A cute shot from this past weekend for the Houston Chronicle: Tyler Reed, 11, pantomimes playing saxophone along with the University of Houston's Spirit of Houston Marching Band as they play April 20, 2013 in Houston at Discovery Green. The University of Houston's Spirit of Houston Marching Band played a four-hour performance. They performed a work titled "En Masse" by composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, who is doing a two-year residency at UH's Mitchell Center for the Arts. Saturday's concert featured about 150 members of the band as well as Roumain, who plays the violin.[gallery link="file"]
My most recent shoot for The Wall Street Journal was for a story about a Houston endocrinologist who specializes in helping athletes optimize their hormone levels. The story behind this shoot is at first harrowing. I typically arrive early to very early for shoots. I like to be prepared by having time to scout and figure out a strategy for making the best images. I remember the weather was absolutely beautiful and I was to meet Dr. Brown at his office at 4:15pm. Unfortunately, Houston traffic can be quite capricious. Even after leaving for the assignment early, I sat in traffic for almost an hour and a half, arriving at the shoot almost 45 minutes behind schedule. Thankfully, Dr. Brown was a very gracious host and a very giving subject. Things actually worked out for the best - there were no patients in the office to work around and Dr. Brown was willing to go anywhere or do anything. Conversation was lively and he even shared a delicious piece of his chocolate covered matzo from a recent Passover Sedar. Another happy accident about being tardy to the assignment was that the angle of the sun started to get low enough to pull off the first photo, my favorite of the take. There's no artificial light, just a gold reflector on a stand. Sometimes things work out for the best. The Journal ended up using the second photo, likely because it illustrates most succinctly Dr. Brown's relationship with Olympic track star Carl Lewis.
Last month I had the opportunity to shoot for a trade magazine, Golf Business magazine. The art director told me they consider the book more of a business magazine than a golf magazine and that I should treat the shoot as such. I photographed the general manager of Moody Gardens Golf Course Bill Pushak. We tried a few different locations around the course, but finally settled on a grey and black runway strip of tile in the banquet hall. It had a nice pattern, offered plenty of room to work with and would make an interesting background (not to mention winds were gusting up to 30 mph on the course, making things really tricky for outdoor lighting). I'm really impressed with how they incorporated the tiles into the headline of the article – "Blurred Lines: In Pricing, Nothing's Simply Black or White".
My photo of Dynegy CEO Robert Flexon as the centerpiece in the March 13, 2013 edition of The Wall Street Journal's Marketplace section!
Beginning in October of 2012, I started shooting a story for The New York Times of a woman who needed a lung transplant. The only caveat was that as a Jehovah's Witness, she was not allowed to receive transfused blood products as part of the procedure. While "bloodless" transplants are common enough, the first one being done in the mid-1990's, they can actually be considered a better bet for the patient since there can be less complications in recovery since it's one less factor to worry about before, during and after surgery. The first two assignments were easy enough as far as meeting and photographing the subject, Georgia resident Rebecca Tomczak, as she went through a complete diagnostic battery of tests and also a through a day in her life as she stayed with a host Jehovah's Witness family and a brief visit to a potential apartment complex she was thinking about moving into. The last part of the assignment, being ready when a donor organ was available, was more of a challenge. The call finally came January 30, 2013 from the reporter, Kevin Sack, to tell me an organ had been found and would be delivered to Houston as soon as possible. After speaking with the public affairs person at Methodist Hospital, it was decided it would be best if I got to the hospital at 4am to be ready for surgery. Once things were in place, the surgery seemed to move along quicker than I expected, less than half a day. Meanwhile, I was able to witness the miracle of organ transplantation from a front row seat in the operating room.
I had to opportunity to tour a prison recently for The Wall Street Journal. I went to the Central Unit, a prison farm complex in Sugar Land, Texas that has been decommissioned. You can check out the slideshow here. A couple of my favorite photos are below. Even after being gutted, the place still had a menace to it. It wasn't any place I'd want to spend any part of my life in. Texas prisons don't have air conditioning and the place was infested with mold. With crime dropping, fewer tough-on-drugs laws that incarcerate non-violent offenders and less harsh sentences, the prison boom has begun to fizzle out.
Needed to find a feature yesterday for the Houston Chronicle so I found a cheerleading competition at the Reliant Center.
