Saturday, September 29, 2012


Manny, San Francisco, CA near Union Square, September, 26, 2012.

Nothing really shocks me these days. Perhaps I have been desensitized over the years seeing so much evil and so much grotesque imagery in the press and in entertainment. In trying to create shocking imagery, I decided to avoid the obvious traps of sex and gore. Too easy. Since shocking is so subjective, I don’t think I could have the temerity to claim to have created a shocking image. The first thing I thought of was the cover for the Jane’s Addiction album “Nothing's Shocking”, the two naked siamese twins with their hair on fire. Interesting that since then, their lead singer Perry Farrell has given up trying to be shocking. Joining the mainstream by forming the Lollapalooza festival and endorsing 
Nothings's Shocking, Jane's Addiction

I looked through my David Lachapelle book with its portrayals of Jesus in modern day with gangs and card players, naked porn stars and women deformed by plastic surgery. Somehow, looking back, it all looks rather anodyne and desperate, but I gobbled it up.

I thought about what shocks me. Materialism. Homelessness. Callousness for our fellow man. Lack of connection between humans amidst such a crowded world. I can see all these things at Union Square in San Francisco. Panhandlers in wheel chairs, filthy clothes and hand painted signs beg for help amongst the riches of Neiman Marcus, Gucci and Chanel. I decided to connect with these people. I realized I needed their help to communicate my shock at their plight. So I asked them, “Can you help me?” Not one hesitated to say yes. I told them I was taking photos and would like to hire them to pose for me for $5. They were magnificent in helping, volunteering their information and posing as they were instructed. Shockingly, a connection was made instantly. I hope these photos are shocking in their honesty and the humanness of these people in our midst, so often ignored as we march by with thousands of dollars of merchandise in our bags. 

All these photos were taken near Union Square, San Francisco, CA on September 26, 2012.
Elmo, San Francisco, CAS near Union Square.
Harvey Redd, San Francisco, CAS near Union Square.

Latrice H, San Francisco, CA near Union Square.

Phillip Collins, San Francisco, CA near Union Square.

Silent, San Francisco, CA near Union Square.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Losing Connie

Losing someone is one of the most profound experiences we can have. The person goes from being a familiar part of our life to a stranger, sometimes almost over night. The nascent anticipation of a fully-realized life together, the alacrity with which you spend time together, degrades to something aberrant and lost. We may see them in our sleep. We imagine them but cannot touch them. They pull farther away until they are gone. They dissolve into a cacophony of light, both in our life and in our subconscious imagination. 

These photos were taken without looking through the camera. I actually enjoy this technique and have employed it often. One gets tired of the perfectly framed, the eye-level perspective. I love photographing from the ground on small children and animals. Or from high above with my arms extended. So I was pretty sure what I would get when I clicked the shutter. Rule of thirds is out the window, but the unusual framing is refreshing.

I shot into the sun. I wanted these photos to appear more as imaginings than literal images. I used slow shutter speeds on some to show movement. A soft focus was intended. The sequencing is intentional. Her face appears clearly in the early photos. Not at all later. She gets farther from the camera, as she is lost. I learned to let the narrative happen. Start with a vague concept and let the story evolve. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fashion Show Flash Mob

Joanna, Sam, Tiana and Gaby trek up Valencia street toward Ritual Coffee.

I've never flash mobbed. I had been to a fashion show or two. So when Raven texted me saying “Are we on for tomorrow?”, I was a bit perplexed. She explained that the designer Ilanio, who designs avant-garde fashion, was throwing a fashion show at three locations in flash-mob style. I was intrigued. Ilanio had designed playa-wear for Burning Man and this swimwear show promised to be bright and colorful.  I was also interested in how the people would react. I got in place at the second location, Ritual Coffee in San Francisco on Valencia street. This is the hippest fourth generation coffee shop in the hippest area of San Francisco.
Raven Le Faye parades through Ritual Coffee
The hip-hop dancers lead the ladies out.

