Oregon Ballet Theatre: Dancer Portraits

I love when I get to be inside the walls of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s building and watch the heat and fury that arises from the dancers as they practice. It takes enormous focus and energy to perfect those twists and turns and leaps, and to be able to witness trial after trial until they reach their aspirations is a wondrous sight.

I was there to make dancer portraits, and even though they came right from brutal practice to sit before my camera, they each faced the lens with authentic passion in their eyes.

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer

Valley Uprising: Stills From Yosemite

Several of my images made while on an assignment documenting extreme climbers in Yosemite are included in the documentary, Valley Uprising.

If you attended my lecture at the Portland Art Museum, you might recall that I left my corporate work years ago to become a full-time photographer based upon two experiences: watching people trying to salvage photographs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and a life-altering discussion I had one day in a cave with climber Dean Potter.

This film is startling and evocative, delving into the tensions that exist between climbers and rangers in the Yosemite area.

It was a complete surprise to see that my name was listed in the credits at the end!

Yosemite Climber

Chongo

Yosemite climber hand

Mary Ellen Mark: An Inspiration To Many

Mary Ellen Mark lives.

She is still examining between the lines of what we see and what we understand. The subjects of her portraits, her students, the people whose eyes she deeply sought and whose lives she intricately examined, know she is not gone. How could she possibly be far from our reach for influence?

Her voice lives on. Her love of the less seen and forgotten souls lives on. Her catch of nuance and unveiled thinking still moves us.

I will miss talking with her, yes. Seeing her braids. Hearing the jangling of her bracelets. Feeling the swish of air that arises from her swirling skirts when she walks by. Looking at her hands.

But she lives. She’s here. Her belief in humanity and resulting photographic images command a riveting attention like no other. How she moves us.

Maybe I finally will listen to her words of advice more so now since she won’t have to repeat those sentiments as often as she had to in the past. Sorrow blankets my heart. I can hear her voice, magnified.

No, Mary Ellen has not left us. She has only just begun to fill the world around us, and will do so for our future generations.

She just caught the light.

 

Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark

 

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To hear my radio interview on Oregon Public Broadcasting:  Remembering Mary Ellen Mark

 

OnTrak Magazine: Vikesh Kapoor

How can a young man, so early in his life, produce such forlorn material that depicts strain and stress and mystery and broken down spirit, with the tendrils of hope right within and outside of reach?

This is Vikesh Kapoor‘s style of song, and he sings it with conviction, as though he really did experience such down trodden affairs.

Photographing him was not an easy task – when he reaches for his guitar and begins to sing, he is lost in the lyrics and I had a difficult time finding a connection through the camera. For most of our session, I just put the camera aside and listened to him.

Once the guitar is by his side, he returns to his impish and stylish self, joking and smiling in a playful manner. But the specs of my assignment was to photograph him while he was playing. I waited and joined him in his means of story-telling, forgetting that I had a job to do. Sometime during his songs, I was able to pick up the camera and create these images by not looking through the experience-ruining lens.

Something feels a bit controlled about him, but not in the traditional way. He seems to be really thinking about things: his day, his upcoming tour, his lovely girlfriend perhaps? No, there seems to be a tragedy that lurks behind his boyish grins. Who knows if he has experienced some trauma that brings him to this music – it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t seem to question where his creative center comes from, and neither should I.

The Portland Mercury writes that his album “The Ballad of Willy Robbins is a vital, blood-spattered document of the times America currently finds itself in, examining hard-working people and their families as they’re sidelined by big business and the bottom dollar”.  At such a young age, he is certainly able to channel nuance, the loss of a cherished something or someone, with anguished tentacles running deeper than we allow ourselves to feel in this highly distracting world.

I wonder what he will do next.

Images shot for OnTrak Magazine; his story is on Amtrak trains now.

Vikesh Vapoor

Vikesh Vapoor

Vikesh Vapoor

Vikesh Vapoor

Vikesh Vapoor

 

 

Pink Martini + Oregon Balley Theatre

I love shooting for the Oregon Ballet Theatre, and this last shoot was exceptionally fun!

