I had a last minute assignment for The Wall Street Journal yesterday - a story about how small business owners are dropping their insurance as more of their employees choose plans provided by the Affordable Care Act. Owner Blake Meaux had a lot of beautiful cars to choose from, but with the overcast sky, this gray 1957 Chevy Bell-Air seemed like the perfect choice. A cropped version of the first photo ran on page B5 of today's WSJ.
Recently I shot a couple of portraits for a new client that I'm happy to share. Giulio Draettta, Ph.D, M.D., a professor in molecular and cellular oncology and Andy Futreal, Ph.D., professor in genomic medicine, are both part of the Moon Shots program at M. D. Anderson. The goal of the program is to accelerate both research and practical application of the most current cancer treatments possible. The program researchers are targeting eight cancers: acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), melanoma, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and triple-negative breast and ovarian cancers.
By a fluke of circumstance, I happened to be in St. Louis during some of the protests happening in Ferguson, Missouri. My family had been on vacation for the prior two weeks with my in-laws. My father-in-law wanted a nice family portrait that I was to be included in. Normally when I go on vacation, I travel very light camera-wise, usually taking only a body and lens and a laptop. This time, however, I decided to bring my whole kit since it would be easier to have all the necessary equipment on-hand and not piecemeal and potentially forget something crucial.
My wife, a health and science reporter, was to attend a fellowship in Columbia, Missouri immediately following our vacation. She's a St. Louis native, so the plan was for her to go to Mizzou while I stayed behind with our daughter so she could get extra time for a week with her grandparents.
While we were on vacation, I could see that things were really heating up 20 minutes from my in-laws home in St. Louis. I thought to myself that surely things will have cooled down by the time I got there. When we eventually arrived in St. Louis, my wife took off for Columbia and I called a family friend to come by and watch our daughter (my in-laws weren't back yet) while I went to explore the situation in Ferguson. I naively told the family friend that I expected to be back in an hour or so and that at this point, it was probably just going to be people marching up and down W. Florissant Avenue, holding signs and marching. I even opted to only bring a little film camera I own. I figured I'll experiment and then go home.
What I didn't realize was that things were far from calm. While things were peaceful enough when I got there, they deteriorated within about an hour and a half. The word on the street was that some people had decided to march toward the police command center about a half-mile from where many protestors and media were stationed. The next thing I knew, canisters of tear gas, smoke bombs, flash-bang grenades and lastly, rubber bullets, came flying down the street.
I found a gaggle of other photojournalists to group up with, most of them decked out in gear that I didn't have - tactical helmets, gas masks and flak jackets. I was standing on the curb trying to frame up a shot when I felt something hit my arm and it hurt like a thousand expletives. I instantly recoiled and ran back, zig-zagging, into a parking lot. I thought to myself "Holy sh*t! What the hell was THAT?" My arm started swelling up immediately. I was full of adrenaline and kept trying to make pictures, armed with a film camera with 400 speed film pushed to 3200 and one 35mm prime lens. It felt like futility. The cops kept pushing everyone back and their approach was overwhelming. As I came within about 500 yards from my car, I heard shattering glass. Groups of men were starting to loot a Papa John's Pizza on one side of the road and a pharmacy on the side of the road I was on. I looked around and noticed I was the only media left at this point and that things were getting very, very hairy. I made it back to my car, but only after being faced down by an approaching armored vehicle surrounded by soldier-y looking men with flashlights on their rifles, approaching my general vicinity. Hands up, I crab-walked away from them, made it to my car and then headed out when there was a break in the rush of people running by.
The next day, I made phone calls around town to find out about purchasing at the very least, a tactical helmet and hopefully a gas mask. The first place I called said they had sold out of helmets after last night's melee. Another place said they only had four helmets and were holding them for CNN. After what could be a whole other blog post just about getting last minute protective riot gear, I came away with a very used kevlar helmet and a Serbian gas mask with a dried out filter element. Still not on assignment for anyone, I went out the next night to try again, this time with my digital gear. The night was intense, but not as intense as the prior night. There was some tear gas used (hence discovering that the filter element in my Serbian gas mask was compromised) but by the time I got to where some shooting at the police had taken place, things had calmed down, at least by the strange standards of the protests.
The next day, I was contacted by friend and NPR supervising editor Kainaz Amaria asking if I'd like to shoot a two-day assignment for Gene Demby, who runs the Code Switch blog at NPR. The interesting element is that she was looking for photos that showed a sense of place and not so interested in protest pictures, images of which had already saturated the media. I was very game and spent the next two days with Gene going off the beaten path throughout Ferguson, not just the scenes of the protest but neighborhoods and the downtown area.
