Visions from Vegas

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So just to not mislead with the title, a few of the frames in this post are visions from Florida (made since our move to fabulous Las Vegas). In any case, just wanted to toss a few pics up from my first six months in the desert and the places, characters, stories I’ve stumbled across. I’m still fascinated by the interplay of the diverse current narratives and epic historical legacies ongoing in this part of the world and can’t wait to continue exploring. Hopefully I’ll have another post along soon introducing Empire, a new personal project I’m developing that will explore these concepts and how they are manifesting themselves across these landscapes. In the meantime hope you enjoy these frames and, to my friends who haven’t found their way out this way yet, drop by for a visit!

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Yup, I photographed my own wedding

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Sometimes it’s easy for photographers to take for granted our skill set. It becomes natural to forget, from time to time all, of the elements rattling around in the synapses of our visual cortexes in the few tenths of a second it takes to put in motion the mechanics that make a picture. Like any professional of a trade eventually you get to that point where you can begin to make it ‘look easy’, like anyone can do this. And with digital cameras and software readily available everyone sure is trying. The major problem comes when they start charging for their self-perceived craft and simply can’t perform…or don’t care to for that matter.

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This is how I ended up photographing my own wedding. Now to be clear we never hired a photographer, we were perfectly content to just collect the snapshots taken by our friends. Of course I would have my camera with me to do my obligatory, ongoing documenting of our life together as well. We were more concerned with simply getting married and spending as little money as possible on the ordeal. The wrench in the works came when we arrived at the chapel and posted was a sign that read, something to the effect of, ‘No Cameras or Video Taping Allowed in the Chapel’. Naturally an enterprising business tactic to keep money coming in for the proprietors and not that outrageous of a notion. The frustration came in what one got for their money.

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As we pretty much eloped, my wife Cassie really wanted photos of the ceremony for her family who couldn’t make it to our fabulous Vegas wedding…complete with Elvis mind you. So we relented and agreed to use the house photographer. 20 minutes or so after the ceremony the images were downloaded into the house Macbook and we flipped through them on iPhoto. Thoughtless framing, inconsistent exposures, backfocused or simply out of focus pictures…once in awhile he got lucky. Whatever, like I said we would have been happy with snapshots anyhow and the images had a kitchsy quality that was reminiscent of the atmosphere of the day. Here’s the catch, if you wanted a CD of the images burned it would run you a cool $500. We relented for one of the cheapest options, 3 images for $195…presented as 2 8x10s of one image and 2 5x7s of each of the other two. Basically if you didn’t want to pay you were shit out of luck for wedding pictures.

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So that’s the rub. The only photos of the actual ceremony we have are the couple I stole on my cell phone, and I would’ve been perfectly happy to have those only. But what about those people out there who were really counting on having a quality record of what could be one of the most special events in their life. Left with nothing but crappy snapshots that cost a small fortune. The unprofessionalism of some can make us all look bad, luckily that’s competition that takes care of themselves I suppose. I once ended up photographing a wedding that my wife was babysitting for simply because their photographer decided just not to show up! But here’s a situation where people are trapped into using a photographer that doesn’t even care to learn the most basic aspects of his trade. For us it was just another part in the narrative of a ridiculous and fun day, a story for the grandkids. The only real inconvenience was that I ended up feeling a lot of pressure to document the rest of the day more completely to offset the void of material from the main even itself. I’m sure for some, that void has turned out to be a disaster and they just came away feeling ripped off and cheated. I think extreme instances like this should be motivation to always strive to be at the top of our game as photographers, no? Anyway, below are some more pics from our wedding night out in Vegas.

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Where the hell I’ve been!

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It’s good to have my blog back. Over the summer I switched to a website service and just could never figure out how to get my blog to link up with my site. After much fussing and consulting with more tech savvy friends, I simply ditched the service and returned to maintaining my own site…which should be up, new and improved, in about a week. Until then why don’t I catch everyone up on what I’ve been up to. And post some pictures I’ve made since May, of course.

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Between summer and fall I’ve managed to set foot in 25 states and two U.S. territories, 5 countries outside the U.S., got engaged (well, that was in the spring but I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it here), made some cool pictures, met some great people and have had some killer experiences. Most notable was the chance to work with New York based photographer Robert Caplin and his blog The Photo Brigade. I got to assist at the International Emmy awards as well as meet and interview some interesting photogs, including Chip Litherland and Micheal Rubestein.

