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On Assignment: Exoskeleton-Assisted Cybathlon Pilot for the journal Nature

Pilot Matt Standridge will compete in the Cybathlon using an exoskeleton from the University of Houston's Noninvasive Brain-Machine Interface Systems Laboratory designed to help people with paraplegia to walk.

I had the opportunity to shoot stills and video last month for the science journal Nature at the University of Houston's Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Laboratory for Noninvasive Brain-Machine Interface Systems. There, researchers are working on a bionic exoskeleton that will allow pilot Matt Standridge, a paraplegic, to compete in the Cybathon. The technology they're developing will hopefully allow many others who have lost the ability to walk to do so again.

The assignment included portraiture, stills from the lab, as well as video interviews and collecting b-roll. The video was edited by Greg Kendall-Ball, the photo editor at the publication. 

On Assignment: Cover shoot for The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Amy Lampi, a development director at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas, is using analytics to help boost fundraising for the organization. The Chronicle of Philanthropy asked if I could shoot the cover photo for the feature on Lampi, and had a great idea that I was excited to be a part of.

The publication wanted to see Lampi seated in the theatre, with individual, random theatre seats lit up around her to symbolize potential new donors. A great idea, but it was now up to me to carry it out. My initial solution was to use grids on strobe heads planted on stage and pointed toward individual seats. I got a wakeup call, however, when I noticed that the light spread, even though I was using 10 degree grids, became too wide once the light made it to the individual theatre seats. To solve this problem, I decided to turn the power down on all the lights and position them right in front of the seats I wanted to illuminate. This created a new problem, that I could now see the top half of the lights in the frame. A quick search backstage and I came back with black(!) towels to put over the tops of the reflectors. With three lights balanced on seats and camera cases, and a reflector with a three-degree grid on the subject (positioned from the stage), we were good to go.

In post-production, I photoshopped out the tops of the lights by copying the top of the seat next to which ever one was illuminated. The editor later also wanted an extra seat illuminated. Again, a layer here, a quick mask there, and voila! - an extra illuminated seat.

August 2016 cover of The Chronicle of Philanthropy

 

 

On Assignment: Link Ermis for AARP

AARP, one of my newest clients, sent me to Huntsville a couple of months ago to photograph Link Ermis, a military veteran whose social security benefits have been turned upside down. Ermis is "one of 1.5 million public employees nationwide, including teachers, firefighters and police, who face a big reduction in benefits because they worked jobs in which they and their employers did not pay into Social Security."

The editor asked for live photos as well as some portraits. Things were going to be tight. Ermis drove a school bus to school and had less than 10 minutes to sit for a portrait before he had to begin his first period history class. I used a small Quantum strobe for some outdoor portraits, then we hustled inside so he could start his class. He used my presence as a quick lesson to his class about what he was contending with personally with his social security benefits. I also got a refresher on the start of the First World War as he explained it to his students while I made pictures.

Digital tearsheet

European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano for the Financial Times Weekend Magazine

I travelled to NASA again recently for the Financial Times Weekend Magazine to photograph European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano. Sometimes when I shoot or assist at NASA, it can be a hassle. There are layers of bureaucracy at the federal agency that can be a challenge to navigate: ID's are checked, public relations people assigned and hovering, places that are off-limits, etc.

This time, things were pleasingly different. Parmitano arranged for us to meet at Rocket Park, which houses a collection of decommissioned rocket ships. Even better, it sits just outside the fence line at NASA, so it's easy in, easy out. Also, it was a weekday, in the morning, so there were no crowds.

The only problem? Strong winds off the gulf and no assistant.

No assistant? No problem!

Nonetheless, once Luca showed up, I knew we'd make pictures. He's statuesque with chiseled features and looks good in a flight suit. He was also very friendly and easy to work with. Best of all, he didn't bring anyone with him (i.e. a handler). It was just me and a guy who's been to space(!). Pretty cool if you ask me.

Stay safe up there, Luca!

Tear sheet from the July 9/10, 2016 issue of FT Weekend

Arcade Fire for the 2014 Reflektor Tour show program

One of my most relished assignments was to photograph Arcade Fire 's 2013 two-week warm-up tour for the band's Reflektor album. We traveled to New York City where they played two nights at 299 Meresole, a night at the Mekka in Miami, and another at the Haiti Cultural Center. And finally two shows in Los Angeles: one at the Palladium and the other at the Capitol Records building. 