I heard a commotion and saw the hip-hop dancers leading six colorfully clad models up the street. Heads were definitely turning, but usually with bemused smiles rather than disgust. There was Raven, fifth in the line looking amazing in a gelatinous magenta swimsuit with the biggest zipper I have ever seen. I might point out that Raven’s hair is also magenta. That is not a wig.
Gaby, Raven and Jamila leave Ritual and head up the street. 

The crowd in Ritual, barely flinched. One guy kept reading his phone and hardly looked up. But as the girls paraded through the store, turned around and left, there was a big applause. The only time anyone seemed annoyed was when traffic was blocked as the models crossed the street.
The only irritation was when traffic was blocked.

The next location was the wide-open Dolores Park a few blocks away. It was packed on this sunny Sunday. As the models trekked though the crowd, everyone got out their smart phones and snapped away. A few people danced to the music being played by Joel Zavella on his hand cart loaded with speakers. At one point the ladies stopped and preened in front of the San Francisco sky-line. Then the returned to the vans that had brought them, posed with some new fans, loaded up and took off.
The footwear was as bright as the swimwear.

Ilanio with his creatures and his creations.

Only in San Francisco could six lovely models, dressed so brightly and bizarrely be so easily accepted by the crowd. I love it here.
Raven shows off the largest zipper I have seen.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Consumer

I created this portrait, which I call “The Consumer”, in 2010. (Click on the photo to see a larger version.) Originally, I wanted to call it “The Connoisseur”.  But I found that the more I looked at it, I realized that a connoisseur is often just a consumer with his little finger extended.

My family and I had just been through a huge financial reversal. We lost our dream house we had built. Our income had dropped astronomically. We were living in a rented house for the first time in 23 years. My business career, which had been a constant upward trajectory, was now bottoming out.

Oddly, I still have a lot of the trappings of more flush times. Many are seen in this photo. These had been acquired over the years. We always believed buying the best things was an investment in the future. And it was to some degree. These items had held up extremely well. Ironically, the reason they still exist is the quality of the items, which I recognized as somewhat of a connoisseur.

Concurrent with the financial changes, I had gone through somewhat of a mid-life spiritual awakening. I had founded a charity that provided education for children in Mexico. I built houses for poor people there with my church. At age 50, I had decided to pursue a career in my long-time love, photography. So I had gone back to school to get my MFA. In one of my first courses, a teacher had said, “All good art comes from pain.” I didn’t realize it when I made this photo, but it did draw a lot from the experience of financial reversal.

I would not call this anti-art. But it has elements of that. Many items pictured here would not be considered cool by the arty types I had come to know at school: the suit, aspirational life-style, the fancy watch. But these were things by which I had come to define myself on some levels. So I thought I would show them in this photo and see what reaction I got.

I think on another level, the photo is a slap at consumerism. I put the price for each item to show how much these things cost in dollars.  I figured there were some viewers who would be appalled. Yet, I know people who have these expensive items and thinking nothing of paying much more.

Although the exchange value in these prices is explicit, they meant much more to me. The watch was a gift from my wife. It was purchased at the height of my income. So its value to me was having an heirloom quality item that I could have my whole life. I still wear it as a constant reminder of this time. A reminder to be conscious of my consumerist traits.

I didn’t think of it at the time, but almost nothing in the photo is merely a commodity item. Almost all are imbued with a fetish aspect. Each item can be had much more cheaply as a knock-off or less expensive item. Whisky can be had for under $10. Sure I love the taste of single-malt, but drinking an expensive scotch enamors me with friends who similarly value being scotch experts. The iphone, puts me in that club of Apple-istas. Do I really need an MFA to be a photographer? No. But the value perceived by others in having that sheepskin gives me credibility and self-confidence.

Marx posited that the labor used to produce an item is sometimes ignored as it becomes a commodity fetish.  This concept has been turned on its head in our current society. It is used to market expensive items. We are told to buy items made in the USA to support American workers. Support the economy by spending. George Bush encouraged people to go to Disneyland after 9/11.  Spend money as a Patriotic act to support those working.

Don’t get me wrong, all of these items have high quality in their production. (I have had those shoes for 15 years.) But isn’t that another aspect of the merchandizing that persuades consumers to fork over the extra money? One can rationalize his purchase of these items. They have a higher value-in-use because of their quality.

