Archive for May, 2010

From the Visual Research Dept.: Right now (through August 30th) the Neue Galerie in New York is showing the work of Otto Dix. His portrait of Laryngologist Dr. Mayer-Hermann from 1926 is a favorite of mine and always reminds me of August Sander’s image of the baker, another masterpiece of that era.

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Whenever I’m getting ready to go on a well deserved vacation, I struggle with the same question that has tormented photographers for thousands of years: Should I bring the lights?

And the right answer is: Yes.

I was traveling in Puerto Rico, driving through the El Yunque rainforest when I came to this beautiful spot. A window in the otherwise dense canopy opened up to reveal a view of sky, sea and a bit of civilization in the distance. I set up a 7b with 2 heads (regular reflectors) left and right of camera. I had to put a plastic bag around the pack because the ground was so wet that it kept sinking in. The camera was a Rollei 6003 with an 80mm, which in my humble opinion, is still the best camera I’ve ever shot with. I took a polaroid or two and then I exposed 2 rolls of Kodak NC 160, varying the light slightly and getting some different cloud patterns.

This image became my best-selling landscape with Getty back when there was still such a thing as a selling landscape with Getty, and I’m still having fun looking at the large print of it in my living room.

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From the Visual Research Dept.: There is a treasure trove of beautiful imagery and old-school Japanese whoop-ass to be found in the amazing series of “Zatoichi – The Blind Swordsman” movies on Hulu.

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One of the bigger photographic challenges that I’ve had to deal with on a regular basis is the corporate office.

I’ve had my fair share of portrait jobs involving people from the worlds of finance, academia or management and a solid majority of them work in a place that can only be described as “visual hell”. The standard issue place of employment is a combination of cubicles, private offices and conference rooms. There is usually grey carpet on floor, walls and sometimes ceiling, and everybody looks good and healthy in strange-colored office lighting.

The young up-and-comers live in cubicle land, with plastic desks and quite often a half-hearted collection of action figures or novelty footballs. The more established ones reside in private offices furnished with the finest Staples oaks. There is usually a picture of your subject shaking hands with Ronald Reagan or Tiger Woods or a right-wing astronaut. There might be a few inspirational posters about leadership illustrated with pictures of lone eagles. Like, who the heck was ever led by an eagle? The bird is called “lone” for a reason.

The conference rooms are usually a tragedy as well. Scuffed walls, banged up tables and piles of video conferencing equipment. Well, you get the picture.

Once you stopped crying about the location, you check out what your subject is wearing. Sometimes it’s cool, more often it’s an ill-fitting suit, a terrible tie (golfers, Santa Clauses, etc) and one of those tent-like shirts that gives the gent a lot of room.

Now, sometimes it’s ok to go ironic and just work with what you’ve got, sometimes you find that little corner or window that somehow saves the day, sometimes you can get your subject to leave the office and hit the streets with you, but sometimes it’s just a full blown mess.

And this is my full blown mess insurance set up.

It’s a Super 8 movie light from God knows when. It creates a nice over-the-bathroom-sink kind of lighting. It works on a regular outlet, it is set up in under a minute, it makes people look good, and it lets me get close so I can cut out the background clutter.

These images were taken with a Rollei 6003 and an 80mm lens with a Tiffen +2 close-up filter. I shot Kodak NC 160. The usual exposure with this light is 1/60th at f 4 at 100 Asa, so the depth of field is very shallow.

The gentleman on top is Lee Remmel the longest-serving employee of the Green Bay Packers. I photographed him as part of a story for Brand Eins, a fairly elegant German business magazine. The budget was tight and I had to work without an assistant, so the easy-to-carry aspect came in handy as well.

The gentleman below is Alain Belda, CEO of Alcoa. We photographed him for Money Magazine. He was very stylish and didn’t need the emergency treatment, but looked good in it anyway.