Many of the images I made during that time, as well as the work of other photographers, were included in a program for the Reflektor tour. Some of my favorites from the program are below, followed by a video tear sheet of the program.

The program for the Reflektor tour.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias (deceased) for ESPN.com

ESPN.com recently published a feature on deceased sports heroes and how they still get visitors. I think my assignment was the control group, since I didn't see much evidence that the gravesite of Babe Didrikson Zaharias saw many visitors. And this is a shame. One of the first pro women golfers and 1932 Olympic gold-medal track star, the woman was a legend in her own time. She broke the gender barrier as well as world-records that still stand today. Read more about it here and check out a few images from the shoot below.

On Assignment: Laura Jo Degan for Newsweek

Read More

Tuija Kalpala for Ekonomi magazine

Back in March, I got a message on my Blink app notifying me that a photo editor in Finland needed someone to shoot a cover photo for Ekonomi, a Finnish publication for economists. I had the pleasure of photographing Tuija Kalpala at Neste US, a company that produces bio-diesel. A pretty sweet gig, and all just for having an app on my phone.

On Assignment: Travis Arnold for MD Anderson Cancer Center's Conquest Magazine

I'm proud to have another great-looking tear sheet from an assignment I completed for MD Anderson Cancer Center's Conquest Magazine. Travis Arnold, a 17-year old from Spring, Texas, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia - a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells. With the help of the doctors at MD Anderson Childrens Cancer Hospital, a half-match bone marrow transplant was performed. Travis recovered and is now a top-rated golfer on Klein High School's Bearkat golf team.

Page 28 and 29, Spring 2016 issue of Conquest magazine

JLabs at the Texas Medical Center for Houstonia Magazine

In a former Nabisco cookie factory near the Texas Medical Center stands a futuristically decorated science and technology incubator called JLabs. The project, "part of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, LLC, is a network of incubators providing emerging companies with many of the advantages of being in a big company without the capital investment. Residents have access to turnkey, state-of-the-art infrastructure, including singular bench tops, modular wet lab units and office space on a short-term basis." - http://www.tmcinnovation.org/jlabs/

An assignment from Houstonia magazine that began as a request for interiors for a quarter page turned into a full-page portrait and multi-page display after ad pages were added to the magazine near the end of production. Working with the talented and versatile art director Tanyia Johnson, we turned out some tear sheets I'm quite proud of.

"In The Path Of The Pipeline" wins three significant awards

Doc Holiday, motel manager, Albion, Nebraska

I'm honored to announce that my self-assigned photography project "In The Path Of The Pipeline" has won three significant awards in the last few months.

Screenshot from Houston Center for Photography website announcing fellowship and exhibition details

The first is the 2016 Carol Crow Memorial Fellowship (screenshot above) from the Houston Center for Photography. The fellowship includes a solo exhibition, opening May 13, 2016 and on display until July 10, 2016


Tear sheet from April 2016 issue of PDN, page 70

The next award (screenshot above) is a first place award in the Photo District News' Storytellers competition in the environment category. One of the benefits of this award was display in the April 2016 issue of the magazine, an industry standard publication.


Screenshot from Center Awards page website announcing winners

The most recent award received for this work is a Choice award from Center Santa Fe (screenshot above), a prestigious contemporary photography non-profit center based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The award includes free, automatic acceptance in Review Santa Fe, one of the premier photography portfolio reviews in the world.

Recent Assignments: Portraiture for TakePart.com

This week I completed an assignment for TakePart.com, an online news organization based in Los Angeles. The story deals with the difficulty of reversing drug convictions later found to be based on faulty evidence in Harris County (Houston), Texas.

Harris County has a high rate of these drug exonerations because of the actions of Inger Chandler, chief of the Conviction Review Section at the Harris County District Attorney's Office. Along with Harris County Assistant Public Defender Nicolas Hughes, both are working to get a backlog of drug tests resolved and up-to-date, along with helping to speed up the process of reversing convictions.

 

The story is a great read. Check it out here.

Inger Chandler, chief of the Conviction Review Section at the Harris County District Attorney's Office

Harris County Assistant Public Defender Nicolas Hughes

Not arguing, just chatting.

