What Remains – Helena

Helena was a heroin addict who lived in a modified shipping container in Reykjavik, Iceland. I met her some years ago while photographing folks who lived on the fringes of the country’s overly orderly society.

As most Islanders do, she spoke English, but her accent was American, a gift from her father, with whom she’d lived for a while in San Diego, California. The details of our conversation elude me because I was making photos as we talked, but I do know she spoke about the beach and the Southern California warmth and her hope of returning someday.

As you see, Helena had an open, adolescent face, one dotted with acne, anchored by a strong nose and adorned with large green eyes that alternated between lively and vacant. Atop her head was an unruly collage of yellow and orange hair going dark at the roots. What the photos don’t show is how Helena moved constantly as she talked: her arms intertwining around the torso, her hips arcing left and right, her waist bending forward, each motion a nervous punctuation. She smiled readily, then frowned just as quickly, displays of emotions in motion. She posed for camera at times, imitating what she’d seen, but she couldn’t sustain the façade.

I’m not sure Helena ever understood or cared why I was there, not that it mattered. For her, I was a diversion. After that hour, I never saw her again nor do I know what became of her. I could find out without much difficulty, I suppose, but I’m not sure I want to. Most young drug addicts face hard futures. Once people are broken, it’s hard to put them back together.

For me, what remains of Helena are the images. This is what photography does: preserves a micro-moment, and an incomplete one at that. The image lacks sound and movement, and any emotion it might convey is second-hand at best. What was seen is all there is.

My Oaxaca – Meeting Irma

This is the first photograph I made of Irma. She stands in the afternoon sunlight in the front door of her beauty salon, which was located in the Colonia America Sur, a neighborhood with streets bearing the names of South American countries. Irma’s street was Brasil. She named the salon Michelle after her daughter, Betzi Michelle. Before opening the salon, Irma cleaned houses and worked in a laundry, living week to week on what she made. The founder of a shelter where Irma’s two children lived during the workweek helped her go to beauty school and set up the salon. The business was going to be her ticket out of working-class poverty, but it only lasted a few months, killed by too much competition and too little funding.

When Irma closed the salon, she took its furniture to her one-room apartment. Each time she moved, which was about once a year, she dragged the furniture with her – a reclining chair used to wash hair, a sink that drained into a bucket, a dressing table with a tall vertical mirror, a bright green chair made of mesh, and a pair of plastic tables. For a while, Irma did haircuts and styling out of where she lived, but eventually she gave it up entirely. Piles of clothes, food, cleaning products and toys now cover the furniture.

Backstory: How I Backed Off and Made Better Portraits

Chuck Collins, YMCA

When I first started making portraits of people, everything I shot was tightly framed. It was all about the face. I came in close and measured my success by the details I could see. The more pores the better as far as I was concerned.

Some shrink, I’m sure, could attribute my desire to fill the frame with face to some unaddressed childhood need or perhaps a lack of adult intimacy, but it probably had more to do with the Yousuf Karsh portraits I saw in school and my desire to replicate those (not that I ever did).

CollinsChuck_120814__0087Today, as much as the face still fascinates (and as much as I still want to focus on follicles), I’ve backed off. Now, I’m looking more for context than closeness. I want shape, posture and attitude more than detail.

Some of that change in approach came from maturing as a photographer, but much of it also comes from the assignments I have. Frequently, I find myself making a portrait of a person simply standing or sitting somewhere and I need to use the environment around him or her to create an image that is striking, or at least has some snap. Also, many art directors want openness (or negative space) in the frame so they have the option to overlay type in that area.

Because I rarely have any control over the location or the timing of the shot, which means I’m often having to make something interesting under either muddy skies or full sun, I’ve become attached to using a single strobe to isolate the person from the background.

These images of Chuck Collins, CEO of the YMCA of San Francisco, illustrate what I mean. Marin Magazine asked me to photograph Chuck and I met him on a moist, gray December morning at the YMCA’s facility in the Marin Headlands.