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Looking back I find it pretty interesting how much I’ve embraced Instagram. In fact, over the past several months I’ve found myself shooting more with my phone than my SLR. It was refreshing to become a civilian rather than a photographer and enjoy the invisibility that is privileged for such individuals. Still, it was possible to make a nice looking picture and instantly share it with my friends. A post dedicated to my Instagrams will follow.

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So, apologies for my absence and posting here will finally resume. It’s going to be an exciting time coming up…and mildly terrifying. In a few short days I’m packing up a truck and driving with a good friend across the country to a new life in Las Vegas. A few days after that I’ll be marrying my long time life companion, Cassie. I’ll also be entering the world as a freelance photographer, reaching out to commercial and editorial markets and trying to capitalize on the media capitals of the Pacific Southwest. More to come on those developments but for now I’ll close and share a few more images from the summer.

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Looking Back

Approaching the end of my first year of grad school at OU it’s frightful to look back at my website as a representation of my best work. Over the course of the hectic series of quarters it was hard to see one’s own progress but at the end of it all it has been easy to see the difference and actually realize what we’ve learned. Lately I’ve been going through my archives, regathering material for the reorganization of my website (which should debut in the next few weeks) and it’s fun and interesting to look at old work with a fresh eye. The three images in this post are from three to five years ago, my rookie years of exploring style and playing with narrative. After such a turbulent year in grad school it’s nice to find some grounding and to reconnect with that person who was simply fascinated with his world and the shapes it made as it moved forward.

I still feel a need to reconnect with that person more and will taking a hiatus from the grad program at OU. I want to practice what I’ve learned, gain some real world experience, and see how it all fits together so I can get even more out of my second year. As well as actually feel like I’ve mastered the material associated with a master’s degree. This summer I’m excited to be working with New York City based photographer Robert Caplin and assuming some administrative duties associated with his blog The Photo Brigade. My first contribution has just been posted, an update to the documentary I’ve been working on with the Laotian refugee community here in Columbus, Ohio. Overall, it’s a pretty exciting and terrifying time. Hopefully more to come soon.

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The Places We Fear to Tread

This year for essay class at OU we were given the liberty to pursue any project in any place we liked, a pretty awesome opportunity seeing that our time at OU may be one of the last chances many of us have the time and freedom to work on projects very meaningful to us. I chose to pursue an essay in the troubled neighborhoods on the east side of Columbus, Ohio. Bordered by the newly gentrified German Village neighborhood on the west and the vast, old wealth of Bexley on the east, the Livingston, Whittier and Main Street corridors have gone largely forgotten, ignored and dismissed as hopeless. The stereotypes are familiar and continually reinforced through media, not only news but music, movies, television, etc. We drive through these places reluctantly and only as a last resort, hearts pounding the whole time with doors tightly locked. I wanted to slow down and learn about the people who call these places home, to investigate further the symbols of community. The stereotypes don’t only damage people’s perceptions that live on the outside but also those who live within the community. Stories of poverty, drugs and violence continually recirculated only serve to help those within perceive their situation as hopeless. It is still important to address poverty, violence and addiction but how can we redirect focus to how the community comes together in the midst of these issues? I hope by shedding light on the more intimate and complex aspects of community these stereotypes can begin to be put to rest and the importance of human lives can be redirected. More to come as I’ll be spending a long time on this essay but just some initial thoughts for now.

 

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Catching Up

It has been forever since I’ve posted but this quarter at OU has been insane so far. It seems like just yesterday it was New Year’s and everything else has been a scary blur. Bringing you up to speed. First quarter was soul crushing and eye opening all at the same time. On my last day of classes, also the day I had my graduate committee review to defend my place in the program, my car was totaled when I was rear ended just north of Nelsonville on my way to OU. I still made it down to school, even making some final prints on the way, and made review with minutes to spare…special thanks to Rob Hardin. At least I’ve probably made department folklore and will be spoken of in first quarter orientation seminar on why there is now officially no excuse to miss grad review. Finally, winter break was amazing and long. I went on an eleven day cruise to the southern Caribbean with my girlfriend Cassie and had the chance to swing through Tampa on the way back to Ohio to spend Christmas with my Dad and his wife. The pictures in this post are from that trip. Above a KLM 747 buzzing Maho Beach on the island of St. Maarten, a few more pics from places warm and one I made of my Dad talking to his brother Joe on the phone, one of my favorite images I’ve made in awhile. This quarter I’ve started a project in the troubled communities of East Columbus but there will be a post soon to follow on that. For now enjoy and sorry for the hiatus.