Dr. William "Billy" Cohn, Cardiothoracic surgeon and medical device innovator

The first time I met Dr. William Cohn was on an assignment for the local newspaper. Jovial and charming, I was amazed not only by his curriculum vitae (Professor of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine plus five other prestigious directorships) but his genius for medical innovation as well. One of the last proteges of cardiology pioneer Dr. Denton Cooley, Dr. Cohn has 80 active or pending patents for his inventions and is the founder or co-founder of five venture-backed life science startups. Did I mention he also plays trombone in a blues band? That one of his inventions is an artificial heart that is pulseless and runs on turbines?

Dr. Cohn works out his ideas by building models in his garage and in a basement lab space at the Texas Heart Institute, where the below portrait was made. He uses expired medical devices, wood, and plastic to build models of his ideas.

I thought making of portrait of Dr. Cohn in the room where much of these expired medical devices are stored would be cool. In hindsight, I might have gone with a cleaner background, especially for viewers (usually outside of Houston) who may not be familiar with Dr. Cohn and his techniques.

The heart in the photo is real. The veins and arteries were filled with a plasticizer and then the organ was placed in a tub of sodium hydroxide to dissolve any surrounding flesh.

I was originally going to have Dr. Cohn hold the heart, but, genius that he is, Dr. Cohn suggested hanging it from the ceiling using surgical thread (easy enough to get rid of in post-production). With the help of my sturdy assistant Michael Klein and a very open schedule by Dr. Cohn, we were able to pull off an image that I hope conveys some of Dr. Cohn's fun-loving spirit.


Cover shoot: Conquest Magazine for MD Anderson Cancer Center

I'm jazzed to have the cover of the beautifully designed Conquest Magazine for MD Anderson Cancer Center. The magazine is sent to major donors to encourage giving to the institution.

 

The cover shoot didn't go as planned, but in a delightful way. The original idea was to have the subject by herself in the image. Sometime during the shoot, the subject asked if she could have a few pictures of her with her son. I gladly obliged. The designer ended up liking those photos so much, he put one of them on the cover instead of going with our original plan.

 

I remember recently finishing an arduous five day shoot that was heavily scheduled and that it was nice to photograph inside someone's home with virtually no time limit. It was refreshing to be able to squeeze in something spontaneous with about the best result possible.

Documented: Huge quench tower bottom vessel move for a Baytown, Texas petrochemical facility

One of my favorite activities is to shoot for oil and gas companies because the projects are usually large-scale. In this case, literally.

I was hired by a local petrochemical facility to document the move of a huge quench tower, used for cracking ethane into ethylene, a chemical building block for too many consumer and commercial products to list here. There are many moves like this in the building of a petrochemical facility, but this quench tower segment was the biggest move of the project.

The entire process took all night. Two drivers, one at the front and one at the rear, steered the giant, multi-wheeled vehicle that carried the tower, moving at about two miles per hour.

After three rain delays, a small army of people and the logistics and engineering of a space launch, the massive land barge rolled it's way through the night to it's final destination at the construction site.

Photojournalism: Jade Helm 15 for The Boston Globe

A story I worked on for The Boston Globe about the recent Jade Helm 15 controversy in Bastrop published today. Check out the story at the above link and tearsheets and outtakes below.

Photojournalism: Rockport Apartments Roof Collapse for the Houston Chronicle

Besides commercial photography, I still have a taste for photojournalism, where my roots are. Sunday, I took a day rate for the Houston Chronicle to get rain features. It turned into covering a roof collapse at a southwest Houston apartment complex that morning. Here's what I saw:

Craig and Margaret Agnew for The Boston Globe

Craig and Margaret Agnew, a defensive coordinator for the football team and a teacher, respectively, helped raise New England Patriot's first-round draft pick defensive tackle Malcom Brown. Brown grew up in Brenham and attended high school there, but originally lived 20 miles away until the Agnew family took him under their wing. 

A Globe photo editor asked if I could photograph the couple who were mentors to Brown. I was also asked to photograph the school's head coach Glen West. On the logistical side, it was definitely good to have called the Agnew's ahead of time and schedule outside the confines of the photo assignment. Unbeknownst to myself or the photo editor, the reporter was having everyone meet at a restaurant - not really the most relevant environment for a portrait. Both coaches and Margaret were able to meet me at the school and stadium where I was able to make some portraits I was happy with.