Above: Rachel, who immigrated from Kenya in 2004

I’m not a religious guy (message me for details!), but I’ve been hired by Metaleap Creative a few times over to create cover story images for byFaith, a Presbyterian magazine they design and produce.  Last year, their creative director asked me to spend some time with New City Fellowship, a Presbyterian church located in a relatively poor and neglected neighborhood on St. Louis’s near north side.

Noel

Noel

The assignment was to make portraits of the leaders and congregants at New City, which prides itself on community outreach and racial reconciliation. In famously segregated St. Louis, this is not unremarkable.

I suggested working with large format film and the art director was surprisingly receptive. I brought an assistant and we went for the Sunday services, set up our gear outside the main doors and photographed people as they came out and agreed to sit for us. Sit being the operative word.  

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Oh, Northern California. The assignment was a vast image library for global biotechnology firm Biogen, and included five cities, thousands of images, and one pretty terrible meal courtesy of Clint Eastwood. (Seriously, the Mission Ranch in Carmel, CA – avoid it. Eastwood could not be reached for comment.)

We captured a tremendous range of subject matter:

  • Patients

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  • Research

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  • Manufacturing

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  • Product

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  • Corporate culture

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  • Leadership

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… and delivered hundreds of finished images. Given a broad mandate and sufficient resources, it was a wide open creative opportunity to help the client interpret their brand to an international audience.

All that is true, yes. But what stays with me is the North Coast light.

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The weather doesn’t seem to matter. Sunny or cloudy, mist or soupy fog, the light is exquisite. Maybe it’s the low angle of the January sun, or the slight and ever-present diffusive haze, but everything just looks so damned great.  We shot while hiking through forests and along the coastline, on a lake in the Berkeley Hills, hunkered down in a wood shop in Carmel, and along the San Francisco Embarcadero. The setting doesn’t matter; all is luminous.

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Maybe that’s why it’s so expensive to live there. You’re paying a premium for the light.

See more of the Biogen project on the Stories page: HERE.

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Promise Christian Academy is a small private school that serves the needs of children with severe, often multiple, disabilities. Think Autism, Down Syndrome, and Cerebral Palsy, though the school is keen not to define its students by their conditions. A few months ago, byFaith magazine sent me to photograph those students (story here), to capture a sense of the dignity and self-empowerment that Promise strives for.

It’s a cliche to say that children like this are “special”. I’ve always thought that term sounds like a euphemism. But when asked to describe the kids I photographed, that’s the somewhat clumsy word that kept surfacing. These kids often cannot or do not communicate the way most of us do, and the experience you have being face to face with them, doing your best to find some small way to connect, is elevating and a little bit spiritual. So yeah – special.

Jimmy

Jimmy

Joshua

Joshua

When I was there, Promise occupied a series of fairly small rooms inside another school. (They have since launched a capital campaign and approved plans to build a permanent home.) The classrooms are intentionally cozy, but from a photography standpoint it was cramped and chaotic, overflowing with tiny desks, drawings, books, trampolines, and therapy equipment. I wanted to make carefully lit portraits on a studio background to put the emphasis entirely on face and body language, and when we first walked in I thought, “No way, there’s just no room.” But the faculty were incredibly encouraging, giving us the entire tiny cafeteria to use as our 10 x 15-foot studio. The kids must have eaten lunch around and behind us, which may explain why Lily is holding a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in this picture.

Lily

Lily

Here’s what the set looked like. We used five lights, my favorite being the giant strobe with fresnel lens, just a gorgeous light source. SUCH a pain in the butt, though, weighs probably 45 pounds. Not at all a location light. Five lights for one subject isn’t crazy, it’s carrying all this gear out on location up two flights of stairs and into a tiny school that’s a little crazy. It took us most of the morning to load in and set up.

Theo standing in.

From the front, Theo sitting in.

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180° view looking back toward camera. You can see the seamless backdrop at the edges. (Click to enlarge.)

The pictures made it worthwhile though. And then there was this feedback from art director José:

Yay!

Dear ADs: Please send us emails like this when you like the work. It makes us so, so happy.

See the rest of this series on the Stories page – HERE.

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Rufus is a giant orange cat who lets my family live in his house. Between naps, he eats frequent meals, allows himself to be scratched and petted about the head and face, goes on adventures with George (2 years) and Jupiter (5 years), and watches tv. Rufus, this is your life:

(Click any image to enlarge.)

I spend a lot of time sleeping and covering the furniture with my fur.

Catnaps aren’t short, they’re long. All day long.

Lying on top of, and getting scratches from.

Hi.

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I finally landed one of my photographs in the Communication Arts Photography Annual. I have been trying to get into that annual basically since I was born.

The hook here, though, is that I made the image in addition to, almost in spite of, the given assignment.

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The job was an editorial shoot for Phoenix Patriot, the University of Phoenix’s magazine for their military community. The subject, Nancy, is an Air Force spouse and parent who, among other professional accomplishments, established a neighborhood watch program in her family’s subdivision in Missouri. The explicit and yet classically vague goal of the assignment was to capture some sense of Nancy’s engagement with her neighborhood – shots of her looking vigilant, I suppose – and secondarily to represent her life at home in a positive way. It was meant to be a character study of an upstanding citizen, which she clearly is. Like most media outlets, Phoenix Patriot has an agenda, which is to show their graduates in a positive light, having successful lives and careers. That’s what I’m hired to do, and that’s great. I’m a hired gun. (Ha.)