But in the end, many of my fellow students were producing art superior to mine without a 5D MkII camera. As this photo shows, the concept is really more important than the tools used to make the art. As long as I realize these are tools, and can absolutely convince myself that these tools allow me to better realize my vision, then I am a satisfied consumer. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bridgepoint Music

Bridgepoint Music asked me to photograph for  their website. The job entailed several different photos of many different genres of photos. My favorite we probably the photographs of the instruments.  We decided to do them on a white background. I used a small white seamless background and my Octabox for lighting.
James Manganaro, Owner at Bridgepoint Music
I had met James when I photographed him for a profile in James and his father Charles asked me to return for the website photography.
Inside the showroom at Bridgepoint Music
They also wanted shots of their impressive showroom full of musical instruments. I have down indoor shots before and often you take a lot of time cleaning up the space. But their place was neat-as-a-pin. The spot lights were nice to as the created some bright spots to make the shot more interesting.
I returned a few weeks later to photograph their newly installed practice room. These high tech rooms are sound insulated but small. I tried to show the open feeling of the rooms with their windows. I also tried to show the clean and modern appearance of the room.
The ancient instrument called The Serpent

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cache Creek Lavender

Linda and Charlie from Cache Creek Lavender. 85MM lens, f6.7, 1/180 sec. ISO 400. Alien Bees B800 camera right fired with shoot wireless trigger. 

Note: I wrote this blog for It is reprinted here because I love the photos I got from my two sessions there.  The first was at the annual lavender festival in June where I got the photo of the little girl and the macro of the bees and the second was a portrait session done around dusk, where I got the portrait. 

When Charlie Opper acquired a few acres in the beautiful Capay Valley northwest of Sacramento, he needed to figure out what to do with the place.  To the gratitude of hundreds of Menlo Park Farmers market attendees every Sunday, he chose to create a lavender farm. The Cache Creek Lavender Farm booth is where Charlie and his partner Linda Barrett share the products of their labor.

Charlie and Linda chose lavender as an ideal product to raise in the Mediterranean climate of their farm near Rumsey, CA. Asked what attracted them to lavender, Charlie rattles off a long list that includes, aroma therapy, sleep aid, antibiotic, anti-virol, burn remedy and scar reduction. But the thing most people love is the fragrance, which seems to relax and bring on a pleasant mood in most people.
100mm macro lens, f4.0, 1/350 sec, ISO 100
After getting the farm up and running, they were looking for an outlet for their products. Farmers markets seemed like a logical choice. Charlie says there is lots to like about the Menlo Park Farmers Market. “The market is really quaint. We have a very regular clientele and we are surrounded with very high quality vendors.” Charlie also likes the demographic mix which he says features students, seniors and dot-commers.

Charlie grew up in Southern California. He also took his love of surfing to Hawaii for 20 years. He met Linda in nearby Woodland, soon after moving to the farm in Rumsey. Linda grew up in Boston and came west to go to school at Davis, where she studied plant and soil sciences.

Now that the farm is up and running, they have a lovely shop on the premises and host an annual lavender festival the second week of June each year. The festival is well attended by hundreds of people from all over the state. It features lavender ice cream, wine, crafts, music and this year a wood-fired pizza oven. 
24-70mm Zoom at 62mm, f6.7, 1/500 sec, ISO100

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

One Light

Christopher Webster of Hogan's Goat Tavern for
I seem to be going through a phase where I like shooting with one light. And even then, only when the ambient doesn't give me what I want. I think part of the beauty of it is the simplicity. I do a reading on the ambient, I then set my ISO as low as possible so I can see the surroundings in their own light and still freeze the action, or at least most of it. In the above photo of Christopher Webster for,  I used a 1/4 sec exposure at f5.6 and 400 ISO. I used an Alien Bees B800 with a gridded soft box placed to camera left. This mirrored the light coming from the door. There is a slight blur when Chris moved to greet a customer (Look at his left hand), but the expression is priceless and the ambient in the bar is just what I wanted.