I arrived early and looked over the place. It was bleak. Empty buildings. No kids. Windswept grounds. The vacant basketball court had appeal, though, as did a small empty amphitheatre with low, wooden seats. Both had strong vertical structures (the hoop and the flagpole) I could use.

Chuck helped, too. A good-looking easy-going guy, he gave me enough time to adjust the light several times and even helped me lug the battery pack from the basketball court to the amphitheatre.

I liked the results, which you can see in the images on this page (bigger versions below). The magazine, as it often does, chose a different frame, but that’s why they pay me – to give them choices.

You can see more of my photographs of interesting people at photography.timporter.com or here.

There is no gallery selected or the gallery was deleted.

The Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks, Dan Jewett, Yuri Jewett, Kristin Sobditch, Jason Silverio

One of the treats of working with Marin Magazine has been meeting Dan Jewett (right), who by day is the magazine’s managing editor and the rest of his time is the guitarist for The Hollyhocks, an Oakland indy band that also includes Dan’s wife, Yuri (bass, vocals), Jason Silverio (drums) and Kristin Sobditch (guitar, vocals).

The Hollyhocks new CD, Understories, came out this week and tonight it officially debuts at the Makeout Room in San Francisco. Critics are loving the CD, as they should. It’s bright, it’s smart and it rocks — just like the people who made it.

I had the opportunity to photograph The Hollyhocks a couple of times, including once in Dan and Yuri’s home as they were working on some of their new songs, and again for a group shot of the band. For the latter, we fence-hopped onto Caltrans land beneath a freeway maze in Oakland. The picture above came from that session.

I love photographing musicians, in part because I get caught up in the emotion of their music, but also, truthfully, because doing so enables me, a man who couldn’t carry a wounded tune to a hospital, to vicariously share the stage with them. (See my new Music section in my portfolio.)

The gallery below has  more of my photos of The Hollyhocks. Take a look.

photocrati gallery


Open Studios 2012: The Visitors

Open Studios 2012 at The Image Flow

Open Studios was a big success. More than 150 people dropped by The Image Flow’s new studio and gallery space in Mill Valley over the weekend to see photographs by Barbara Hazen, Stuart Schwartz and myself.

I set up a light and photographed as many of the visitors as I could against the still-unfinished studio wall. I love the mixture of people and their expressions. Everyone has a “oh, you’re taking my picture” face and you can see many of those here. Click on any of the thumbnails below to launch the gallery.

Here’s the work I showed — all new images. Enjoy.

photocrati gallery

Erika, the Red

Erika The Red

Sometimes I get so busy trying to make a living — which generally means satisfying demanding control freaks clients — that I forget to do things for myself.

I am not complaining. I have, by any standard, a wonderful life, with, as David Bryne reminds me, a beautiful house and a beautiful wife.

But — and there’s always one of those, right? —  if I’m not doing enough of my own work then I might as well return to the 9-t0-5 (or, as was the case in my old world of newspapers, the 7-to-7).

In that spirit, here’s a recent image that has no commercial value, no intended purpose and no reason to exist beyond my lifelong effort to answer Byrne’s questions:

You may ask youself

What is that beautiful house?

You may ask yourself

Where does that highway go?

You may ask yourself

Am I right? … Am I wrong?

And you may say to yourself

My God … what have I done?

Want to see more redheads? Look here.

On the Job: The Faces of Giving

Tina and Bill Noble

Tina and Bill Noble

One of the things I miss about journalism is the serendipity of encountering people who, through their strength of character in the face of adversity, remind me of my own good fortune. It’s called perspective, and you can never have too much of it.

For the current issue of Marin Magazine I had the opportunity to photograph a number of people — and write about a couple of them — who have benefited from the kindness of others in their journeys to overcome life’s adversities.

Tika Hick

Tika Hick and Indie

The most moving of these moments occurred when I met the people you see here — Tina and Bill Noble, above, and Tina Hick and her son, Indie, left. All of them are dealing with loss, one in a very intimate way and the other in tragically public manner.