But you can’t turn off your inner compass. At some point during the shoot the conversation turned to guns – maybe I asked about a gun on the wall, or one of the mounted heads. But Nancy’s husband was eventually showing me what seemed like every gun in the house. Theo and I had our pictures taken in the family den holding an AR-15, arguably the most popular assault rifle in America. You would be amazed how light an AR-15 is – it feels like a toy. When he showed us Nancy’s sidearm, I knew I wanted to photograph her holding it, which she couldn’t possibly agree to, I thought. I asked anyway.

She said, “Sure.”

I often feel conflicted when someone agrees to be photographed, because I suspect that they don’t fully understand what is about to happen, how they might be perceived, and how dramatically the meaning of the image can shift once removed from the context of the original moment. But if I got into all that, no one would ever agree to anything.

So we took the picture, and it was a good picture, and partly because it can be read in light of a controversy about gun ownership in the United States, it got some recognition. But the photo editor was not interested in it. After submitting my initial edit, which did not include any gun pictures, I sent a separate email to the magazine’s designer with an attached screen grab of small thumbnails of the gun pics. I wrote something like, “I know this isn’t what you were looking for with this assignment, but I think this series of images is pretty compelling, and I thought you might be interested…” No response. That’s ok, though! I’m grateful they sent me there in the first place. The best thing about any assignment is that it gives me access to people, and the authority, deserved or not, to be the one taking pictures.

The image final image that editors selected for the opening spread.

The final image that editors selected for the opening spread. We went for a walk in the rain.

The article's opening spread.

Phoenix Patriot

Collection of thumbnails that I sent to the magazine's designer after the initial edit.

Collection of thumbnails that I sent to the magazine’s designer after the initial edit.

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Theo, wearing his Lifetime Channel hat and holding an AR-15 assault rifle.

Me, holding a rifle and meaning business.

Me, holding a rifle and meaning bizness.

 

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I was asked to write this short editorial for the “What I Learned Last Year” series on the St. Louis Egotist, a popular blog that covers the design and advertising community.

. . .

My second son was born in May of 2013, the older, Jupiter, being now three and a half, and the younger, George, 8 months. In my house, we call 2013 “The Lost Year.” The Lost Year is the first year of your child’s life, and it is lost because you – the parents – can’t do anything, or go anywhere. This is due to baby requirements which make it not impossible but very inconvenient and annoying to leave the house, the chief of which is the sacrosanct nap schedule. We learned this the first time around, but somehow forgot. Trying to develop your career, renovate a house, or train for a marathon? Don’t be silly. You may remember that all mammals are born with a “sucking reflex”, but the “time-sucking reflex” is what makes babies so powerful. They’re little time sucking vortices.

May 6th - Welcome, George Hopper Fram, all 10.5 pounds of you. Born on the same day as your Uncle Aaron, also the younger of two brothers.

May 6th – Welcome, George Hopper Fram, all 10.5 pounds of you. Born on the same day as your Uncle Aaron, also the younger of two brothers.

So it’s frustrating. And yet, I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime yearlong moment, the moment when my boys are so sweet and small, and need me so much. It’s unique, the drawing inward and knitting together of our new little family, full of tender and hilarious moments, and it won’t happen again. At the same time, we are buried right now, my wife and I, heads down, plowing through to reach the approximately 52 minutes at the end of each day when we can sit down and just talk to each other uninterrupted, or watch TV together before passing out. But at some point I’ll look up and the moment will be over, for good. Jupiter already gets annoyed when I hold his hand crossing the street. And George will eventually stop burrowing his head into my neck when I pick him up. One day I won’t be able to pick him up.

April 20th - What I never get to do anymore.

April 20th – What I never get to do anymore.

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We’re looking for an intern! That’s really all you need to know, but feel free to dig into this verbose and over-written set of guidelines we created in response to one university’s multiple-text-field submission template.

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The Hippocratic Oath of a Photographer, 1937

The Hippocratic Oath of a Photographer, 1937

I just read this poem on Facebook, via a post by Andy Adams of Flak Photo, via Heather Morton who commented on the post, via Matthew Carson who blogged it for International Center of Photography in 2011, via… M.F. Agha, the famous Vogue art director who wrote this little gem in 1937.

I’m curious, what do you think the message is here? I feel like the original blog poster seems to have missed it.

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My best capture from our recent Instagram photo booth installation and keg party. Shot with an iPhone.

Heather, September 2013

Heather, September 2013

 

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What it is, is video. But “video” sounds like something cheap with low production value, rather than a beautiful moving photograph. We want you to think cinema, not TV news. Stanley Kubrick, not Michael Moore. That’s why we say motion. We’re thinking of photographs that move. And the term videographer… just, never mind.

Whatever you call it, I’ve passed through the dabbling phase and I’m a bit proud of this series of one-minute profiles of the surgery team at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. We made seven of them, released in the fall of 2012 and finally making an appearance on this oft-neglected blog. You can view the rest of them on my Vimeo page – here.

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