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When Photography Became Fun Again…For a Moment

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I once saw a bumper sticker on a car with way too many to begin with that read Art is Fun, and all I could do was quip to myself If it’s fun, then you’re doing it wrong. I think many would agree with me. While there are times when endeavors in the visual arts are genuinely fun and relaxing the vast majority of the time is racked with stress, fatigue, pain and frustration. The fact is that communicating visually, and doing it effectively for that matter, is real labor. That goes for photography as well, if you’re body and brain don’t hurt at the end of the day and you feel like you really don’t need that drink, then chances are you’re doing it wrong. Artistic endeavors take commitment few can ever understand. The commitment to keep moving forward through rejection, while all your peers are having lives, complete with free time and money to enjoy it with, with the knowledge things may never work out with the threat it may have been all for nothing one day. Ultimately, there has to be the confidence that what you’re doing is right but you’d better be goddamn sure you’re working. At the end of the day though some things do come easy and you can feel some satisfaction of a job well done with less effort. While working on a portrait assignment over the weekend this was the case for me. I suddenly remembered the Mid-Ohio Comic Con was in town and I could find an easy portrait series. I met wonderful people, made a few new friends and made a few great pictures. Better it was all indoors, it was warm, I had easy access to food, coffee and bathroom facilities and, best of all, no one tried to kill me. The project turned out to be challenging enough for me to feel like I was working and learning from the experience as well. I’m not a portraitist so posing and directing was a welcome skill to practice. Conceptually I was also able to branch out. With subject matter that could have easily read as Halloween pictures I was able to bring a further dimension to these people’s lives by illustrating relationships and personalities. So special thanks to all those who stopped and gave me a few moments of their weekend. I hope to see you all again at a future con.

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When Photography Became Interesting Again

Just a quick post, just because I’ve had a couple whiskeys and I haven’t had a post out in quite awhile now. I only like to post when I’ve got something genuine to say and not just hear myself speak…coming off with that all to common, self-entitlement to be published that we’re becoming so immune to these days. The fact is, is that I’ve found myself hating…and I mean HATING photography lately. Wrapped up in my graduate program, flailing and making images with the idea that I should be framing, exposing and creating for someone else’s aesthetic. That’s not to say, and should not be confused with, shooting to satisfy a client but shooting for a grade, what aesthetic and subject matter you believe someone is expecting from you. It’s my own fault, fully. It’s been shortsightedness, a lack of imagination, and more critically, a lack of observation for everything that makes our world amazing. The fact is, is that it’s in our own backyard everyday, the wonder and amazement of diversity that makes being human such a privilege. Less than two miles from the homogeneity of my suburban, front porch in my typical tract apartment complex lies Laos, and Thailand, and Vietnam. I can’t express how amazing it feels to be invited into and welcomed to be part of another culture. Many think you have to buy a plane ticket and cross oceans to truly find spirituality in humanity and life, but it’s right here just as rich and fulfilling and amazing as anywhere else.

Boon Awk Phansa, is the name of the ceremony that renewed my belief in photography. I’ll give my mom some credit as well, with her insightful comments to my previous posts. At the end of the day it’s the apathy towards uniqueness that frustrates me most, the fact that, although, we trumpet diversity in western mass media we really don’t want anything to do with it. Cultural enlightenment is an A-list celebrity’s Brahmin wedding on the shores of a south pacific beach, where the indigenous population can no longer afford to go. I’ve been returning to Wat Buddhasamakidham, exploring my own spirituality and my own vision of what’s so important to record for future generations. I feel so intensely and wholeheartedly with the parents and elders of the temple and their fear that the culture they grew up with may be lost with future generations. Many of the members of the temple are refugees of the American war in Vietnam and Laos, or Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia. It’s conflicting to reflect on the recent developments in Libya, where I’ve recently heard reported that ‘people are fighting so hard to make sure that future generations can take democracy for granted.’ These are not concepts to compare literally, but we need to recognize the point of view of future generations. They can never fully understand what their parents went through to make their life what it is, but hopefully they can remind their peers of where they came from. Many parents at the temple know that their forcing their culture on their children, but they believe in the importance of it, they know they will remember. Having always observed from outside and feeling so privileged to be able to interact from within I know that these parents and elders are right, future generations will carry on one day.

