surfing, and one of them ended up on the cover.
Was the photo direction in Black and white? Mavericks is one of the most dangerous places in the world to surf the big waves and I wanted to translate that into a mood that was a bit threatening and ominous. Once I took away the bright blues and greens of the sky and sea, the waves seemed to turn into stone, both overwhelming the surfers and freezing them into a moment of stillness. Right away I knew that the images had to be black and white. I sent Kathy Ryan both options of each image, color and black and white, and was thrilled to learn that she chose the monochrome versions for the whole story.
Heidi: How much did you shoot for Bike while you were the Photo Director?
Anthony: A big part of my workflow while I was Photo Director was studio work actually. In each issue of Bike Magazine, a fairly large percentage of the pages are gear coverage, and I would shoot all the studio images for those pages. With 8 issues per year, it was a pretty substantial workload, but in a way, it put me in a fortunate position to be selective with the editorial pieces that I shot.
How did being a photographer inform your editing? Being both a photographer and a mountain biker was paramount to being an effective editor for Bike. Understanding the moments that are going to tell an authentic story was an incredibly important part of Bike’s success over the years.
Do you find it easier to edit your own work?
It’s incredibly difficult to edit my own work. It can be really hard to look at images objectively if there were challenges to capturing them. Perhaps an athlete is battling a trick, or your battling weather, light, or just can’t find that magic angle. When you get the image it’s hard not to let the journey of making the photo influence your perception of its worth. It’s much easier to look at a contributor’s work and make those tough decisions I find.
What do you miss about the office life? I miss the collaboration the most. Working with the team at Bike was the most satisfying creative time in my career. Everyone on the team had so much to offer to our creative process, and when we nailed it on a piece, that feeling was hard to beat.
Being on my own and out of the office has given me more time to focus on my creative process. I’m able to shoot work outside of my comfort zone and see how those explorations inform my work.
What do you think photo editors could do better when working with photographers? It’s always been really rewarding when I feel as though I’m being asked to look past the obvious and capture images that will challenge the audience. Knowing that the easy image won’t cut it and that they trust you and the audience to engage the images on a deeper level. That relationship and trust is key to creating meaningful work.
Heidi: Were you both involved in photography prior to joining forces? Tracy+David: We’re both former news photojournalists who left our staff photography positions at newspapers almost 10 years ago, and moved to Southern California to begin freelancing. David was formerly an Art Director and Photo Editor at The State Journal-Register in Illinois, before returning to grad school for visual communication through the Knight Fellowship at Ohio University. Following grad school, he started shooting full time as a staff photographer at the Naples Daily News in Florida (a medium-sized paper that was known for its strong tradition of documentary storytelling).
Tracy fell in love with photography in high school, practically living in the darkroom when she wasn’t in the pool (she was a serious competitive swimmer), and beat down the door of the local newspaper in New Haven, Conn., to learn the ropes of photojournalism when she was 16. After college and a number of summer internships at newspapers around the country later, she landed a job at the Naples Daily News where she met David. After a couple of years there, Tracy was offered a position at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, as a staff photojournalist and sports photographer.
While we love what we do now and haven’t looked back, we’ve always felt that our work as photojournalists was the best bootcamp, where we problem solved all day everyday, learned to be extremely flexible and nimble, and learned to work with people from all different walks of life. We became extremely adept at working in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment, thinking quickly, staying calm in stressful situations, and creating large libraries of images under seemingly impossible deadlines.
Do you both shoot for each project? Yes. We shoot together on almost every project, working as a team to get more images, angles, ideas, etc. Most often, we’re both shooting from different angles simultaneously, capturing essentially double the images and angles that one of us could do on our own. For this reason, we like to work with natural lighting or continuous lighting, if feasible, as it allows us to shoot at the same time. If we’re shooting with strobes or if it works better for a project, we’ll pass a camera back and forth, both directing and working a scene slightly differently to get a wider variety of images, but almost always, we both have a hand in creating images.
Occasionally, if we have an extremely tight schedule or we need to shoot at two locations at once, we’ll both shoot simultaneously on different sets/locations for the same project. In those cases, we aren’t together, per se, but are both shooting at the same time, and know very clearly what we’re trying to accomplish, how everything needs to fit together, and what the end goal is, so we’re still very much working as a team on the project.