It was good to get away from the protests and explore Ferguson from another perspective. It was definitely work that was in my wheel-house and Kainaz's great editing helped focus my efforts. You can check out the final product at Code Switch here. Some of my favorite images from the assignment are below.
I enjoyed a recent last minute assignment from Texas Monthly to shoot for the September 2014 issue dining guide. It's the most real estate I've had in the magazine to date. Below is the page and one of my favorite images from the outtakes.
Not everyone has big dreams of going to college. Some cut to the chase and learn practical skills to get started earning as soon as possible. One example is welder Anthony Solis, 19, who is a welder working in Houston. I was assigned by the Wall Street Journal to photograph Solis against a grey background. The example page the editor sent was shot by extraordinary photographer Spencer Heyfron and was told to match the style as closely as possible. Heyfron's images are pretty spectacular so I knew I had my work cut out for me. An issue I've been trying to work out recently has been catchlights in the eyes. After some online research, I decided to use a gridded beauty dish on a boom directly over and above Solis, and pop a shoot-through umbrella to his left just to add a tiny bit of fill and put a nice light in his eyes. I was happy with the result and am especially excited about the huge photo play on the front of the WSJ's weekend Review section.
Below are a few of my favorite outtakes as well as the image that ran and the tear sheet.
Rising country musician Mary Sarah joined me on the roof of the Houston Chronicle parking garage, as well as the paper's decommissioned loading dock, to make some portraits for a feature about her new release. Sarah has joined forces with the likes of Dolly Parton and the Oak Ridge Boys recently and her new album appears to be building a lot of steam. She was great to work with and was game to break away from the photography studio at the paper and shoot outdoors, even in the heat of mid-summer Houston. Yee-haw!
A shoot for Monitor on Psychology introduced me to Sharon A. Croisant, PhD, a researcher studying the epidemiology of fishermen affected by the mental health effects of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, among others.
From the cleanhouston.org website: "Croisant is a specialist in translational research. She describes this approach as “taking science from the lab to the bedside, and to the curbside”: The information gained in the research lab enhances patient care, and is used to understand and prevent disease in the community. Croisant currently is working with a consortium of researchers from four universities and community groups on the GC-HARMS study to understand the impact of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill on the safety of Gulf seafood and the health effects for those who consume it."
The editor wanted something "gritty." Thankfully, a retired oil rig sits near a dock two minutes from her office, and she agreed to meet me just before dusk. Using a Quantum flash with a soft box attachment, I was able to use the small light source to illuminate only her face and let the background take care of itself.
I love photographing musicians because they're open to just about anything. It's not that this shoot was so wild and crazy, but Patrice was happy to share in a moment of innocent mischeviousness when I asked her to get on top of the bar. Below are a couple of my favorite shots from the session.
I had the recent opportunity to do a good, old-fashioned day-in-the-life story on collector and barber Doug Dreher. Doug runs a legendary barber shop in the Heights neighborhood in Houston (look for a three-minute barbershop scene in "Rushmore," for example). He is also an avid collector of all things. His home is stuffed with a litany of objects including vintage ceramics and old 45 record albums. Doug has an eclectic past as well as an eclectic present and is certainly one of the people that make Houston unique and fun to live in just by his existence.
I'm stoked to see my photos of Mayor Annise Parker on the cover and inside story in latest issue of The Advocate magazine. In 12 minutes, I was able to pull out a shot against a full-body seamless and a shot with the city seal in the background. The tear sheets look great, with only minimal water damage. Thanks, United States Postal Service!
In late March, a five-alarm fire utterly destroyed the huge Axis condominium project in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, a huge city with no zoning laws. Because of this, builders have a lot of flexibility in where and how they want to erect a project. That being said, this condo was pushed right up to the very edge of a historic cemetery. I live nearby, and after hearing more than the usual amount of fire engines screaming past my home, I went out to my deck and looked north, where a huge plume of black smoke engulfed the sky. I grabbed my gear and opened up an app on my phone that tracks fires and traffic accidents and headed out the door. When I finally got to the scene, I hopped the fence of the Magnolia Cemetery where I saw an obelisk with the word "Father" written on the pedestal. With a surreal fire raging in the background, I immediately thought of the whispery voice-overs from Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life," (although I think in the movie, it's the word "mother" that is urgently voiced by Sean Penn).
