Fifty from 50 - Images from US Highway 50, from California to Maryland, fourth in a series of posts

Constructed in 1926, US 50 was part of the original United States highway system and extends from California to Maryland. Our recent move from Oakland, California to Silver Spring, Maryland near Washington, DC inspired me to travel on this historic byway and document my journey. All work was shot on a Mamiya 6, a film camera that creates negatives that are six centimeters square. This camera really forces me to shoot with intention. The film stock is mostly Ektar 100, for those who are curious.

Omni Labs, Inc. for Yahoo News

Photography: Portraits of start-up co-founders

Alex Modon and Vikram Tiwari, co-founders of Omni Labs, Inc. in San Francisco, have been forced to open a secondary office in Vancouver, BC because an immigration regulation, the International Entrepreneur Rule, is under threat by the Trump administration. The regulation is supposed to grant a limited stay in the U.S. to certain qualifying entrepreneurs. Two of Omni Labs, Inc. co-founders meet this qualification. Yet, their immigration status remains in limbo.

Alex Modon, left, and Vikram Tiwari, co-founders of Omni Labs, Inc., Friday, April 13, 2018 in San Francisco, CA.

After speaking with the photo editor and reporter before the shoot, we discussed ways to communicate what is at risk. In this case, it is Omni Labs, Inc. business itself. I asked one of the subjects to send me some shots of the office a few days before the shoot. It was a small, humble office, shared with another start-up. However, in the location shots, I noticed a huge map on the wall, and a small conference room with a huge window. Driving down the freeway, where I get a lot of ideas, I wondered if the map was the right distance to reflect back onto the conference room window, possibly allowing me to use the map as a translucent layer on top of the subjects, a prop to connote immigration in an abstract way. 

Alex Modon, left, and Vikram Tiwari, co-founders of Omni Labs, Inc., Friday, April 13, 2018 in San Francisco, CA.

I got to their office as early as I was allowed, and started by lighting the map with a 10 degree grid. Then I went inside the small conference room where I would photograph Alex and Tiwari and set up another 10 degree grid. The wall behind them was white, so I had to bring the key light up high and angle it down so I wouldn't illuminate the wall as well. In hindsight, I should have brought a 5' roll of black or grey seamless to tape up behind them to create better separation. Nonetheless, having a high, angled spotlight cut enough spill from the back wall to do what I needed it to do. One of the subjects showed up late, and had a meeting scheduled for 10 minutes after we started. Having arrived two hours early, I was able to accomplish what I had set out to do in 13 minutes.

Alex Modon, left, and Vikram Tiwari, co-founders of Omni Labs, Inc., Friday, April 13, 2018 in San Francisco, CA.

I caught a lucky break with the giant map and glass-walled conference room. I hope Omni Labs, Inc. catches one, too.

The Light Is Fantastic

Photography: Portraits of a stage artist, student and tech wiz

I love working as a photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area. The light is fantastic, there are numerous locations offering great architecture or interior design, and because of the culture’s embrace of creativity and innovation, many of the subjects are game to play and experiment during photo shoots.  To show you what I mean, I’ve selected just three images from some recent assignments.

Theater artist Taylor Mac won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2017. Mac writes, directs, acts, sings, and performs experimental works that work as theatre and social commentary. I had about 15 minutes to photograph Mac for the MacArthur Foundation. Between performances of the groundbreaking “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” Mac was staying at the Hotel G in downtown San Francisco, built in 1909. The hotel room abutted a stairway; I peeked inside, saw the color of the walls and the window light, and immediately knew this was the place to make a picture. I had Mac play the ukulele, which was slightly difficult due to a hurt finger from stumbling in high heels during last night’s performance. Nonetheless, Mac was able to strum two or three chords, humming a quiet melody as I made pictures.

Photographed for the MacArthur Foundation.

Aaron Chow, an economics freshman at UC Berkeley, decided to research and investigate a real estate investment trust that a friend had invested in, only to discover that the trust had failed to file all kinds of SEC paperwork. Oops! Good for him, and probably bad for shady investment firms, once this young man graduates and starts his career. Chow suggested we shoot at the Asian Studies library because it has "cool architecture." By the Japanese periodicals, I custom white-balanced the fluorescent light by his head, which pushed the huge skylight in the background into a deep blue. I love it when I can employ optical physics instead of a dolly full of lighting equipment to make a compelling portrait!  Photographed for The Wall Street Journal.

Aaron Chow, an economics freshman at UC Berkeley, decided to research and investigate a real estate investment trust that a friend had invested in, only to discover that the trust had failed to file all kinds of SEC paperwork. Oops! Good for him, and probably bad for shady investment firms, once this young man graduates and starts his career. Chow suggested we shoot at the Asian Studies library because it has "cool architecture." By the Japanese periodicals, I custom white-balanced the fluorescent light by his head, which pushed the huge skylight in the background into a deep blue. I love it when I can employ optical physics instead of a dolly full of lighting equipment to make a compelling portrait!

Photographed for The Wall Street Journal.

David Wallerstein, the “Chief Exploration Officer” for Tencent, works in a converted church in Palo Alto. We made a number of moody pictures by the stained glass windows, and thought we had it in the bag. As we were walking back to the front door, we passed through the kitchen area where I saw the yellow-green wall with symmetrical clocks. At this point, we were warmed up and talking. David was using his phone to play some of his band’s heavy metal songs for me, and I commandeered his public relations assistant to hold a strobe. As you can see, David rocks!  Photographed for The Wall Street Journal.

David Wallerstein, the “Chief Exploration Officer” for Tencent, works in a converted church in Palo Alto. We made a number of moody pictures by the stained glass windows, and thought we had it in the bag. As we were walking back to the front door, we passed through the kitchen area where I saw the yellow-green wall with symmetrical clocks. At this point, we were warmed up and talking. David was using his phone to play some of his band’s heavy metal songs for me, and I commandeered his public relations assistant to hold a strobe. As you can see, David rocks!

Photographed for The Wall Street Journal.

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: 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: 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