Sometimes we’ll do an underwater shoot or a drone shoot, and one person might be underwater shooting images or flying a drone to get an overhead view, while the other is on land shooting from a different angle. We love to work together to photograph a project from multiple angles at once, and really enjoy getting to see the perspective the other person captured.
What are the best aspects of shooting as a team? We’ve developed and share a cohesive vision and style, but we are still individually creative with unique ideas. We love that by having two sets of eyes and two minds working through ideas and projects, we can merge our perspectives together and come up with something greater than what we’d do individually. We (and our clients) also love that we can produce more work in the same amount of time than one of us could do on our own. Together, we push things further, find different angles, and push each other to see and think differently, which results in a better final product.
Are you able to turn off your photographic minds and conversation when you’re not working? Many people often tell us that they couldn’t imagine working full time with their spouse, but now about 9 years into working together, we really couldn’t imagine doing this any other way. Our work is incredibly important to us, and we do find that creating a work/life balance is always a challenge. We pour so much into our work, that we’re often still thinking, talking about, and working on our projects when we’re technically supposed to be off. If we’re on a run or a hike with our dog before or after work, it’s rare that photography or something about the day doesn’t come up. We do make sure we have a number of activities and hobbies we like to do together outside of work as well, which really helps give us some down-time and keeps us connected personally so we aren’t simply business partners. We’re really fortunate that we can spend so much of our time together, and still love being with each other.
Best advice for any photo duo? Find your individual strengths and figure out how to best divide and conquer — especially on the business side of things. We have many overlapping strengths but also different strengths that complement one another, and it took us a few years to understand what these were and how best to utilize them in the office and on set. We realized that we couldn’t both be equally good at everything, and that having each of us focus on developing certain skills that we gravitated towards would make us much stronger as a team. Once we figured this out, we became more productive and efficient, clearer about our roles, and ultimately much better individually and as a team.
Heidi: How has your relationship with nature informed your photography?
Austin: Hmmm, that’s an interesting one…I don’t think I’ve ever considered that question before. I have always enjoyed nature more as a participant than a viewer – climbing, skiing, trail running through a landscape rather than just sightseeing. Moving through remote and wild landscapes fills me with wild elation and awe and a heightened sense of the joy of being alive. As a result, most of my imagery captures not merely incredible landscapes, but often people interacting with those landscapes in meaningful ways. I think this helps give a sense of scale to my photos, and it also provides viewers with a more accessible portal through which to imagine them in these spaces.
Were there any difficulties capturing these images?
None of these images were particularly difficult to capture, as I took a fairly documentary approach to the trip and didn’t try to force or create any moments or events that weren’t already happening. I think that the only part that would have been difficult for most people/photographers was feeling completely comfortable in a rugged mountain environment and having the skills and fitness to move swiftly and confidently through it. I’ve spent much of the last decade of my life in alpine areas far more technical and scary than what we experienced in The Refuge, and so luckily for me I felt at home running across uneven talus or soloing ahead on snowy ridgelines.
How long did you wait in place before the animals looked at/smelled you?
Every day of this trip we had to move 15-20 miles over rough terrain, so we never had any time to stop and really wait for the wildlife. This was a bit of a disappointment for me, as I ideally would have scouted where certain animals spent their time and set up some sort of blind to hide behind. As it was I largely just had to react as quick as possible whenever we happened to come across caribou or other animals. I captured the image of the wolf and of those caribou probably only 30 minutes apart. We had just finished descending out of the McCall Glacier Valley and were entering the Coastal Plain where the tundra flattens out and runs north for 50 miles to the Arctic Ocean. It was a cold, windy, foggy day, and we took refuge in a dry creek bed in order to get out of the wind and eat some lunch. We didn’t take note of the fact that while the depression sheltered us from the wind, it also blocked our view of the surrounding landscape. As we sipped down hot soup, Tommy’s eyes suddenly went wide and he half-shouted, “Holy shit. There is a HUGE wolf right behind you!” For a split second I thought he was joking, but I could see the seriousness in his face and quickly whipped my head around to see a large gray wolf only ten feet away. It bounded back a few paces at our movement, and then stopped and stared at us from 20ft away. Having never been so close to an apex predator, I was a little frightened and not sure what to think, but we immediately realized that its posture was calm and relaxed. It was merely curious, not aggressive. I gingerly reached for my camera, switched lenses as quick as I could, and snapped a few frames before it trotted off into the mist. My guess is that the wolf smelled us/the food we had cooked for lunch. We made sure to never lose sight of our surroundings after that.