Tina Noble is only 60 and in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s, which she was diagnosed with five years ago. Bill, her husband of nearly four decades, cares for her in their San Anselmo home. Hers is a life of diminishing capacity; his is one of increasing devotion. It is a poignant equation.  After I photographed them on their living room couch, I sat in my car and cried. How many of us are capable of the unqualified love Bill demonstrates daily toward Tina? Am I? Are you?

Tika Hick’s story is more public. A virulent cancer had attacked her. In July, a week before she was to undergo a double mastectomy, she traveled to Maui with her partner, David Potts, and their infant son, Indigo. In a horrific accident, Potts was sucked into a blowhole, dragged out to sea and never seen again. Now, Hick’s life is one of tenuous recovery, one so emotionally fragile that even the presence of a photographer in her small garden can fuel the sadness and bring more tears.

Sad stories, indeed, but also hopeful ones because within them are other stories of kindness, of organizations like Senior Access that benefit couples like the Nobles and of personal giving that supports someone like Tika Hick.

In addition to the Nobles and Hick I photographed four other people. You can see their photos below. Here are summaries of their stories and the organizations that helped them:

* Stephen Levine, who turned to Hospice by The Bay in Marin County when his wife of 24 years, Pam, was dying.

* Mayra Moncado, who learned from the Women’s Initiative how to make her Fairfax salon business a success.

* Pashia Lord, a Marin City mom who found a positive direction through the Performing Stars of Marin arts group.

* Sheldon Playdle, a San Luis Obispo college student (and possible future bio-tech executive) whose path to higher education was paved in part by 10,000 Degrees.

Here’s the full package in Marin Magazine. My test on Tina and Bill Noble follows:

“Why did I get Alzheimer’s? Why me? And how did I get it? I’m so young—just fifty-five.”

Tina Noble wrote those words five years ago, just after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Today, the former college professor with a Ph.D. in anthropology lives under the 24-hour care of her husband of nearly 40 years, Bill, a retired naturalist.

When Tina does leave the couple’s San Anselmo home, it’s usually to spend the day at The Club, a Senior Access program for people with memory impairment.

“It’s a beautiful place way up on top of the hills in Terra Linda. Sunny. Open,” says Bill. “There is a school next door so there’s the wonderful chatter of young kids all the time. There are lots of interns and aides and resource people. They do everything from elder yoga to having performers of various kinds come in. It’s delightful.”

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and nearly 15 million others perform roles like Bill Noble’s, caring for family or friends. Senior Access recently opened another day care center in Belvedere to meet the rising demand in Marin.

Bill and Tina’s daughter, Wren, a graduate student in photography, has been documenting her mother’s illness. You can see her pictures here.

photocrati gallery

On the Job: Johnny Heineken

Having the name Johnny Heineken is cool enough, but add in good looks, golden locks, an engineering degree and a world championship in kitesurfing then you’ve got more cool going for you than most 23-year-olds might deserve. Luckily, Johnny Heineken is as laid back as he looks and fun to photograph.

Here he is in the studio in San Rafael during a shoot for Marin Magazine. I’m sharing this wider shot so you can get see  how much of what my wife Johnny Heinekensometimes calls “photo crap” — i.e., gear — is involved in making what becomes a simple white background image when printed. Here there are five lights, three of which you can see and two others behind the black foam boards pointed at the background.

I adjusted the lights several times during this shoot depending on where Johnny held his kitesurfing board (made by Mikes Lab in El Sobrante) in order to keep shadows off his face.

As I messed with technical stuff, Johnny chatted with writer Mimi Towle, who, among other things, learned three key facts about Heineken:

1. Johnny’s favorite drink is a Lagunitas at the Silver Peso in Larkspur.  “I can skate there and walk home.”

2. His favorite pizza? Stefano’s chicken pesto.

3. And, yes, his last name is connected to that Dutch beer company.

Here’s the whole interview. And on the left is how the final shot appeared in the October issue of the magazine.