Last month I had the opportunity to photograph Dr. Jeffrey Starke, a researcher at the Baylor College of Medicine for an interesting article about unnecessary cancer screening tests. The reproduction looks great, as it usually does in magazines.
A foggy morning in Houston last Sunday helped me produce the couple of images below[gallery ids="2109,2110"]
Brad Epley is a hero of sorts. When a vandal named Uriel Landeros decided to spray-paint a stencil over a Pablo Picasso painting in June 2012, Epley, the chief conservator at The Menil Collection in Houston rushed to begin repair on the painting before the paint dried. I was assigned to make his portrait for the Houston Chronicle. After making a series of portraits outdoors beside the museum, and a few in front of a large John Chamberlain sculpture (the museum would not allow us to photograph the repaired Picasso. I did see it personally, however, and it looked great to me), I was ready to pack it up when I spied a headset magnifier in the conservator's workspace. It's not the most original idea to photograph someone wearing glasses that distort their eyes, but the location was great and I was hoping everything would work as a two shot portrait. Plus, the conservator's workspace included it's own lights, used for illuminating art while cleaning and repairing it. It was like walking in to a perfect studio.
A few weeks ago, I photographed the Houston metal band Venomous Maximus. I was encouraged when I arrived at lushly overgrown yard deep in the Montrose, just a few blocks from where I live. From the outside, it looks like the Boo Radley house. Inside, however, is a fully fledged tattoo parlor called Secret Tattoo. What more perfect place could one ask for a metal band portrait. As corny as it sounds, I thought earlier in the day about getting a smoke machine just to pump up some of the texture. I later vetoed the idea, but remembered that a buddy had given me a small bounty of cigars at a house warming party. They were pretty dried out, almost yard-gar status. After working for a bit, getting them used to the strobes going off, I pulled out the cigars. The next thing you know, the lead singer goes off to his room and comes back with a sword. It was pure metal overload![gallery link="file"]
I had the opportunity yesterday to visit with and photograph entrepreneur and director of the Shale Water Research Center Ross Tomson for a Houston Business Journal story. I almost always enjoy photographing scientists because they're typically more giving of their time and let's face it - their lab is full of cool stuff to use as props. While Tomson's lab wasn't exactly like Dr. Frankenstein's, it did have a flask with cloudy water in it, something you don't normally find in the office of a CEO. I started with a straightforward portrait, one with very little shadows. I lit it using a strip light on either side of the subject and then using a softbox in front to illuminate his face. I don't think I quite have this mastered so I won't be showing it here. I have a friend of mine who uses light like this to amazing effect, but I'm still working on it. The second set I fell more into my comfort zone, which is to make portraits with heavy, stagey chiaroscuro lighting. I threw a 10 degree grid on the flask, and used one strip light to light Tomson. What does Tomson do, you ask? Basically, he researches and creates more environmentally-friendly shale water used for fracking. According to Molly Ryan's story in this week's Houston Business Journal, the company creates research, "to allow energy companies to reuse more water when drilling in shale formations, which in turn, will reduce companies’ water treatment costs, water purchasing costs and environmental concerns. Energy companies pay $100,000 for an annual membership to the center, which gives them access to research before it is published and allows them to shape the course of the center’s research initiatives."
I've added a couple of out-takes in the end. One is of a 84 year-old barber who has been cutting hair in the same building since the mid-1950's. He was born next door. Despite being downwind from Gulf Chemical since it's inception, he is completely healthy and has no complaints. The guy repairing nets is Tom, who owns and operates Tom's Net Shop. He spends his days repairing nets used for shrimping. I found it amazing that his job hadn't been replaced by machines.[gallery link="file"]
I had a recent photo assignment that sent me down to Freeport, Texas, about an hour south of Houston, where I live. While the story I shot for is an important one (and will subsequently will be published this Friday), being back in Freeport brought back memories from ten years ago, when I was a staff photographer at The (Brazosport) Facts. At the time, most of what I shot was newspaper fare: car wrecks, parades, high school athlete portraits. I could sense there was a deeper narrative to the place, basically built from the ground up around World War II to help process magnesium for the war effort. From that industry sprouted dozens of chemical refineries throughout the area. This evolved side by side with the shrimping industry. While photographing the chemical refineries is something that is typically done from the side of the road (and even then, a photographer will be asked questions and have his license plate recorded by a plant security guard), the shrimp dock in Freeport is much more accessible. According to Tom Wood, of Tom's Net Shop, the canal where the shrimp boats dock used to overflow with hundreds of ships. The one shrimp processing facility, I was told, started making drastic cuts for the price it paid for shrimp, and a great deal of the shrimpers eventually started docking elsewhere. Now that there is new ownership at the processing facility, it's thought by Wood that the docks may someday revive to their former glory. I photographed Tom Wood at his net repair shop as well as a few other areas that looked compelling. I used a Hasselblad to force me to slow down and take a closer look at the area. I look forward to returning to the area soon to explore the dock and Freeport soon.
