Interview Excerpt: Teaching

Interview Excerpt: Teaching
A portrait of a student shot and edited as a class demo.

I am spending most of June and July teaching at Mesa Arts Center and for the cities of Chandler and Tempe Rec programs. I’ll probably do two model shoots in that time, but it’s still productive time because when I teach I learn as well. Making handmade books, masks, watercolor, pastels, product photography are all topics I’m teaching. Below was a big of an interview I did with PhotoWhoa blog about teaching:

Q: You also teach several photography courses. After teaching, what core insights from your own work have you found yourself sharing the most?

A: The people I teach to vary from retirees to young adventurous photo couples to moms who got their very first camera, and the most important thing is that they take pleasure in taking photos and not see it as some struggle with gear or lack of creativity. I would say a large portion of them walk in the class believing that the technical aspect of photography is the most important thing to learn and that’s the only thing stopping them from taking good photos. The technology is important but that is the easiest thing to learn, and if you can’t learn it, there’s always the “program” mode, however people should first love photographing, be it their children or trips or the food they eat or whatever. It’s a means of expression for a lot of people who aren’t artistic in any other sense.


Creative Spaces Pt. 2

my drawing/ painting classroom at Mesa Arts Center

Previously I wrote about my home studio areas, where the majority of art making takes place.  Sometimes there’s just no being creative at home- which brings me to the various places I go with the laptop or ipad to create.

I teach classes at a few art centers around the Phoenix Metro but the one that clearly screams “fancy art studio” is Mesa Arts Center.  Big studio spaces, all the amenities like industrial sinks, huge kilns, pretty courtyards, speakers in the ceiling, spotlights, it’s heaven if you are a non-digital artist.  Digital art can be carried anywhere however, and I find a big difference in my creativity if I’m in a space that is meant to be a creative space rather than a multipurpose area like an office space, coffee shop or rec room.

My other primary  creative space out of the house is Tumbleweed Rec Center, which I’ve taught classes at for 5 years.  Tumbleweed is close to my house, has a large gym space, free coffee and daycare for my kids.  Those other amenities make it useful but not quite as creative.  The work that I primarily get done there is more of “submissions, bulk photo editing, answering emails” variety.  Since there are inevitably other people present I have to be wary of doing postwork on R rated images, or having music outside of headphones.

If I need to stay superfocused with zero distractions, I venture to Gangplank in Chandler, a community work space for designers/ creatives/ web developers/ inventors and home of the $1 Red Bull vending machine.  Since everyone is there to work I don’t have any ambitions to mess around on the internet.  It actually feels like the opposite of Mesa Arts Center, in that the office space is pretty unattractive and uninspiring but it’s all business.  Except for the Makerbot where people are making toys.

It’s a bit odd to have to play mind games with oneself- trick yourself into being productive- but if you’re a freelance creator, it’s a necessary evil to keep oneself fresh creatively and satisfy the need to be social.

Influences: Japanese Photographers

This is an entry from an ancient (2009) blog but I was pleased to rediscover the work of these excellent Japanese photographers.

A few weeks ago I mentioned doing a weekly investigation of a photo artist to broaden my horizons. Today, I can report on two such
artists, both very famous Japanese photographers, Masao Yamamoto and Hiroshi Sugimoto. I came across Yamamoto checking out some of the photo gallery shows coming up in Tucson. He was part of an upcoming show co-featuring one of my old professors, Carol Panaro Smith, and I found his minimalist approach very appealing in the same way sumi-e or haiku satisfies in their elegant nothingness. You find this a lot in Japanese art and not so much in Western art, especially modern US photography, which seems to be more focused on information overload.

Here is one of my favorite images from Masao Yamamoto:


 is someone whose work I had seen before–exposures of a movie theatre, taken over the period of the entire movie. I didn’t put the name to the work, but while looking at Masao Yamamoto’s site I saw images of seascapes reminiscent of the album cover of U2’s No Line on the Horizon. That cover was actually a Sugimoto image, representative of his recurring theme of photographing time via really long exposures.


Interview: Digital Photo Pro (2012)

This is an interview I did for Digital Photo Pro Magazine in 2012, as a photo of Mosh is a finalist for their “The Face” contest.  It ended up as a #4 finalist, meaning I got published in the magazine and subsequent book but didn’t win any of the prizes.


How long have you been shooting photos of people/portraits?

Since 1999.

Why do you like to shoot photos of people/portraits?

I think there are less limitations to the imagination when one is working with another adult human being, as opposed to shooting landscapes or wildlife etc.  There’s also a level of excitement and engagement you get from a human subject that feeds back into the shoot.