On the Job: The Architect

Craig Hartman, architect, Skidmore Owings & Merrill

Much of the photography I do for Marin Magazine involves showing up at someone’s office, studio or home not knowing what I’m going to find there and then having a half hour or so to make a picture.

When I first returned to photography seven years ago after a long stint as an editor and writer, these sorts of assignments were nerve-wracking. My technical skills were weak, and I’d spend so much time getting the lighting right — or at least acceptable — that I had little time left over to connect with the person I was shooting.

It’s different now. I’ve mastered a few basic techniques and have come to love opening the different surprise package that each location offers. With a couple of small lights, some stands and a boom, I can make almost anything work. I’m not Annie, but I get the job done and have fun doing it. And, importantly, I no longer let the gear eat up the short time I have to establish a rapport with whomever is in front of my lens.

I enjoy shooting in corporate offices because they often have a lot of space and therefore give me several choices for a location. When I arrived a while back at the Skidmore Owings & Merrill architectural offices in downtown San Francisco I found my spot as soon as I stepped off the elevator.

The reception area was spacious, already nicely lit and featured two large wooden models of buildings the firm had designed — and one of them (on the right) was the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, whose designer was the man I was there to photograph, Craig Hartman, who also designed the International Terminal at the San Francisco airport. It was perfect.

I usually have to set my lights before my subject shows up, and I did that here — nothing more than a small light to the background on the right and a round softbox hung off a boom over a bench.

Hartman arrived about 10 minutes later, wearing a deep blue jacket I knew would photograph well. He was relaxed and easy to work with. I shot for a short time, changing lenses and position a couple of times and it was over. I had been in the building for 30 minutes.

Here’s the shot the magazine used. I prefer the one above.

On the Job: Artists in Residence

Jeff Beauchamp

A while back I had the opportunity to photograph a few Marin County painters in their studios and write a short piece for Marin Magazine about the curiosity the artist’s studio holds for most of us who earn our keep in more prosaic ways. This allure is one reason for the success of open-studio events, which allow the general public to wander, glass of chilled Chardonnay in hand, amid the wondrous clutter of these creative spaces.

“We flock to them like curious visitors to a carnival sideshow,” I said. “Oh, see how they live! There are their paints! What whimsical furniture! … the voyeur who lives in all of us?—?the one who surreptitiously peeks into the closets of friends (and don’t we all?)?—?is thrilled by the backstage pass into this normally cloistered corner of the art world. Perhaps the paint-spattered floors will reveal the key to innovation? Maybe the pungent varnishes will awaken dormant inspiration? Could that rack of half-finished canvases spur completion of our own inchoate dreams?”

A bit much? Perhaps. But nosy I am and in search of inspiration as well, so I never pass by the open door of someone else’s studio — especially if I have camera in hand.

Fairfax painter Jeff Beauchamp (above) works out of bland, beige office building whose monochromatic exterior belies the explosions of color on canvas he produces. Jeff won the magazine’s annual cover contest and I photographed him in his studio with his vintage Fender Telecaster, which occupies his hands when his brushes are idle.

The gallery below includes some recent artist portraits, all painters except for  Mill Valley musician Austin de Lone at his keyboard. His story is here. The artists in the order shown are:

Elizabeth Gorek; Georgette Osserman; Kay Carlson; Eric Zener; Sue Averell; Austin de Lone; Jeff Beauchamp.

photocrati gallery

On the Job: Austin de Lone

Austin de Lone

I love photographing artists and musicians where they work. Some have studios, some have garages, some have bedrooms in their homes that double as office, closet and creative space all crammed into a corner. And that’s where I found Austin de Lone, amid his keyboards and computer, wedged into a tiny spare bedroom in his Mill Valley home.

De Lone, known to fans and friends as Audie, is a former stage-mate of Elvis Costello and longtime Marin musician who sings and plays with his soul exposed and his heart wired to an amp. Marin Magazine was doing a profile of him in advance of a benefit he had put together to raise money to fight his young son’s rare illness, Prader-Willi syndrome.

