If your October 2014 issue of Digital Photo Pro hasn’t arrived yet, you might want to pick one up at a newsstand before they all sell out. With this on the cover, it’s likely to become a collector’s edition: Editor Christopher Robinson and writer Mark Edward Harris (also a talented photographer) did a terrific job on the article. I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s an eight-page profile with nine images, and they used their editing witchcraft to make me sound intelligent and substantive. Mark and I spoke so many months ago, he could have written anything, and I would just figure, yeah, I probably said that. You can see the entire piece online here. Their terrific layouts are below and beautifully printed at your local defunct newsstand.
Well, hello there. It’s been so long. Perhaps you think the blog’s been quiet because there’s been nothing to report? Quite the contrary, my friend. There’s been too much. Let’s start catching up.
So, I recently did this giant, crazy shoot for Forbes up in the Bay Area. It’s out on the cover of this year’s Midas List issue right now. (aphotoeditor also picked up the shoot for its headline article today. You can read our interview and all the details in their “Weekly Edit” feature.) I’ll try to give you the best tidbits here.
The billionaires that had to be herded, all founders of companies originally backed by Sequoia venture capital
1. Count up the people on the cover. Do you count 12? There were only supposed to be 12 (and figuring out how to arrange 12 people vertically was sort of hell). Imagine my surprise when it was all over and I counted 14. No wonder we ran out of apple boxes to stand people on. I have no idea who the extra two billionaires are.
2. Doug Leone, head of Sequoia Capital and a very interesting and enjoyable guy, refused to stand where we planned. He was supposed to be front and center, the leader of the pack. But he wanted it to be about the founders, not him, which I get. We compromised on second row, just off-center.
3. We had about 35 minutes to do two big setups. And half an hour feels like five minutes on a busy shoot. After a variety of cover shots, we ripped away the background — yes, literally ripped away the gray paper — and shot them with the Tesla Motors factory behind them. An amazing place with shining car bodies and sublimely beautiful, sort of creepy robots.
Billionaires just want to have fun.
4. I wish I could say I got to know them and learn from them. They were all very nice, and short on time, and toward the end a couple of them started grumbling about needing to be somewhere. Of course they all stood around and chit-chatted when it was over. I wondered if anyone would just toss a spare million dollars my way, since a billion is a thousand million, and no one person could spend all that. Didn’t happen.
5. Still, it was a lot of fun. I fielded a surprising number of questions beforehand about what they should wear.
6. Next morning, 4 a.m., we arrived across the Bay to do this:
7. Those are the venture capitalists from Sequoia. They rented that Formula One car, plus a NASCAR car as back-up. These guys do nothing halfway. They even became decent actors for the shoot. Except maybe the guy in the top right corner. He’s not really selling that jack he’s on. These are the things you see in the files afterwards.
Still, he’s trying.
8. Before I make too much fun, this shoot would not have happened without a ton of help from Sequoia. They coordinated the founders for the cover, they helped fund and produce the shots, and they were game for whatever we wanted to do. You can’t ask for much more than that.
4. I ran out of gas on the freeway in the middle of scouting all these locations and producing the project. With all the texts, emails and phone calls coming and going, I forgot the fuel gauge was past E.
I need to thank my very hard-working, talented crew: first assistant Brad Wenner, second assistant Jonah Podbereski, prop stylist Shannon Amos, makeup/hair stylist Dawn Sutti, retouchers Rebecca Bausher and Gretchen Hilmers. Plus Bob Mansfield and Meredith Nicholson at Forbes for bringing me on board and giving everything the green light. Special thanks to Andrew Kovacs at Sequoia for co-producing this odyssey.
I’m immensely proud to present my latest testing / portfolio shoot. It just came out in the semiannual printed Workbook. It’s the kind of conceptual shoot I get deep into — like staging a one-act play. You’ll find more (the great Milo Cawthorne with a dead fish in his mouth) on the website.
Shooting at the beach! What fun, right?
Right. But also sort of hell. Sand gets in everything, no matter how many blankets you lay down and how many lights you clamp up high. Without warning the tide surges up and soaks your stuff. The bathrooms are a hike. Seagulls attack your food. There’s nowhere to plug in. Wind topples anything not weighed down with 50 pounds of sandbags. Whether the tide is rising or falling, you’re constantly moving your actors and carefully placed lights with it. When it’s all over, your lenses and cameras are coated with a fine layer of gear-killing salt. Now go home and try to work the sand out of your 15 rented C-stands.
For those of you who are wondering: these images were all done in-camera. No compositing or mixing and matching in post. Great talent, careful coordination and lots of lighting.
Many thanks to the phenomenally talented actors (from right to left in that last shot): Ari Boyland, Milo Cawthorne, Olivia Tennet, Mike Ginn, David Delatour and Fleur Saville. Plus Paul Bennett, who nailed the octopus-head role. And makeup/hair stylist Stephanie Lawrence and always-on-the-ball assistant PJ McMullan.