What’s the toughest situation you’ve faced when shooting a photo of people/portraits and how did you overcome it?

Probably the most difficult shoot involved taking a bunch of equipment on a rooftop in downtown LA to photograph a nude model body painted like a beetle.  It was 2 AM and there were helicopters everywhere, and of course we were by a billboard with bright hot lights going.  The extension cord had to be snaked through a kitchen window on the floor below.  Every time I heard a helicopter I had to cut the power to the lights.  We shot that in maybe 20 minutes after 6 hours of body painting.  All the equipment went up and down this small, scary fire escape ladder, and the model was freezing, but it was a ton of fun.

What’s the best advice you’ve received from a teacher, mentor or colleague for people/portrait photography?

I had a teacher at ASU, Carol Panaro-Smith, who encouraged the students to make unique, individual pieces.  That wasn’t exclusive to people photography but it’s how I approach my shoots, individual portraits unique to the scenario and the person rather than a series.  I use Jay Maisel and Brooks Jensen as a “vitural mentors,” because I’ve never met them but I voraciously absorb their interviews/ podcasts.  What both have in common is they lead photographic lives, always taking their cameras around, being open to everything, working as minimally as possible.  Jay says “the more crap you carry around the less pictures you take.”

What’s the story behind this photo? 

This was a fashion shoot for a clothes designer, Vital Vein Fashion.  We were going to emphasize the red in the latex so the model, Mosh, brought along a wig that had a red streak in it- she emphasized it was quality because it came from an “authentic transvestite.”  The studio was pretty spare so I asked  Mosh to do different gestures within a certain amount of space with the idea that the images would be torn up and reattached.  We shot maybe 20 of these gestures.  I printed them out at home, tore them up, and taped together the half images.  The taped up print was rephotographed.

What equipment did you use (camera, lens, lighting gear, tripod)?

Nikon D700, 50mm, Profoto 7b with a beauty dish, manfrotto tripod

What do you think makes a great people/portrait photo? 

I like when the photographer’s vision, the subject’s personality, and the environment all blend together so each portrait is a unique piece.  The environment has to be simple but support whatever the subject is doing, whether it’s a natural setting or seamless backdrop.  The subject should have some identifiable emotion, and caught in a gesture, not blank or lifeless.

Whose people/portrait work do you especially admire or feel influenced by?

Sebastio Salgado, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Sally Mann, Richard Avedon, Dan Winters, W. Eugene Smith

Influences: Sue Coe

English printmaker/ illustrator Sue Coe was raised near a slaughterhouse. Her work represents man’s treatment of animals as an ongoing holocaust.
I first saw her work as part of ASU Art Museum’s print collection, around the time I was photographing animals in emotionally charged contexts. As omnipresent as animals are in our lives, and as much as meat is a large part of world society, there are surprisingly few artists who are creating work sympathetic to animals. I truly believe it is a subject that most people don’t want to see and don’t want to discuss because it means they have to question their own values and complicity in the horrific system of animal exploitation.

The Shame of Instagram

On a recent Candid Frame podcast, street photographer Jonathan Auch said “the shame of instagram is you have a preassigned aesthetic.”  He went on to elaborate about the creative aspect of actual post processing, of shaping a photo to be the best it could be, and canned filters/ preassigned square format suck much of that creativity away.

When I used Instagram it was another ego-stroking method of sharing stuff to a network that is completely about photos. But to share actual photos I had shot with my actual DSLR and actually processed in a creative fashion, I had to chop 30% of the photo off to fit their format. And I usually lost the watermark that way. Meaning if a photo went viral on the internet, it had no attribution to my business- anonymous advertising.

Late 2012, the free service decided they shared copyright to everything that was posted using the app, and I dropped it immediately. Instagram’s new policy disintegrated by the end of the day, but I never used it again and as such never again had to dissect my own photos, never again was deluged by duckfaced “selfies” and food shots. In business as in politics, bad ideas never really die, and I figure Instagram will once again try to get the rights to its image base as soon as it can develop a stealthy way to do so without pissing off its users. After all, facebook paid a billion dollars for something and it expects its billion back with interest.

Liilii in Space

Model LiiLii shot on the moon!

Model Liilii shot at the Salt River- a favorite location when it’s hot- in June as part of my Scream Queen series. We were talking about the kind of horror films were people were eaten, and after we shot something useful for a “Jaws” Scream Queen scenario, I thought the rocks looked quite moon-like. All post-work on this image was done in the duration of the Avengers on Netfilx.