Austin’s cramped studio was a joy to behold–perfectly, artistically cluttered–but also a challenge to shoot in. A grand piano not only dominated the room, but pretty much filled it. The instrument filled nearly one wall, and left only a narrow passage to walk through on the other side. Its top end abutted a closet and at the business end was just room enough for Austin to sit with a desk behind him. The room was also dark, little by only a 60-watt lamp.

In that cozy space, I needed a small light. I had brought along a small, 17-inch square softbox that fit over a Speedlight. I wanted to hang it from a boom over the piano, tight in on Austin so the light wouldn’t spread too much. There wasn’t enough room, though, to fully open a lightstand. I managed to get the legs of one half open,  hung three 15-pound sand bags over them and cranked the boom out over the piano with the light on the end. It wobbled precariously. I prayed to the stability gods and started shooting.

As you can see from the distortion, I was in close, a couple of feet away. I moved around as best I could, but Austin provided much of the action. He played a bit, hummed, sang a few bars, and told a story or two. All in good spirit.

In 20 minutes, I made several pictures I really liked. Austin was completely relaxed and at times seemingly unaware of me and my camera. I’ve seen other artists and musicians do the same in their studios. I think studios become extensions of their artists, a place where the hands and eye and the heart are indistinct from the tools–the keyboard or brush or computer. The studios and the artists meld, and there, even when creativity turns elusive  (as it so often does) they find their most comfort–and in that comfort good pictures can be made.

On the Job: Tim Hockenberry

Tim Hockenberry

Tim Hockenberry, a Mill Valley singer and musician, is the kind of good-looking guy women notice — tall, stylish and, as my wife would say, twinkly. He caused quite a stir the day he came to my studio in San Rafael to do a shoot for Marin Magazine. One of my building-mates is a food stylist whose kitchen and studio is down the hallway from mine. She and a photographer were shooting hamburgers the day Tim arrived, and they had the door open when he passed by their studio from the elevator en route to my space.

After I got Tim settled in, I left him for minutes to chat with the writer and went down the hall to get something. The stylist called me in as soon as she saw me. “Who is that?” she said in a voice much spicier than the food she was styling. I told her. “Send him down here when you’re done.”

An hour, and several changes of clothes, later, Tim and I were done. We’d had a great time shooting — he was fun, engaging and knew how to pose, everything that makes my job easier. I made a variety of shots, including a batch with his trombone (his first instrument). For laughs — and much to the delight of the writer, a woman — we also shot a few shirtless ones as he changed clothes. I submitted about two dozen proof shots to the magazine, which ultimately used the one you see here and another in the table of contents. The shirtless photo didn’t make the cut, apparently, but later, on a visit to the magazine, there was a printout of it hanging above the desk of one of the writers.

On the Job: New Portfolio Cover

Following the advice of Sportsshooter.com founder Brad Mangin, I’m changing the cover of my liveBooks portfolio once a month. Above is the first one. The goal is to have a fresh cover that better reflects my range of skills than the the shot of the Golden Bridge at dawn that’s been up there for a year (fans of that photo can find it here), as well as put my contact information front and center.

As always, each of these images has its own story.

The twins are Noah and Logan Miller, author and actors who made the movie Touching Home and wrote a book, You’re Either In or In the Way, about how the film came to be. I made the picture for Marin Magazine in Nicasio in Marin County, the setting for both the book and the movie.

The child wrapped in her mother’s hands is Maya. I also made this photo for Marin Magazine for a short Mother’s Day feature. The longer story behind this picture involves me blowing the first image I tried to make with another child.

The young woman in the upper left part of a series of portraits I’m doing of people with red hair. This was shot in her East Bay home.

Play Time

Work, work, work. Everyone’s worried about it. There’s either too much or — for many photographers and writers these days — too little. The best way I’ve found to beat back the anxiety beast is to pick up a camera and shoot. Making pictures is what got me started, and making pictures is what keeps me going. That’s why I love any opportunity to just play with the camera.