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Flailing But Not Failing…Somehow

With four weeks behind me and going into the midterm I’m hating just about every picture I make. What’s worse is that I’m not even sure anymore what I’m expecting from myself. What’s more confusing is that I’m getting A’s. Fortunately I’m not alone and we’re all feeling a bit bewildered. However, I do feel like things are beginning to gel and concepts solidify and I am, hopefully, about to hit my stride. For a lack of time at the moment I figured I’d just share a few frames from the last couple weeks. The above and below detail are from an Athen’s Ohio based horse rescue called Last Chance Corral. Founded and run by Victoria Goss the organization struggles from month to month as donations dwindle and demand for the service continues to rise. Goss was named Most Humane Person by the American Veterinary Association and is a truly inspiring person. Multi-media slide show to follow in the next couple weeks.

Last night I was fortunate enough to be able to provide a crash pad for one of my second year classmates up here in Columbus before her shoot this morning. It was one of my first opportunities to have an extended conversation on photography with one of my peers, and a welcome break from the grind to enjoy some beer, grilled steak, zucchini and fresh onion. It’s sometimes bittersweet to see the amazing work of your peers, inspiring and exciting while a personal deflation and kick in the ass to get your own shit together. None the less it was wonderful to see such talent and to have the opportunity to have someone like that in my life. It would be worth taking a moment to look over Emine Ziyatdinova’s work at http://emineziyatdinova.blogspot.com/, she has wonderful influences which has made for wonderful pictures.

I’ve been beginning to frequent a Buddhist temple nearby our apartment down here in southeast Columbus. I’ve been meaning to find a place for spiritual reflection for sometime and this was a perfect opportunity to do so. Mostly Laotian, Vietnamese and Cambodian expats and refugees form the congregation and make for a fascinating cultural immersion and a fun language barrier at times. I’ve been toting along my camera, documenting my own experience in this new world and I’m mildly surprised that it has been so welcomed. I photographed the Boon Khao Salak ceremony a couple sundays ago and everyone was so thrilled to have a photographer and later to see my images. The people are amazingly warm and welcoming and I’m excited to see where these relationships will lead. Several have already invited me to Laos with them and it’s a certainty that I will go when I can afford the airfare.

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It Feels Like a Train Wreck…or Maybe Just a Demo Derby

So ends the first week of photo-j graduate studies at Ohio University and I suppose the above photograph pretty much sums up how I’m feeling.  Just barely are the feelings of distress beginning to calm to a simmer but I have the feeling will never be just a kelvin away from re-firing to a violent boil.  In fact, I’ve taken to regular whiskey time…just a nip at the end of the day so I can go to bed and sleep, instead of laying awake for hours tormenting over where my next single will come from, if my last will be good enough, and where the hell am I going to find my next story, or time to produce it for that matter.  The fact is, however, that the opportunity is amazing and the work worth it.  To be at one of the world’s epicenter’s of photojournalistic conversation is something one can’t take for granted, not to mention having the department believe in me enough to pay my way to be here.  Already I’ve had the chance to meet and converse with some of the nations leading figures in the industry, who will be my mentors for the next two years and have already provided invaluable guidance in these initial hours.  It’s not something to be taken lightly, I finally feel like I have somewhat of a handle on my future and a say on what my career will turn out to be.  The pressure to perform, though, is reasonably incredible.

The above images are from my first shoot at OU, a demolition derby at the Albany Independent Fair.  An event only fifteen minutes from campus it was overrun by VISCOMers, that is visual communication majors/grads, and made framing an official challenge in order to keep kids with cameras out of your backgrounds.  I, hopefully, got my first single out of the way but that’s of little comfort.  I did have the opportunity to meet some interesting people and get a few leads for future stories.  I can’t wait to get under the surface of this place, that is once I find the time to.  It’s all just a little overwhelming at the moment…hopefully sense to come soon in future posts.

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