I was recently contacted by the Harvard Business Review to drive up to New Waverly, Texas to photograph gymnastics coaching legend Bela Karolyi. Few have the reputation for coaching champion gymnasts like Karolyi. I wasn't sure to expect, but in a way, it seemed like a pilgrimage. Many of my favorite Houston-based editorial photographers had, at one time or another, made the same drive out into the woods of the Sam Houston National Forest to document the silver-haired Hungarian. When I got there, a film crew from Yahoo was just wrapping up. The threesome told me they were traveling around the country interviewing athletic greats. Man, what a great gig that is. Then they asked me about living in Houston, and then moved on to wonder out loud why anyone would want to live anywhere other than Los Angeles. Being a media grunt, I could see his point. There is definitely more action on the coasts. But I digress.
I wasn't sure how much time I'd have with Bela, so I made sure to set up with a quickness. To say that the gymnasium was warm would be an understatement. By the time I was finished setting up for the first shot, I was drenched. I let the maintenance guy know I was ready for Bela. Two minutes later, he arrived by golf cart and strode over the padded gymnasium floor and asked me where I'd like him to stand. I didn't really have to give him much direction. I'm sure this was the 1,237th time he'd been photographed. He feel into a relaxed stance, and we got busy. I'm glad I did all the sweating for us.
The only restrictions I had were knowing that the final image would be black and white, and that the designer needed about 1/3 of the frame available for text. Being able to control the light indoors was a plus. We were the only people in there so I had all the lights turned off and could actually use my modeling lights, which I'm almost never able to do. Another plus was Karolyi's silver hair and mustache, which I knew if I lit well, would draw the eye right to his face.
Bela stood calmly while I sweated and worked the first set up. We eventually moved to a second set-up, the uneven bars, where I made a few more pictures. My personal favorite is the shot by the uneven bars. HBR liked the vertical shot.
About a month ago, I received a phone call from my good pal Brandon Thibodeaux, a regular contributing photographer for The Wall Street Journal. He wanted to know if I wanted to shoot the video segment for a Wall Street Journal feature story on Carol Paul and the Ron Paul Cookbook. Having a chance to produce a video for The Wall Street Journal sounded like a great opportunity, so I accepted the challenge. The shoot took most of the day, with WSJ reporter Elizabeth Williamson talking with and helping Carol Paul make a couple of recipes in Paul's new kitchen. Mrs. Paul was very gracious and a real character. She was a real pleasure to interact with and record. The editing took about a month, mostly due to being slammed with other work. The fine editors at the WSJ were okay with it, though. In fact, they were instrumental in providing feedback with my edit. It was almost like getting paid to learn.
I also made a lot of progress in finding my way around Final Cut Pro X, Apple's newest version of their non-linear video editing program. It's completely different from Final Cut Pro 7, sometimes in good ways. Other times, in not so good ways. So there was a learning curve there.
Bring your appetites and check out the video below.
I took a trip last week through the Eagle Ford Shale drilling area of south Texas. I wanted to see the oil and gas boom in action and first hand. I met a few interesting folks along the way, including the two men I met in a Carrizo Springs, Texas barbecue joint - Wes Baucom, left, and Terry Vaughn. Both are from other towns in Texas and have been working in the oil fields for many years. [gallery link="file"]
From a fun portrait shoot I did a couple of days ago...
The adventures of photographing typewriter repairmen continues with Ross Herdejurgen, 83, who has been repairing typewriters since 1947. He has been in his current shop since 1973. He poses next to a pre-1948 Royal manual typewriter. This image was shot on chrome, which I can only get processed locally. The C-41 batch should arrive next week. Stay tuned..