I had the chance to do just that last week when family came to visit from Paris and Lost Angeles. After a couple days of doing the tourist thing, we gathered one morning at my studio with bags full of colorful hats and scarves, and spend a fun couple of hours dressing up and being silly.

The one child in the group — Vanessa, 4 — tired of the fun before the adults, which says something about the need we grownups have to let loose the inner child more often.

Above is Vanessa and my mother-in-law, Deborah. (The hat became Vanessa’s favorite and she’s considering, as much as a 4-year-old can, of changing her middle name to Rose.). Below is Vanessa and her mom, Karina.

On the Job: Scientists

This is Victoria Lunyak, one of a dozen amazing scientists at the Buck Institute for Aging Research I photographed for the current issue of Marin Magazine.

The assignment was to create a package of photographs and text marking the 10th anniversary of the institute, whose focus is seeking treatment for diseases associated with again such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons.

To the non-scientific community, the Buck is perhaps better know for it’s striking modernist building designed by I.M. Pei. For that reason, I wanted to emphasize the faces and voices of the scientists who work there as a way to demystify the institute. We selected a dozen scientists, people like Lunyak, who runs her own epigenetics lab, to junior staff scientists who spend much of their time moving fruit flies from one jar to another.

I asked them why they became scientists, what they hoped to achieve and how they see the role of science in modern society. (Answers here.) I was struck by the amount of passion in their responses. Nearly all expressed a motivation to find cures to debilitating diseases, and some told compelling personal stories about why they became a scientist.

The portraits were done over two days, with locations ranging from open labs to the fruit fly room to the Pei buildings striking interiors. All were shot with small speedlights, using two or three lights in some instances to just one in others, like this shot above.

I also made three pre-dawn visits to the Buck to photograph the exterior at first light, once in the rain. The magazine used one of those shots (see below) in the table of contents, but the opening photo, which ran across a page and three-quarters, I shot one afternoon purely by chance while on a scouting mission, confirming once again that in this business serendipity can be as important as preparation.

You can see the series of portraits and some exteriors here. The magazine package is here.

On the Job: Tourists

Tourists at Golden Gate Bridge

I like tourists. Maybe that is because I like being a tourist myself — seeing new places, talking with people from other cultures, finding wonder and amazement in what the locals consider to be the quotidian.

Here in Marin County, we get tourists — about 13 million a year who arrive by boat, bus and, more frequently of late bike (over the Golden Gate Bridge.) Last month I did a photo story for Marin Magazine about local tourism. I did the usual reporting about numbers and economic impact, but the most fun I had was shooting the tourists.

I photographed about 40 individuals, couples or families, mostly in tourist-heavy locales like the Sausalito waterfront, the Golden Gate Bridge view area or the Marin headlands — people from all over the world: Finland, Turkey, New Zealand. Only one couple said no, a pair of very paranoid Americans who all but shrank when I approached.

The above shot of a cute French couple was the double-truck opener for the piece.

The technique was simple: A 17-55mm on a D2Xs in my right hand, an SB800 with a remote trigger in my left, on quarter or eighth power.

Here’s the whole story. Or go to the jump for the opening anecdote about four fun-loving ladies from Arizona and one’s desire to be frisked.

Continue reading

Going with the Flow

Just a quick post on this portrait because I am jamming to finish a couple of magazine projects before I head out of town for a working vacation — to the wedding of a friend in Cartagena. Vive los novios!

The magazine wanted a picture for Father’s Day and we found Greg Snowden, the owner of a local green building materials company, and his three sons.

I met them in the store after it closed, put up a big softbox over a picnic table and threw a couple of smaller lights on the background.

The boys were rambunctious and never settled down, mugging for the camera, grabbing at each and pulling Dad into the fun. At first I tried to control them, then realizing I couldn’t I just went with the flow, hoping a make a couple of good frames.

The result is above, one of about four or five usable shots out of 75 or so. I happy with it, although it’s not what I set out to do and therein lies the lesson:

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It doesn’t work and it only P’s off the pig. In this case, the pig sang when it was good and ready.