When you shot the sweeping vista, what ran through your mind?
In moments like this, I often have two distinct trains of thought running through my mind. In the presence of such monumental natural beauty and gigantic scale, I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe how wild and wonderful the landscape was, and how lucky we were to be able to see it from such a vantage. But because I was there to document and take photos, I also spent much of that time thinking about the technical particulars of composing and making images – What to include in the frame? What to exclude? Where to ask the pilot to turn? To tilt the wings to give me a better angle? Did the wind outside the cockpit window shift the focus ring? These thoughts and questions probably occupied a much larger portion of my mind. (This naturally leads me into your next question…)
How often do you put the camera down and simply look?
I think it is nearly impossible to truly appreciate and witness an event or moment while simultaneously trying to document it to the best of your abilities. The natural conflict that thus arises, at least for me, is that if I want to really experience what is happening in front of me I need to put my camera down, turn off the technical side of my mind, and simply appreciate what’s playing out before my eyes. I’ve certainly missed shots doing this, but I have more meaningful memories as a result. One of the most difficult aspects of a trip such as this is developing an expert feel for when it’s really important to keep the camera out and keep pressing the shutter, and when it’s ok to just stop and stare. I think that only comes through hard won experience.
What is are some of the unseen efforts behind these photos that the viewer couldn’t even imagine?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to do a great job of documenting mountain sports and culture unless you are simultaneously participating in the action at hand. Many of my favorite or “best” images come from trips and experiences where you simply could not have a staged shoot, set up a studio, or have a dozen supporting members helping with all the necessary tasks besides composing and making the images. It’s usually just me and the people in the shot, and I’m often tied in to the other end of their rope. This brings a palpable authenticity and rawness to the photos, but it requires serious motivation and drive to keep pulling out the camera even when there’s myriad other things that need to be done – coil ropes, boil water, break down camp, keep hiking, climb the next pitch, etc.
After more than 24 hours on the move, and finally in a zone safe enough from falling debris above to take off his helmet, Chris Mutzel takes a short break to soak in the first rays of dawn after bailing off of the route Exocet on Aguja Stanhardt. Argentine Patagonia.
If there’s one thing that ties a lot of my favorite images together it is that they usually capture moments where I wanted nothing more than to keep my camera in its case and deal with those other things instead. For example, in the sunrise photo where my friend Chris Mutzel stands in front of the Fitz Roy massif as wind whips the rope off the glacier between us, we had been on the move for more than 24 hours, it was bitterly cold out, and ice crystals stung my face like a sandblaster. All I wanted was to bury my chin into my hood and keep trudging along. But I could see that the dawn light was some of the most amazing I’d ever witnessed, and so I called out and asked Chris to stop for 30 seconds or so. We made the image and kept hiking.
Sam Seward gets ready to bed down for the night as the moon rises through wildfire smoke over the Tiedemann Glacier, Waddington Range, BC.
Or in the basecamp photo where my friend Sam Seward is in his tent above the Tiedemann Glacier as the moon rises behind, we had been awake since before dawn and on the move all day. We were descending off a climb on nearby Mt. Waddington, and we’d had an accident where Sam was nearly killed by rockfall. In the end all was OK, but we’d spent hours that afternoon bandaging his wounds and I felt completely depleted mentally, physically, and emotionally as darkness finally fell across the landscape. But as I headed to my tent to pass out in glorious slumber I saw the moonrise and knew that if I waited 30-60 minutes the light would be incredible. And so I dug out my camera and a tripod, set it up, composed the shot, and waited. It would have felt amazing to simply go to sleep and get the rest I desperately needed, but I am so glad I didn’t. The reality is that the hardest part is simply making sure that the camera is in your hands. After that comes all the easy stuff.
Chris Mutzel climbs the runout and rime-covered first pitch of Exocet on Aguja Stanhardt. The pitch can sometimes be fat alpine ice, but we found it in lean condition, requiring balance, precision, and a cool head to tiptoe up tiny granite edges and small ice blobs in boots and crampons. Argentine Patagonia.
Note: Arctic Refuge image (spread one), wolf image (top right spread two); caribou image (left page spread five) photographed by Austin Siadak and will be posted in Part 2 next week Tuesday Dec 3rd.