Well, he may or may not be, but he could. As could anyone with a little know-how using the search engine he created, Shodan. I photographed him for the latest issue of Forbes, whose entertainingly lengthy article title puts it best:
The Terrifying Search Engine That Finds Internet-Connected Cameras, Traffic Lights, Medical Devices, Baby Monitors And Power Plants
With this search engine, you can literally view the feed of closed-circuit cameras. Or turn off remote-controlled lights in homes. Or link into the world’s online devices in other, more nefarious/creepy ways.
Matherly, however, a mild-mannered and intelligent gentleman who lives with his girlfriend outside of San Diego, is likely not spying on you. Still, once we arrived and saw that he runs the search engine from this little suburban condo, I knew I had to do something combining that quiet existence with the voyeurism of the search engine. We set up a lot of lights and had a great time.
Boring title, I know.
I love coming up with creative titles for my blog posts, but I also love shooting for Forbes. In this case, every clever title seemed to suggest:
A) that the business world is boring;
B) that the people I’ve been shooting are boring;
C) that I don’t value my Forbes assignments.
None of which is true. Yes, the business world can be dry, but so can artists and actors, and that unpredictability is what forces you to step up your game. Find the life-sized hot rod at Mattel. Wallpaper Shonda Rhimes’s office in purple. Get the tech-startup CEO to yell at the camera. Not surrounded by jaded celebrity publicists, these are all real people often open to trying something different.
Take this guy, FreedomPop mobile co-founder and CEO Stephen Stokols. When your company has a populist message of defiantly bringing free Internet to the people, you’re going to get asked to do this. Well, buddy, let’s see it.
Then there’s the impossible-to-schedule Shonda Rhimes, creator of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and “Scandal.” We loved her desk but not the wall behind it. The desk, however, was completely tethered to the floor with cables and electronics. So we simply covered the wall in purple and did some redecorating. When you get 30 minutes with her at the end of the day, the busiest woman in show business is pretty fun.
At Mattel, once we made it through security, signed confidentiality agreements and registered every piece of camera and lighting with their photo department, they let us have the run of the place. And once we found the life-sized Hot Wheels car, I knew we had to stick the big guy in there.
On shoots like these, there’s always a risk that you’ll spend two hours setting something up, only to have the subject shoot it down in about two minutes. Fortunately, Mattel CEO Bryan Stockton is both very busy and very nice. He showed up, took a look at what we were doing, climbed in and went to work.
And Tim Kilpin, who’s been there forever and is their brand king, is just one of the nicest people I’ve met on a shoot. This is a long wall featuring decades of their catalog covers. I chose a section whose aesthetic roughly matched my 1970s childhood, and we had a great time reminiscing about the toys of long ago.
There are more Forbes shoots to come, but we’ll have to wait until they’re out in print.
It’s awards season in the photography world, when we all congratulate each other on our fine work and resent those who won awards that should have been ours. Reminds me of a (not very funny) joke:
Q: How many photographers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Five. One to screw it in. Four to stand around and say, “I could have done that.”
I’m proud to say that some of last year’s work has won awards:
American Photography 29: Three images (here, here and here) — including two from my Night Cars series — were chosen to be part of the permanent American Photography archive online. Out of 9,000 images submitted, only 185 received this honor.
2013 Applied Arts Photography & Illustration Awards: My Lost Boat image (see the website and blog) is a winner in the self-promotion category. Appearing soon in the May/June 2013 Photography & Illustration Awards issue.
2012 One Eyeland Photography Awards: The Lost Boat image won a silver medal in the self-promotion category. Plus you get this snazzy certificate:
It’s finally on my website — the complete Lost Boat shoot I’ve had in my head for years. The location scouting destroyed my little 35/2 lens, the pre-production drove me slightly insane, the props and rowboat filled my driveway, and then … it came together beautifully. The actors brought their characters to life, the crew made it a smooth day and the boat held five people without collapsing.
A few highlights:
Found this location in the final hour of the final day of scouting. Then my lens fell apart.
Don’t mess with Victorian women.
The beard is real. He shaved it off the next day.
Not the man you want guiding your boat.
Even the lowly oarsman gets his portrait taken.
The always-brilliant Milo Cawthorne.
Sailors just want to have fun.
Got to shoot the amazing David and Travis Wear recently. They’re the UCLA basketball stars who, as twins, take every class together and spend an average of only 30 minutes apart every day. Get them to dribble, and the balls will end up in unison. Stand them next to each other, and they each lean toward the other at identical angles. Ask them a question, and they’ll finish each other’s sentences.
They do wear different shoes. Size 16.
Suzanne Evans with the previously unruly family she decided to whip into shape by applying Machiavelli’s principles of leadership. Then she wrote a book about it. Smart woman.
Shot for The Wall Street Journal, then quickly picked up by London’s Sunday Times and Italy’s Myself magazine. They love them some Machiavelli, the Europeans.
Well, hello there.