Here are two renditions of the poster they created for this performance.

Photographing Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini was a highlight of my career.  He was alert, game for anything, and even taught me a lesson or two.

 

OBTFINAL

OBT_25_Poster_final

Ethiopia: What It Feels Like For A Girl

In the back of my mind, a Madonna song is playing. I can’t recall all of the lyrics, but the ending lines play over and over as I watch Kuye in her classroom full of boys:

In this world
Do you know
Do you know
Do you know what it feels like for a girl
What it feels like in this world?

There are 42 students in Kuye’s class, and only four of them are girls. In a society that cherishes girls to a point of thinking of them as “prizes”, too often girls are not seen outside of the home for fear that she will steal the heart of a man before they are ready to have her live outside of the home. When a girl goes outside of the house to socialize or to school, she can also be ostracized a bit, out of fear, jealousy, or the upholding of traditional norms.

Kuye used to go to the spring to fetch water at 3am with her friends because water was very difficult to find. In exchange for her labor, these friends helped her by purchasing pens and exercise books for her to use while at school. If she didn’t help them fetch water, they would not help her. Sometimes she would arrive at late school because she was so tired.

However small, her support is provided by her mother, Taiko. Since she attends school under such financial hardship, sometimes she wanted to quit, but her friends encouraged her to remain in school.

Mercy Corps supports Kuye by covering the expenses of pens, exercise books, uniforms, and soap. Kuye speaks about her moral obligation to her friends, and still wants to help them. But now she tells them that she has assignments to do and will help them as soon as she is finished with her homework.

I ask her what her dinnertime is like, and she tells me that if food is present, they eat. If no food is present, they don’t eat. Sometimes Kuye walks home from school with a friend and they search each other’s homes to see which home has food for that evening, and they will share what they find with each other.

A tough life she has. Yet she remains confident and excited about her future.

She realizes that she is learning more than just the traditional subjects at school. One area that has been particularly difficult is changing the way her family and village think about equality between males and females. Since attending school, Kuye has successfully built the case surrounding her brother’s and her duties at home: hers should be no more nor less than those of her brother’s.

Kuye wants support to be available so she can go to university. She wants a comfortable home in which to lay her head down at night. She wants a husband to love, and children to educate. She also knows more about family planning, and has decided that she would like to have only two children, which will reduce the burden she and her husband will have to feed and educate them.

Kuye is a girl. She loves pretty shirts and skirts and hair bows and bracelets.

She is also a pioneer and a fearless leader, bold and defiant, paving the way for others.

Madonna would be proud.

 

Magazine Portrait: Gus Van Sant

I spent an hour in my studio with Gus Van Sant, and as one might imagine, it was a highly interesting evening!

He talked about how he gets ideas for his films and a bit about his history. But the most fascinating things he spoke about were of the mundane. He is incredibly aware of his surroundings and I loved the endless questions he had regarding minutia found in my studio.

Read more about him in the latest issue of 1859 Magazine.

Love this man.

Cheryl Strayed: Poets & Writers Magazine

My images of Cheryl Strayed were featured in the Spring issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. Cheryl’s newly released book, Wild, debuted at #6 on the New York Times Bestseller List, and the movie rights were recently purchased by Reese Witherspoon.

Cheryl was not the easiest person to photograph, as I chronicled in a blog post. She has an intensity and ease about herself, all in one wonderful package.

Cheryl Strayed Author Photo: Wildly Running Rampant!

Holy Moly! Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, is taking the world by storm!

Her book is everywhere, she is being interviewed on all kinds of programs in numerous cities (at once!) and soon she will be riding the Hollywood train, as her book movie rights were purchased by Reese Witherspoon, who will produce and star in the upcoming movie.

I can’t keep up with her, and where my author photo is landing.  Here are a few places.