Heidi: The Gwich’in tribe harvest the land and animals they are spiritually connected to, how did that unfold for you on this trip? Keri: When I went to Arctic Village to document the Porcupine caribou harvest, I went in with locals Jewels Gilbert and Brennan Firth in mid-August, a time when the caribou are usually starting to migrate through. However, with climate change, the migration patterns have become unpredictable. I ended up being in the village 2 weeks before the herd started to migrate through. There was still a lot going on in the village. Lives revolve around harvesting food, medicine, fixing and building things and preparing for winter. It was peak season for blueberries. My first evening, I got invited to go pick blueberries and here I thought we would be gone for a couple of hours, we were out until 3 a.m., under the Arctic sun. That is what we did every night. We would prep dinner then go into the woods, pick blueberries, take a break for moose soup, play games with the kids, then continue until the berry harvest ended and the caribou came. The Gwich’in live off the land, this is how they sustain their culture and identity from the caribou, moose, fish, and berries.
Was the harvest difficult to witness?
When the Porcupine caribou did start to migrate through, I wasn’t sure how I would handle the harvest, being a former vegetarian for 10 years and having only witnessed the death of an animal once. I found it to be a peaceful experience to watch someone with a deep spiritual connection harvest an animal. I did put my camera down a couple of times to simply watch. It was beautiful to witness someone with so much respect for an animal harvest and handle it. You could feel the love and happiness. They always thank the creator and animal for the food that nourishes their body, mind, and spirit. They also use every part of the caribou, the only part they leave is the stomach, which Jewels says, you have to leave something for the land and other animals – wolves, fox, ravens – they are hungry too.
Since this was the first time Jeffery and Lexine were in the city, what was their reaction? Since so much of the work the Gwich’in do to fight for their way of life involves traveling on trips across the country and the world to educate people about the importance of protecting the Arctic Refuge, I wanted to cover that as well. Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, is a seasoned traveler but likes to bring other Gwich’in on these trips. This trip she brought her daughter, Lexine, 11, and traditional Gwich’in hunter Jeffery John from Venetie. This was Lexine and Jeffery’s first time to a big city, their first time on long plane rides, and Jeffery’s first time out of Alaska.
Jeffery was constantly surprised by the number of people living in Washington D.C. It was something he couldn’t wrap his head around. He asked multiple times throughout the four-day trip, “So how many people live here? Wow, that many.” Mind you, he comes from a village in rural Alaska with a population of around 180.
How did they react to the lack of nature? On trips like this to Washington D.C., they get no nature. It is a full day of travel, then straight into preparation, then back to back meetings and press conferences, then home. It’s non-stop. I think if Jeffery had been there any longer than four days he would have gone crazy. I remember being in Sierra Club’s office with him, which is on the 8th floor, and he looked at the windows and said, “How do you open the windows?” I told him you can’t, and he said shaking his head, “Well how do people get fresh air in here?” At one point he looked at the people working in the high rise building across the street and said, “So all those people are working inside like that with no fresh air for 8 hours a day?” He seemed to be in constant surprise and would give me looks like I don’t understand why people live like this.
What was overarching narrative arc for this frontline community? I wanted to focus on the Gwich’in people and their way of life. I think a lot of work that comes out about protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge focuses on the environmental and adventurous aspect, not about the people living on the frontlines. To the Gwich’in this is a human rights issue, their identity and food are tied to the land. Oil and gas development would destroy their sacred land and food security. I wanted to show they aren’t what many would consider activists or environmentalists, they are fighting for the right to live the way their ancestors have since time immemorial.
What struck you the most about their fight?
An important part of the story are the sacrifices the Gwich’in make for this fight. So much of the work they do is traveling across the country and the world to educate others about the importance of protecting the Arctic Refuge and the Gwich’in way of life. They make huge personal, financial, and family sacrifices to fight for their people and future generations. One that can be rewarding, but also very emotional and draining.
Let’s remember, these sacrifices aren’t just made by the Gwich’in, this is happening to all indigenous and frontline communities across the world, having to fight for their human rights in 2019.
How long have you been doing this? Almost 4 years – I started on January 6, 2016. I’ve posted almost 1500 portraits since then. At first, I envisioned doing it for only a few months, but a friend suggested making it a 6-months or year-long project. When I got to 6 months, I felt like there was more to do. When I got to a year, I couldn’t stop. My commitment to myself and the people I haven’t yet met was too strong to stop. Here I am now, still doing it once a day, and I have no plan to stop.