Recently shot Joan Behnke, interior decorator to very wealthy people, for Forbes in the 40,000-square-foot home of one of her clients. What does it mean to shoot in a home that size? It means scouting takes an hour, and you end up not sure if you should shoot in the massage parlor, the beauty salon/barber shop, the poker room or the movie theater. It means safety comes second, because not knocking over vases and sculptures comes first. It means very little time passes between walking on a carpet and that carpet being vacuumed. The housekeeper kept vacuuming our staging area.
And when you eventually decide to shoot in the giant living room, it means using every light you’ve got, even though you recently bought more lights.
Isn’t she just a doll? Loved working with her.
For some reason I’ve had this image in my head for a few years now. It involves Victorian mariners lost on a boat, stranded perhaps, not going to say where since this is just a teaser. I had to get it out of my head and on to film (so to speak), so I gathered props and wardrobe and brilliant actors and my favorite crew from around the city, and I finally shot the thing. Took five days of scouting just to find the location. My little 35mm f/2 lens literally fell apart after I found the location near dark on the fifth day.
It’s probably my favorite shoot ever. Look for it in the spring 2013 Workbook, out in less than a month. In the meantime, there’s a fragment of it on my website, and I offer you these fine behind-the-scenes shots from my friend, the great photographer Max Gerber:
Even sailors need a little touch-up now and then.
I swear I’m not posing. Didn’t even know Max was shooting.
Wayne “Animal” Lewis. We had to tie him to the boat.
Not sure what YOHA means.
Because every shoot needs a starlet: Rose McIver, the not-dead sister from “The Lovely Bones.”
Milo Cawthorne, another great New Zealand actor and the source of my best jokes.
That one’s perfect. Let’s shoot 140 more.
The talent and crew went way beyond my dreams for this one. My heartfelt thanks to all of you:
Captain: Byron Kavanagh
Navigator #1: Milo Cawthorne
Navigator #2: Wayne Lewis
Oarsman: Eddie Guzelian
Lady of the Sea: Rose McIver
First Assistant: Paul Bennett
Behind-the-scenes photography: Max Gerber
Stylist: Georgie Perrins, puppethorse.com
Hair and Makeup: Veronica Sinclair, veronicasinclair.com
Studio: Helms Daylight Studio
Giant prints, around 32″ x 40″. Photographed entirely at night (not dusk, not the magic hour, but night), by streetlight, on 4″ x 5″ film. Exposures range from 4 minutes to an hour. An ongoing series.
Prints are 20″ x 20″. Like the trees, photographed entirely by streetlight at night (not sunset or twilight, but night). Exposures range from two to 40 minutes, all on medium-format film. An ongoing series.
Big 40″ x 32″ print. A Metro-rail overpass, photographed on expired Polaroid film with an ancient Polaroid 110A Land Camera. Part of my Night Polaroids series.
Prints are 16″ x 16″ (with a panoramic at 32″ x 16″). Photographed by helicopter on September 29, 2012, during the 405-freeway closure of Carmageddon II. All on medium-format and panoramic film.
Prints are 17″ x 22″. An extremely eco-friendly home in the Hollywood hills, designed by architect Beth Holden and photographed originally for Angeleno Interiors magazine.
About 150 people turned out to see my Urban Archaeology exhibition last Saturday. It was a crazy evening topping off a crazy week, and I didn’t shoot a single photo of the opening. Got some crappy iPhone photos from my awesome brother, who had the presence of mind to think that someone should document this. That’s me, in the grey shirt in the middle, probably talking about the perils of shooting long exposures in residential neighborhoods at night (security guards, police, dog poo, rain).
Get out those credit cards, people.
Note for future shows: Place the cocktail bar inside the gallery rather than out back; it’s where everyone hangs out.
Thanks to the brilliant people at New Theme gallery for making it a success. Complete image catalog in the next blog post.
It ain’t baseball, but it is the major leagues. Like probably every photographer out there, I shoot personal work and figure that, someday, when art historians are poring over my images and deciphering their meanings, there will be some kind of gallery retrospective showing a career’s worth of brilliant art produced silently and invisibly for years.
Well, brilliant or not, it’s time to stop being invisible. I’m having a major solo show, Urban Archaeology, at the New Theme gallery next Saturday, February 2.
The show is indeed a compilation of several years of work, all documenting various facets of Los Angeles, including Night Trees (all on 4×5 film) …
Night Cars (all on medium-format film) …
Night City (all on Polaroid) …
And my imagery of the work of New Theme Architecture, which is bringing new forms to Los Angeles architecture:
OK — time to get back to scanning and dust-spotting. It’s glamorous, the life of a photographer.
Just stumbled across this website: Exxon Mobil Retiree Club of Joliet
Sometimes you find things online that you could never quite duplicate, no matter how hard you tried. I’d love to meet the club’s members. I bet they are a hoot. (This is not some kind of sarcastic political statement about Exxon; I’d truly love to hang out with them. We could talk about graphic design.)