The New York Times:

NPR:

Interview Magazine:

 

The New Yorker

 

Random House:

 

The Boston Phoenix:

 

Biographie:

 

 

Cheryl Strayed: An Unaltered Image

She breezes into the room, mustering something under her breath I cannot hear.  I watch her every move, each nuance, how she picks something up, the way her eyes flicker when she talks, the flow of her clothes, the curl of her lips as she greets me. She is a raised chalice of charisma, exuding the heart thumping charm of an awkward teenager about to enter the doors of their first school dance.

I can sense that her image is important to her, and that this photo session will not be one where she is not invested in its outcome. It is not her ego that is driving her, it is her anticipation. She knows what is about to happen in her life, how her world will change in a few short months, and there is a hint of desperation in her stance.

Success can be overwhelming, and for someone like Cheryl Strayed who works from her intuition outward, she is trying to brace for the wave that will certainly alter the course of her family.

This was my second time photographing her. The first occasion was when we made her author photograph for her newly released book, Wild. I had met her years before at a party on my street, and as I frequently do when I see someone I would like to photograph, I approached her and asked if I could do so. I never question why I want to photograph someone, i just go for it.

It took a few years before we finally got into the studio, coinciding with the time that she needed her author photo. She was not the easiest person to photograph, as she was difficult to “reveal”…..she held back from letting herself become free before the lens. However, I could see a heat, an intensity that ran so deep, and I took the time to find a way in. I was surprised, because Cheryl is known for her openness and exposure of self in her writing. But the camera can conjure up a whole set of feelings as we place ourselves center stage before the world. I understood this. I found this aspect of her to be utterly endearing, and a purposeful platform from which she could rely upon as she embarks on the notoriety that this book will surely bring to her. A bit of self consciousness and doubt are good antidotes for anyone who is a rising star.

As we got to know each other, she quickly let down her guard, especially when I asked her to scream foul expletives into the air. We collapsed in heaps of laughter as she spewed out word by word, randomly surfacing the most blatant in her mind. Click. I knew which image would make it to the top three, and I was not surprised when she selected it as her favorite for the book jacket. Exuding just the right tinge of sexuality with a splash of backcountry confidence, there she was in front of me: lovely, poised, certain and wild.  I saw the stray hairs that flew about, but I restrained from moving them. This was her, in all of her provocativeness. Let it be. Why alter that reality?

Now I was here to photograph her for the magazine, Poets and Writers. The specs were well defined, from typeset placement to locations to editorial vs portrait styling. I had a grand time with Cheryl in her home, poking into hallways and bedrooms and recessed living areas. My daughter was my assistant on this day, and we both marveled at how she can ignite a conversation with a deliberate focus of her yearning blue eyes, a tilt of her head and a deeply penetrating question.

When it was time to upload images to the magazine, once again, I was faced with a choice regarding how I would edit the images, as I retain rights to make those decisions. There was one photo in particular that was bothersome. During the shoot, I had failed to see a strand of blond hair that was twisted into a pattern that detracted from Cheryl’s face. It looked like a starburst, shot close enough to the camera that made what is referred to as a “hot spot” on the image. Glaringly white, it drew the eye downward toward its center. I agonized over this part of the image, kicking myself for not seeing it so I could have moved it into place where it would not have competed with her facial expression.

As I started to alter it in Photoshop, once again, I halted myself. This is who she is. Just because this is a rising star, photographed for a highly regarded magazine, why should I now foray into something I have long kept at bay in my work: the degradation of an authentic image just for the sake of so called beauty?

I decided to leave the starburst piece of hair intact as a testament to the miracle of photography. At times we capture something we never see while photographing the subject. This is the true delight of making images, when we, the photographers, are startled by something we did not know was present.

This starburst was something I could not have created myself. The more I looked at it, the more I saw how it was a symbol of the truth in Cheryl: although a rising star, the showmanship brilliance rests more upon her shoulders than in her soul. One can see quite quickly that Cheryl Strayed is all about the journey and not the destination.

Her star is shining now, with book tours and interviews and even discussions of larger events that will rock her world. But deep within her soul is where her truth rests, not within her stardom. If one looks past the dazzle of stardom and the bursting success that is now surrounding her, you can reach her soul through one look into her intentional eyes.

Imperfection is, after all, the gateway to sincerity.

 

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