Children of the Canal

About a year ago, I photographed competing immigration rallies in San Rafael. On one side of the street were advocates for the local Latino community; on the other were members and supporters of the Minutemen, a conservative anti-immigrant organization. Both groups were a rarity in Marin County, an affluent, mostly white, heavily liberal enclave just north of San Francisco.

A few weeks earlier, federal immigration agents had raided homes and businesses in the city’s Canal neighborhood, a tightly packed area of run-down apartment buildings and small homes that is home to 12,000 people, 86 percent of them immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. The agents arrested 65 people, 23 of whom were eventually deported.

The raids were part of the broader immigration debate in the country, a divide that had spawned huge marches across the country. I wanted to put something together for Marin magazine about how the issue played out in suburbs, but was hesitant for a couple of reasons. First, I was jammed with doing the book. Second, after 20 years of traditioal journalism I didn’t want to write an on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other type story where the emotion got buried under a slag heap of official statements from either side.

After I finished the book this spring, I began talking with Tom Wilson, head of the Canal Alliance, the Canal neighborhood’s primary social service group, about different story ideas. He pointed me to an after-school program that tutors neighborhood children, teaches them other academic skills and exposes them to a world of possibilities outside the Canal. The program guarantees that if a child sticks with it, he or she will graduate from high school and enter a community college.

I told Tom I’d like to photograph the kids in the middle-school program and ask them a few questions about their dreams. Then I pitched the idea to the magazine, adding that I’d write an introductory essay — not a story — about the immigration issue. To my surprise, they loved the idea.

I made the photographs over three afternoons in a classroom. I wanted the pictures to be simple portraits, so I posed the children in the middle of the room and lit them with one umbrella and a big reflector, using the far wall for a backdrop. I spoke with each for about five minutes first, talking about their dreams, their families and their countries of origin. Most of the interviews were in English, a few were in Spanish.

Some of the children dreamed big — to be doctors or lawyers. Others wished for little more than a visit home to their family in Mexico. Some rushed forward to be photographed. Others I had to persuade through cajoling.

If you look at the photographs, you will see the faces of children, but also, in many of them, the eyes of adults who have seen more of the world, a rough world, than any 12- or 13-year-old should.

If you read the essay (below), you will learn how I feel about this children, which is that regardless of how any of us feels about immigration the children of immigrants should not pay the price. Who are we to deny them better lives — especially in the United States, a country founded on that very principle?

* Here are the photographs.

* Here is a PDF of the Marin Magazine package, including the essay.

* Or, click the jump for the essay.

Continue reading

Choices: Mine, Yours, the Editor’s

Samantha ParisAnyone who has worked in media knows the end product — magazine, newspaper, film — represents a series of choices and decisions made by individual creators, the team as a whole and, increasingly in films, the audience. (And, of course, web-based media like You Tube or Fark is almost wholly based on audience selection.)

How much weight your decision carries in influencing the final result is often relative. When I ran newsrooms, I had little control over what the creators — the writers and photographers — chose, but quite a bit more over the final product.

Now that I’m freelancing again, I have creative control over how I shoot something, but less to say about how the photo is going to be used or even which one from a shoot will run in , let’s say, a magazine. I have learned, though, how to shoot things differently for different clients — some like light glossy and bright colors, others prefer darker, edgier shots. I shoot to match their style, then always add in some preferences of my own.

The above picture of Samantha Paris, who runs a voice-over training school in Sausalito, provides some good examples of the choices I made in photographing her and the decisions my client, in this case Marin Magazine, made in using the photographs.

I stopped by Samantha’s studios while the writer was interviewing her, just to look the place over and meet her. As soon as I saw the recording booth, I knew I wanted to shoot her in there, but also knew I’d be pushing my technical skills because the space was so tight (about 3 feet by 5 feet) and so dark.