This project allows me to create content every day and allows me to feel that I’ve accomplished something special every day, which has built confidence in other areas of my life. I think the project has benefits to my overall mental health too. My mother was diagnosed with early on-set dementia/Alzheimer’s several years ago. She has digressed a lot over the past few years and one thing I’ve heard from doctors is that having a good social network of friends throughout one’s life will help stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s. There are physical and mental health benefits of walking around, genuinely connecting with someone new, and photographing them. Every day.
Heidi: How much time do you have with each subject?
Brian: The process goes pretty quickly and a lot of it is based on intuition. I’m always on the lookout for interesting people on the street. When I spot a potential subject, I introduce myself, talk to them about the project, and invite them to participate. Then I let our connection unfold organically. I have to convince them that I’m not too weird, allow them to share with me what’s happening in their life at that moment, and get a proper portrait of quality within a few minutes. Usually I allow between 2-5 minutes to do all of this and have them sign the model release on my phone.
It still surprises me how we can as humans can get so vulnerable and truly honest within minutes. Sometimes, I am so taken up by the connection, I don’t think about it as a process. Those interactions usually result in the best portraits. But as much as I love the portraits, I love the connections I’m making more than anything else. I thrive on being able to capture that moment in someone’s life and I am floored that people trust me as much as they do. I prefer not to hammer the shutter. I don’t ever worry about whether I can get the shot. Once the connection is there I know the photo will come.
How has your process and imagery refined now that you are almost 4 years in? The first day I used my iPhone. It wasn’t planned it just sort of happened. I was leaving the grocery store and there was this guy cutting flowers in the flower department holding a knife. I approached him and asked if I could photograph him in that same position. He agreed and the project was born. I switched to photographing with my Nikon the next day on the street.
For a bit I used an AE-S Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8, but mainly I’ve used a manual Nikkor 50mm 1.4. The entire project has been photographed at 50mm. I wanted to honor how I learned to shoot with film years ago so I’ve added challenges, like getting the shot in 24 frames or less. I often come away with several selects from those 24. The constraints I have added have helped me a lot.
I’ve also developed better skills at reading people, which has translated into having a high success rate. I’ve only had 67 rejections. Recently I started using video to ask people one relatively deep question after we finish the portrait. I like expanding the experience to literally give voice to the people in the photos. All the verbal cues, changes in facial expression and intonation that video allows captures a thicker slice of their story than just the photo and the blurb I write.
Any plans for a book with images and stories? Yes. I am talking with a couple publishing houses about creating a book or book series of this project. I’d like to take the project on the road to places that I haven’t spent much time in, like the Deep South and Cuba. I’m excited for the possibilities of meeting new people everywhere I visit.
What is the drive to continue? Total world domination. Well, not really. To connect and tell stories through photos and words. I am fascinated about people and human behavior and the stories that connect and unite us. I want to capture that as much as I possibly can. Here we are – floating around on this ball in space – all unique but sharing bonds of commonality. I want to expose what makes us similar and connected. There’s plenty of noise out there about what divides us. I’m all about connecting people.
Photo Editor: Aleksandar Tomovic
Heidi: What was the photo direction? Stan: Taylor Hatala is a dancer who’s worked with some of the best in the biz. She’s toured with Janet Jackson, and been featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. I wanted to get inside her head and show that motion but also the stillness of maturing. I figured every time she gets off a plane, someone is probably asking her to move on the spot. I wondered if we could show her expression of dance through light painting? The concept would give her a break “per se” from performing and it would be a new challenge as an artist for both of us.
For Niles Fitch (This is Us), it was more of exploration of attitude and maturing. He’s got a great smile that he can knock that out of the park in frame or two so that was easy. He’d played a darker roll in a pretty intense episode of Law and Order so I asked him to go there at times to show a range of his skills. We discussed some older actors like Idris Elba, Denzel Washington, Shameik Moore John Boyega and I asked him how he sees himself in 5-10 years? We got into a good vibe as he projected his own future. It was cool to see that side of him and he had so many good outtakes.
How did you interact with the subjects? I think the biggest thing is letting subjects know you are on their team and today I am here to try and shoot the best photos I can. I’m here to represent them (and myself) well and achieve the common goal. You have Publicists, Managers and Parents all looking out for their kids’ welfare. If you get them to understand “help me help you” things get elevated. Hopefully then you can keep everyone happy and walk out with a couple images that are magic.
