Northern California fire coverage for The Wall Street Journal

Last week, I was called by The Wall Street Journal to shoot video and still photographs of the aftermath of the historic wildfire in Sonoma and Mendocino counties in northern California. The devastation was unlike anything I had ever witnessed.

My assignments allowed me to interact with the Monroes, whose family property in Redwood Valley, California was completely destroyed. You can read the harrowing story here.

Right-wing rally at Berkeley's Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park

It was a busy weekend here in the Bay Area, ending with a sometimes violent rally held at at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. The event began quietly and then quickly ramped up into violence. I avoided the main scrum and stayed around the edges. However, quite a bit of activity happened where I was stationed near Allston and MLK, where I made the photos below. 13 people were arrested, but thankfully nothing happened as tragic as what took place in Charlottesville a few weeks ago. 

On Commission: Non-profit photography for Plant It Forward Farms

A recent commission to create fresh imagery for a Houston-based non-profit organization allowed me to see first-hand how refugees are being helped to establish themselves in their new country. Plant It Forward serves mainly Congolese refugees by allowing them to farm unused land in urban areas while letting participants keep all their profit. Farmers sell their fresh veggies at local farmers markets as well as farm-to-table based restaurants.

The images were used to build a new website, create print collateral and for social media publication. 

From the archives: Bull Riding School Student Portraits

I recently took time to reorganize some of my negative archives when I came across some portraits I took at a bull riding school in 2014. I remember my goal was to make a portrait of the students immediately following their first-ever ride on a bull. The students, to my surprise and initial disappointment, looked nonplussed. I wanted to see a modicum of vulnerability in their faces, but instead only saw pictures of teenagers in cowboy clothing. I scrapped the idea and moved on.

A second look this month, at least three years later, revealed there is an underlying tension in the images, for me at least. Whom of us as adolescents couldn't wait to grow up to be the archetype we most admired? In some of these images, I see some who easily slide into the role, and others have a long trail ahead of them.

In case you're interested, the images were shot with a Hasselblad 553ex and Tri-X film. Let me know what you think!

Cheers,

Eric

On Assignment: recent photographic work for a large chemical company

I'm proud to present work I recently completed for a large chemical company. It's always an adventure suiting up in fire-retardant clothing, steel-toe boots, gloves and safety glasses and venturing into the maze-like catacombs of a multi-billion dollar chemical plant expansion.

The scale of the project is awe-inspiring and I'm amazed how over 4000 people show up to work every day and bring such an enormous project into reality. Visually, it's always fun to get this close to the action, something most of us don't have the opportunity to do. The geometry, symmetry, and the amazing way everything visually fits together into one delights my eye.

Check out some of my work below and let me know what you think.

Cheers,

Eric

Protest coverage for the San Francisco Chronicle

Last week was busy in the Bay Area with multiple rallies and protests connected to the presidential inauguration. I was sent to cover two protests, both at or near Oakland City Hall on two separate days, for the San Francisco Chronicle.

As this was the same area that was exposed to rioting following the 2016 election, it was all-hands-on-deck. For the protest following the inauguration, photojournalists, myself included, would work in overlapping shifts that began at 7am in the morning and didn't end until 15 hours later. For those who've never experienced it, covering a large, all-day protest with the threat of possible violence in the evening required a bit of planning and mental preparation. Having covered the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, where I was shot in the arm with a "non-lethal" projectile and sucked up plenty of CS gas, I made sure my ducks were in a row: putting the flak vest and helmet into my car, as well as making sure I had a fresh respirator cartridge in my gas mask.

While covering Ferguson, I learned an important lesson. I had bought a gas mask from local Army surplus store the day after my first night of coverage where I found out just how nasty CS gas is. Like clockwork, gas came again the next night. It was only then I learned that filter cartridges have expiration dates. Whoopsy! Luckily, things didn't progress in that direction in Oakland this time around. After all was said and done, I think only three people were arrested out of a march of thousands, which I've learned is apparently very tame by Oakland standards.

By the way,  I'm totally great with tame protests. Imagine looking for moments to photograph while simultaneously keeping an eye open for anarchists looking to punch me, or grab my camera, while carrying about 30 pounds of gear following four hours of marching. It's a lot to think about.

The images I've included in this post aren't necessarily the most storytelling or dramatic, just my favorites from the last couple of weeks. Enjoy!

On Assignment: Multiple Shoots for the San Francisco Chronicle

A flurry of assignments greeted me to the San Francisco bay area last month from the San Francisco Chronicle. From firearms to sneakers, my subject matter was as diverse as the region. I'm excited to be here and can't wait to see what comes next!

From the archive: Gothic Beauty Pageant

In time for Halloween, a post from the archive:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for some people, that includes leather, studs and a whole bunch of creativity. I live nearby Numbers nightclub in Houston, which hosts an annual Gothic Beauty Pageant. I decided to set up a photo booth to photograph some of the contestants. Tom Phuckery, below, won first place in the men's competition.

20140323_goth_beauty_pageant_0017.jpg

Memories of a Chris Buck photography workshop

In the process of cleaning out our attic, I came across the notes I took during an Austin, Texas workshop with portrait photographer phenomenon Chris Buck. I eagerly reread my notes and thought I'd share some of the wisdom passed on that weekend. Interspersed are a few photos I made on the first day, which were unlike anything I had previously made.

His guidance and take-no-prisoners approach motivated me to stretch my creativity. We were provided a model, whatever we could could find around the studio we were working in, and the pithy thoughts of a master photographer.

You can’t be careful all the time. Otherwise, you’re just someone’s bitch.
  • Use a light test as a way of manipulating a subject into off-moments.
  • Your job is not to make the subject happy but to make great pictures.
  • Set the vibe on the set to say "This is MY shoot!"
  • I have to follow my instinct. If I want to make dark, introspective photos, I'm going to do it.
I’m more afraid of my client than my subject.
  • Make your lighting as undistracting as possible.
  • Solve problems in a simple way.
  • Connection to subjects is overemphasized.
  • I love working with props. People relax and engage with props because they have something to do.
I just focus on what I want and do what I can to get it.
  • I come in with talking points beforehand and generally speaking, I don't talk about work.
  • (To subject) I can ask anything I want and you can say no to anything you want.
  • To ask permission is to seek denial.
  • Photographers aren't frustrated videographers.

On Assignment: Science Fair advertisement for Shell Oil

It's taken a while, but I was finally able to get my hands on some tear sheets for an assignment from last year. I really enjoy photographing children (I'm somewhat a big kid myself). Their humor and energy can really bring an image to life. For this shoot, we hired a team that puts on science shows for grade school kids. They brought the colored liquids and dry ice, the kids brought their spirit, and I brought my camera. I hope you enjoy the results as much as I do.

Billboard advertisement

Magazine advertisement

On Assignment: Dr. Erlanger Turner for Monitor on Psychology

I'm honored to have been tapped to make the first portrait for the newly redesigned trade magazine Monitor on Psychology, a publication I've been working with for years. I'm super-happy with the results and look forward to working with them on their next project.

On Assignment: Kyle Martinez for Pro Sales Magazine

I'm really happy with recent this tear sheet from an assignment for lumber trade magazine ProSales. The editor wanted something "other than a person standing in front of a pile of lumber." The subject, Kyle Martinez, is 31 years old but already owns and operates a sizeable lumberyard in rural northwest Louisiana. I decided to ask him to do some pull-ups inside one of the warehouses. What's more youthful than showing how many pull-ups one can do?  All involved were very pleased with the results!

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.