Hooper Nicole Wong at sunset at Warm Water Cove
Nicole Wong is a Hula Hooper. We wanted a shot of her at sunset and with the hoops in motion. Balancing the light at dusk is always a fun assignment. Here, we used my Alien Bees B800 with a gridded soft box, to the right of the camera. I wanted to freeze the hoops as much as possible, so I used 1/180 for the shutter speed, the fastest that allows me to sync with the flash. There is a little blur on the hoops, which I like. f5.6 gave me the right amount of depth of field. I used ISO 200 to help get there.
Bud Spangler at his Oakland studio. 
This shot for (InMenlo) of jazz producer, Bud Spangler, did not need any ambient. It was a tight space I could light with the single light. In this case I put the Alien Bees B800 with Octabox, right behind me. It gives me a ring-flash type effect, but with softer light. This was shot F8.0 to keep the acoustic material on the walls sharp. 1/90 was the speed and ISO at 100 for detail.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Challenges of a Tight Space

Mary shows off her collection in a very crowded closet.
For my recent shoot with vintage clothes collector, Mary Kuhn, I literally photographed in a closet.  To get the light I wanted was a real challenge. The angle of the door did not allow me to set the light outside. So to make space, I sat on the floor and put a light on a stand above me. Then I held the camera just inches  above her shoes on the floor to get a super low angle.  With my free hand I used a handheld speedlight to light her jewelry. The total space here for Mary, me and the equipment was probably 3 feet x 6 feet. It was a good challenge.

Our second shot was in a tight hallway, I loved the vintage phone hanging on the wall. In this case I put a light outside a glass door that entered the hallway from the side, giving me a nice soft effect. I filled with a speedlight and softbox from the right. Always a sucker for a tattoo, I focused in on that for this shot.

Our final shot was more what I am used to. I used a large Octabox for this shot on the bed. We lined the bed with more of her beautiful dresses and she posed in a vintage play suit. This pose is a bow to the pin ups of the 50s.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cam Damage - Many Shots in Short Shoot

Often when I shoot my tattoo portraits, I am pressed for time. 4 to 5 hours is all we get. A recent shoot with Cam Damage was a good example of how to get many different photos in 5 hours. Cam was flying out from the east coast for the shoot and a few others. She brought an escort. I decided I wanted a combo shoot of environmental and studio.

3 PM - I picked her up and we did our first shot at a bike bridge. This shot was fairly simple. I had scouted it the day before at the same time of day. I had Cam’s escort hold a Lumipro LP160 speedlight with a wireless trigger, just off camera to the right. We did several shots here, but this was my favorite in pose and light. I had a better sky the day before, but you can’t have everything.

4 PM – We arrived at the warehouse where I would set up the studio shots. I always like to start off in the studio or at an indoor location with natural light. I positioned Cam next to the window and shot this with a 85mm lens at f2.0 and ISO 800.

4:45 PM - We set up a white background and shot a couple of nudes. We turned a classic 60s ball chair on its side for this nude. I used an Alien Bees B800 with a 5’ Octobox for the key light. I handheld an LP160 over the camera lens, a la Terry Richardson, for fill and to brighten the ball. I have not posted it here to respect google mature content rules. It can be viewed on my Tumbr blog.

5:40 PM - The shot with the ripped dress, was shot with the same Ocotobox. I added a bare B800 behind Cam on the right. I like the rim light on her arm and jaw and especially in the hair. The yellow background was added in post.

6:30 PM - Next, we pulled out the grey seamless. I love shooting a black dress against the grey background. Having her kneel fills the camera frame, while getting I all her legs and the shoes. This is shot with an Alien Bees Ring Flash on camera. There is the Octobox on the right. It is mostly overpowered but adds some highlight in the hair. The other B800 is behind on the left for hair highlights. There is also a LP160 thrown on the background, which I darkened on the edges in post.

7:10 PM Finally, we added the Saarinen Womb chair. We kept her in the black dress, but I wish I had done another clothing change. Still, I think this is a luscious shot. It is just lit with the Octobox in very close. The falloff is beautiful on her arms and back. We packed up and were out by 8. Cam is an amazing model with a lot of energy and ideas. I can’t wait to work with her again.