Last month I was commissioned to photograph up-and-coming boxer Semajay Thomas for the Chicago Tribune. Thomas was in Houston training for a fight the following Monday. Thomas, a 21-year-old boxer from West Town (Chicago) with a highly decorated amateur career, finally is well positioned and well supported for a successful professional career three and a half years after being acquitted of a first-degree murder charge that resulted from an incident he actually had no part of.
260 creative cars and over 315,000 spectators set the festive tone for this years Houston Art Car parade, which I covered for the Houston Chronicle last weekend. Below is one of my more favorite frames. Low-riders are the original art cars: meticulously designed, passionately created, and just all-around cool.
Photo of the Day: Sometimes if you hang around a press conference long enough, a real moment will happen. Ten minutes following a press conference where Houston mayor Annise Parker announced the plans for the Freedom Over Texas Fourth of July event, some of the young actors broke away to a nearby swing set to exercise their freedom to swing.
In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, I've assembled an edit of some of my favorite photos from the production of the Arcade Fire/Spike Jonze short film "Scenes From the Suburbs," shot in the summer of 2010 in Austin, Texas. Currently Arcade Fire is touring full force for their latest release "Reflektor," a killer double album and true Gesamtkunstwerk. I've been lucky enough to photograph for Arcade Fire a number of times since then and am looking forward to seeing them play in Win and Will Butler's hometown of Houston next week.
In March 2013, I was commissioned to shoot the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for a fledgling magazine that was set to launch in Houston called "Houstonia." They knew ahead of time they needed images and stories from the 2013 rodeo for their first rodeo issue in 2014. Needless to say, I was very happy to discover a year later that one of my images from the saddle bronc competition was used for the cover. Yee-haw!
Last month, I photographed Houston resident Johnny Burchett for The Wall Street Journal for a story on outplacement services, which are sometimes offered to former employees after they're laid off. According to the story, outplacement services are now "under pressure". I was asked to photograph Mr. Burchett in his home office. Once that was finished, I noticed a very comfy bird's nest chair by a window. I'm very happy the WSJ chose a more non-literal image to run with the story.
A shoot I recently completed for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Grad students at the University of Houston had a sit-in in the president's office last April. Ashley Wurzbacher, Kay Cosgrove and Jameelah Lang, PhD students in creative writing, were some of the participants who organized a sit-in at the University of Houston last April that led to a big increase – 55 percent – in PhD stipend amounts in the English department. Being anxious and wanting to employ a bit of stealth during the sit-in, the students used the stairwell, where they are posing, to get to the president's office rather than use the elevator. Link to story here.
A couple of months ago, I was fortunate to complete my first assignment for Fortune Magazine. The assignment was to photograph Tom Bastian, who manages the Invesco Equity and Income Fund.
I had great backend support from a photo editor at Fortune, Michele Taylor. We discussed options and even location snaps I made before the shoot. It was great knowing that at least the background environments were approved before I even began. We shot in what is probably the biggest boardroom I've ever seen but in the end, went with a couch on the periphery that had a nice, mirrored grid as a background, courtesy of the building next door.
Last Friday, I was at Los Angeles International airport to fly back to Houston after a two-week dream assignment following and photographing an internationally popular rock band (blog post TBD). The show the prior night was insanely good, plus it was Halloween. With two weeks of travel and shooting behind me and three hours of sleep the night before, I was looking forward to chilling out, reading and dozing on my way back home. As I waited at my gate, a group of TSA agents walked into the area, calmly, and announced we were to evacuate the terminal.
My first thought was that there must have been a fire alarm somewhere. However, I didn't hear or see any alarms. Once on the tarmac, I noticed three news helicopters hovering above the airport and knew that something bad had probably gone down. I later discovered a man, Paul Anthony Ciancia, had shot a TSA officer and wounded many others. He was eventually shot and transported to a hospital.
Meanwhile, myself and my fellow passengers were escorted onto the tarmac and eventually moved to an international terminal to wait until the airport was cleared. I moved a couple of photos to twitter, not really expecting the deluge that followed - lots of retweeting and requests from news organizations for licensing permission. One of my panoramic images was used on Fox News and countless other websites.
Although my professional gear was packed away, I knew it was only a matter of time that I would be compelled to break it out and put on my photojournalist hat. I ended up shooting some exclusive photos for one of my best clients, the Houston Chronicle.
We stayed in the international terminal for what felt like forever, but in actuality was only a few hours. I eventually made it home at 1am the following morning.
A longer edit of the images can be seen here.