About Me

Greetings and thanks for stopping by my site.

The majority of photos on this site were taken between 1990 and 1994. No process uncrossed, no Polaroid untransfered. I used to be a professional photographer. Then I stopped. Maybe I’ll start up again, but who knows.

Late last year I revisited some of the projects that I shot when I was working professionally. I searched through boxes that were sealed in 1995 and found most of my original negatives, slides, prints, notes, receipts, polaroids, and everything else I saved from the shoots. It was the first time in 15 years that I looked at the body of work. I’ve become so “detached” from the work over the years that I was able to see everything from a different point of view, and with a much different perspective than I had when I originally shot the images.

I rediscovered shots that didn’t make the cut when I shot them, and reconsidered shots that I had previously showed as “portfolio shots.”

About the same time I watched Marc Silber’s interview with Ansel Adams’ son Michael. Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico - 1941First of all, I’m mostly indifferent towards Ansel Adams’ work… his images are beautiful, sure, but I’ve known too many aspiring photographers who got lost in the Zone System-ey technocrap, and met too many jackasses who place Adams on a pedestal for the wrong reasons. Like any other hobby/profession/passion/obsession, photography appeals to so many different people on so many different levels, for so many different reasons. After watching this interview, my eyes were opened to Adams the artist, and my misconceptions about Adams the technician we’re dispelled some. The interview focuses mainly on the iconic “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” photograph. Watch it below.

Adams quotes Adams: “The negative is the score, and the print is the performance.”

To explain this is to explain my Art Center experience and the years leading up to it. I loved photography. I loved every single aspect of it… capturing the moment in time, sharing a view, a vision… I loved the “toys” … cameras, lenses, grip equipment (Matthews catalog was bedside reading), lighting equipment, the film types, the paper types, on and on and on. Socially, photography gave me a reason to be places that I had no right to visit, doing things I would never have allowed myself (or been allowed) to do. Sharing the completed prints or transparencies with friends or clients or the subjects was a rush… the results of the work and the subject seeing themselves literally in a “new light”.

By 1983 I knew that I wanted to be a photographer professionally. I used the majority of my savings to buy my own camera, a Canon AL 1. Before that, I’d used various family cameras for snapshots, but having my OWN camera, with a 28-80mm zoom lens no less, well… watch out world.

Throughout junior and senior high school, I was rarely without my camera. I was shooting constantly. In 9th grade, when I was finally able to take photography as an elective, Mr. Kaufman became my teacher and mentor. The training I got from his class was the first ‘real’ training I received. Assignments like “look up” and “look down” forced us to become deliberate with our shooting. It was also my first exposure to darkroom work. In late 1985 I started working at a Ritz Camera store in Glendale, California. There I was introduced to photo retail and got an education about customer service, dealing with the public and sales. I also got to see where frustrated photographers went to die. I stayed there for a couple of years while I was in high school. By the first semester of my senior year, I was taking FOUR periods of photography (out of six) and I was firmly committed to attending Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Founded in 1930, ACCD still has a reputation for being one of the most prestigious art and design schools in the world (and one of the most demanding schools in the United States). I was also lucky that it was 3 miles from my house.

I began to branch out into more “professional” equipment. I found out about Pasadena Camera Rental while at Ritz. Someone had dropped off a catalog and I decided to rent some equipment to shoot family portraits. I met the manager, an Obiwan Kenobi meets Kid Shelleen character named Don. After talking with him for a while about things and stuff, he asked if I wanted to work there. It was the craziest thing. I interviewed with the owner/partners, aerial cinematographer Stan McClain, and his partner, studio photographer (and Art Center Graduate) Dan Wolfe. They were hardcore. Fortunately they took a chance on me, and I started work there at the beginning of 1988. Pasadena had a thriving photo community, with many professional photographers, photo studios, wedding and editorial photographers, and, most attractive to me, a growing base of Art Center student customers to learn from.

Stan was a demanding boss, who expected nothing less than perfection from his growing staff. When the store was slow, there were cases to be cleaned and scrubbed, lenses to clean, cameras to clean, 20×20 silks to refold. One thing I loved about working at PCR was how I got to vicariously live photographic assignments through our customers. A customer would call a reservation in, and it was up to us to help the customer get everything they needed. Putting ourselves in their shoes, we would think about every aspect of their assignments, what accessories would work best for them, what lenses would be the best, what lighting, etc. That experience, and Stan’s tutelage, gave me an advanced technical understanding which I applied to my entrance portfolio to Art Center.

The effort paid off. I was accepted to Art Center and was awarded a half scholarship for my entire 8 terms, with one key stipulation: To keep the scholarship, I had to complete the 8 terms without any time off (Art Center had three full terms a year, no “summers off”), and I had to maintain a “B” average. This meant that I would have my Bachelor of Science degree in 2 years in 8 months.

If you’re still with me, you get a cookie or something.

So I launched headfirst into an Art Center education, while working at PCR on Saturdays plus occasional mornings or afternoons, and shooting professionally when the opportunity arose. My personal relationships deteriorated pretty quickly, unfortunately, but it was ok, everything I did needed to be focused on school and on keeping my grades high enough to keep my scholarship. Without that scholarship, and the remaining half of my tuition paid for by student loans, I wouldn’t be attending Art Center. Pretty tense times.

The Art Center curriculum seemed to be designed to remove as much spontaneity from the photographic act as possible. The motivations were clear… every good jazz player needs to know their horn. They need to know their scales, they need to know theory, they should know how to read and write music as well. So fundamentals were drilled into us. It was 1989, but it could have been 1979, or 1969. The techniques and mechanisms were largely unchanged. There were no computers (insert codger comments here) for image manipulation or post production, and digital imaging was only barely starting to appear in the form of VGA cameras costing tens of thousands of dollars. I’m certain that things are different now – but my time travel skills are nearly as poor as my brevity.

The Art Center photography curriculum was very very technical, and rightly so! If we were using 4×5 black and white negative film, we had to make sure that our chemicals were properly mixed and at the proper temperatures. Manual sheet film developing meant proper agitation, lest the negative show the obvious signs of mottling that comes from too little, or too much agitation. Printing presented additional challenges. Prints must be perfectly sharp corner to corner, which meant making our own Newtonian glass negative holders, and keeping everything dust and scratch free. Finished prints were spotted and etched as necessary, and dry mounted to boards with perfectly cut mattes. Any mistake at any step along the way meant a lower grade. Later, when we shot color, if you were going to photograph a white bottle on white seamless, for example, that transparency had better be pure white! No film or E6 processing color cast should be left unfiltered. That meant testing the film stock, the processing chemistry, the lighting color temperature, and even the lens coatings. If the film had a magenta or cyan cast to it, the shot was a failure. The client wouldn’t accept the film, and neither would an instructor. The instructor were ruthless, but their scrutiny would train us to be perfectionists.

This was the process that ultimately broke me. Not while I was in school, but a few years later. I was taught that the shoot ended once the film was out of the lab, or the print was out of the darkroom. Rightly so, the film that was delivered to the client SHOULD be 100% perfect. And in the days before computer retouching became what it is today, any transparency retouching required airbrushing, dye baths, repro printing or some other very expensive, very time consuming and ultimately inferior “save” be made.

This is just my lowely About Page… yup… don’t mind me… just the about page… No process remained un crossed, no Polaroid un transfered.

This is just my lowely About Page… yup… don’t mind me… just the about page… No process remained un crossed, no Polaroid un transfered. This is just my lowely About Page… yup… don’t mind me… just the about page…

No process remained un crossed, no Polaroid un transfered.

–April 23, 2010

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