I wanted to use the shapes of the microphone and the pop screen as graphical elements and also have a spotlight effect to the photo. The booth had a window in front so the actor and sound engineer could see each other and I decided to use one light to shoot through that window.

At home, I blocked out a space in my living room similar to the size of the booth, and saw that I could get another light stand in the back corner of the booth and a shorty studio stand on the floor behind Samantha. I did some tests shots and felt I at least had technical control of the shot.

For the shoot itself, I used three SB800s — the one outside the window,the one in the booth corner and the one on the floor. The main and hair lights had snoots and CTO gels to warm up Samantha (not that her personality needed it) and the background light had a blue gel.)

We shot for about 30 minutes in the booth, including a sequence in which she acted out some scenes (left).

I also wanted to make some pictures of Samantha interacting with her students, so we set up some chairs in a front room with a big window and I shot about 20 or 30 frames using the natural light.

Afterwards, looking at the files, I was pleased with the shots in the recording booth (although I did underexpose by a half-stop), but I was pretty sure the magazine would use the more informal and more interactive shots with the students. I also liked the shots of in the booth more when she wasn’t acting and just looking at the camera.

I got first indication of which way the magazine’s choice would go later when my wife, a former journalist, looked at the take and loved the acting shots and those of Samantha with the students.

She was an audience focus group of one and her instinctive response mirrored the one the magazine editor made later. The image below of Samantha and her students, ran big. The “acting” shot ran smaller. My favorite (at the top of this page) didn’t make the cut.

Is there a lesson? Yes, and it’s that we shoot (or write) for many audiences — the audience of one (ourselves), the audience of many (readers, viewers) and the audience of economics (our clients). I love it when they overlap. When they don’t, I cash the check anyway.

Samantha Paris

The Hands of My Mother

Ines LehmanThis is a story about a simple picture gone wrong and why a do-over is sometimes the right thing to do.

Every month in Marin Magazine I do a small feature called Marin Album — a photograph and a short essay. Typically, the photo is some scenic slice of Marin life, like this one of a cyclist in the Headlands or this one of a little leaguers on opening day of baseball season.

For the May issue, the magazine asked if I could make a picture for Mother’s Day of a mom and her new child. Nice, I thought, that will be sweet. Plus, it’s simple. I can use window light and skip some of the complicated setups I’d been doing recently.

One of the magazine’s writers had a baby a month ago, a boy, so I arranged a visit to her home. When she opened the door, her dog, some kind of pug, started barking and never stopped — I kid you not — for the hour I was there. It was a sign I should have heeded.

I looked around the house. Too dark to shoot in except for the living room. But the windows were behind the sofa, meaning if I put her and the baby on the couch their faces would be in shadow.

This is where the “should have”s” begin — I should have brought in some lights instead of sticking with the natural light plan. I should have asked her to change her green shirt, which reflected an icky tone on the baby’s skin. I should have taped the dog’s mouth shut.

And, when she brought out her son from his crib I should have said, “This is not going to work.” He was a cute kid, as all month-old’s are, but his skin was bright red, blotchy and pimply. a condition I later learned to be “baby acne.” Without some serious Photoshop retouching, this little boy was going to look more like pre-pubescent teen than Baby of the Month. (And, don’t forget mom’s green shirt adding to color mix.)

I should have said I’d be back in a month, but I didn’t. I shot, I used reflectors, I turned them this way and that. Two gigs later, nada.

Later, looking at the shoot in the computer, I kept thinking, “How could I blow a shot of a baby.” All I wanted was this and the best I got is what you see to the left.

I fessed up to the magazine, blamed the dog and said I needed another mom and another baby. That’s how I met 3-month-old Maya, above, and her mother, Ines. This time I told them what to where, brought in some lights and put the dog outside. Better. Much better. And at the point when I wrapped Maya in the blanket and asked Ines to hold her head I knew I had the shot I wanted.

Ines’ hands wrapped around Maya’s tiny head reminded me of what my mother used to say about her hands, how as she grew older they resembled those of her mother.

I used that thought as the key for the text below (after the jump). Continue reading