These subjects are transitions from kids to young adults, how did you approach the portrait to illustrate that transition? With both subjects I asked them about how they wanted to be perceived. How do you see yourself in the future? I know, as a teenager there are a lot of people telling what to do and how to do it so talking to them from a place of mutual respect is important. These kids have achieved a lot in a short time and keeping if fun with a bit of room for them to improvise was key.
Tell us about the background I went to a workshop presented By Kwaku Alston and Arri at their headquarters in Burbank. I chatted a bit with Kwaku about how he’d been using the Skypanels and some of the techs at Arri.
A bit later this editorial came up and unfortunately we didn’t have the budget to really get a bunch of skypanels. I went to Samy’s on a Sunday in LA looking for some cheap continuous light options to rent or buy just to come up with some ambient effects and found this Savage RGB LIGHT Painter for about $150.
I read the manual that evening sent my assistant Seth Mower some reference photos and I think our shoot was on Tues. I had some ideas for patterns I wanted to try and the wand was programmable so we tried to key in colors that would accentuate the fashion styling.
All the motion and color is in camera and I simply removed some of Seth’s shadows and background elements (as we were in a really tight space) It’s a lot of old school camera film tricks like second curtain sync, adjusting flash and continuous lighting ratios and having our subject Taylor stand really still. We worked really hard to have a high budget impression with some low budget tricks and I’m really happy with the results.
Frank has been a friend of the blog for sometime now. Our first of eight posts with him was in 2009, we’re excited for Frank’s new book, Volume 3 published by teNeues.
Heidi: Why did you want to pull this body of work together? Frank: It all started with a conversation with David and Nicholas Fahey. They asked me what was my plan for all of my personal and published work I had created over the past 34 years. I went home and put together four bodies of work I wanted to share and realized that they all went together seamlessly. My portraits went with my David Bowie work that connected to my journals that lead me to my drawing and collage work. I felt after seeing this it was time to make a book that was reflected how I see.
How do you see your earlier work now that you’ve had distance on it? I see the simple act of failure and growth, to not be afraid to go outside the box of what is comfortable. I can look back and say I could have done better or I will never be that person again or see that way again which is good. I accepted and kept myself from fixing or changing older work because I feel in the moment they were true to who i was at that time, I think that’s important.
Has your “eye” changed and what are the benefits of time as one looks their at life’s work? I would say it’s part of my life’s work and because of what I have seen and done there is so much further I will go. I am at about 75% of understanding where it is I’m going and what I’m still trying to say and create. At 59 I am still open to trying different and new things that scare me, this is very exciting and l look forward to my failures as much as my success in the years I have left.
December 5th: Fahey Klein show December 7th: Gallery Talk November 7th: Art Center College of Design Talk
Heidi: How long have you been shooting for the magazine, was this your first assignment with the publishing company? Jose: I had worked for Hemispheres a few times ( also ‘lnk Publishing’ ) over the years, but this was my first assignment for American Way. The best part about landing this cover story, was that shortly after wrapping the shoot, they reached out again to see if I could work on their November cover story as well. I truly enjoyed working on this style of shoot that incorporates a lot of portraiture mixed with travel/lifestyle. I also loved working with their creative team throughout the process.
Did you send them promos? I have kept in touch via email with Jessie Adler (PD) at Ink. She actually referred me to her colleagues for this particular San Diego cover story. (Thx Jessie!!!)
What was the photo direction? The American Way cover stories follow a formula. There are always 5 locals (for the city mentioned) featured in the story, so I needed to make environmental portraits of all 5. The creative direction is that really any of those 5 could potentially end up on the cover. Aside from the portraits, there are travel elements that each of those locals mention in the text that also need photography.
How many locations did you shoot?
For this particular story I actually traveled to Encinitas first to photograph surfer Rob Machado. I had to photograph him before the rest of the story was finalized because he was headed to Indonesia and the window to photograph him was small. For that portion I photographed a donut shop, a fashion boutique, and then headed to Seaside beach to meet Rob. I kept it simple with one Profoto light and just tried to keep the images authentic to who he is. He’s a legend in the surf world, and I was thrilled to meet him because I grow up in Hawaii loving the sport.
A week after photographing Rob, I traveled to San Diego and was joined their by Christos Hannides – AD from Ink Publishing. He travels to all cover shoots to assure that they have a variety of cover options to work with. We had a great time roaming the city over three days and photographing the other four locals mentioned in the text.