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Louise Cypher and her doomed luggage carriers made it into the Slide Luck Pot Show at the New York Photo Festival. The event is this Saturday, May 15th from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm in the archway of the Manhattan Bridge. The roster of photographers includes among others Richard Renaldi, Philip Toledano, Finn O’Hara, and Spencer Tunick, so it should be a lot of fun. Plus they will try to break the world record for the biggest pot luck dinner that night, so dust off your cooking spoons and come out to Dumbo.

For more info.

For tickets.

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This is a story about how inspiration can emerge out of the darkest circumstances.

I was standing in line to pick up a package from the post office on 14th Street and Avenue A, feeling real sorry for myself. Why was I feeling that way? Well, you’re probably not from New York. Here, everybody knows, that the post office on 14th Street and Avenue A is the worst post office ever, definitely in New York but most likely in the entire universe. And any day I have to go to there is a sad day for me.
Anyways, I was standing in line, minding my own business, when I saw a weapons catalogue abandoned on a table. A weapons catalogue!!!! in a post office!!!!!!

I mean, come on, do you really have to give them ideas?

So, I took it to make sure that it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands, and since I was standing there for a very, very long time I gave it a pretty thorough look. One of the funnier things I came across was a camouflage suit made entirely out of artificial leaves.

Now, the American obsession with camo is kind of fascinating to me. Especially since a lot of people I’ve seen wearing this stuff are xxxx large, which always makes me wonder: if you’re trying so hard to be invisible shouldn’t there be a little less of you?

In any case, I eventually got out of there, disposed of the catalogue and went on my merry way.

A few weeks later Betsy Keating from Money Magazine called me up, and with beautiful serendipity asked me to shoot a photo for a leaf blower test they conducted. There would be a model and we’d go somewhere in the country side to blow some leaves. Of course I immediately remembered that glorious suit, and after a quick Google search, sent Betsy a picture of it.

Betsy liked the idea and lobbied everybody at Money to go full camo on the shoot.

She asked me if there was a model I could recommend for the job and I thought of Juan, a guy I worked with once before on a Photonica shoot. He was a good sport and a pleasure to work with and looked like a suburban homeowner. I sent over some pics and Betsy liked him too. Juan was ready, willing and able and we had our model.

Jane Clark, the main PE at Money had a nice little house with a big garden / back yard upstate and we had our location.

Probably the hardest part was finding dried leaves to blow around since this shoot was in the summer and all the trees were still going strong. Betsy somehow worked her magic and organized a few giant garbage bags of fall foliage from some store in midtown. You just gotta love NYC.

There were two assistants on set.

There was also a guy from Stihl, the company that made the test winner. He supplied us with the actual blower, the goggles, the ear muffs and the gloves. Always remember, kids: safety first!

I shot with the usual RZ and Phase One P25 back and a 4 head, 2 pack 7B set up. We used a mix of regular reflectors and gridspots.

We shot a few different versions of the image. Here’s one with Juan in regular suburban sweat shirt and slacks. Betsy did the styling.

For lunch Jane supplied us with fruits and veggies from her garden. It couldn’t have been better a better outing.

In the end, to everyones delight, the most iconic image of the day was used (see top of post).

I tried my best finagling to get the suit after the shoot, but someone at the magazine had the same idea. I don’t know who ended up with it, but if you don’t see them, you know why.

Here’s a little epilogue:

Betsy and Jane were amongst the first people to ever hire me in NY. Year after year I got some very nice jobs from them and always enjoyed the cool, calm and collected professionalism they brought to the table. In a sign of these shitty times, neither Jane nor Betsy are with Money Magazine anymore. Both are gifted PE’s, great to work with, and even better to hang out with.

Best of luck to both of them.

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I’m proud to announce that one of my Giddy Up pics got chosen for the American Photography website. Yeehaw again.


3rd one from the top.

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© Phil Toledano

This is a great example of cross boundary inspiration and creativity on demand:
Moby: One Song, Two Days, Three Versions

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Not quite 3 years ago I decided it was time again for a cross country trip. I did my first major road trip in 1992 in a Pontiac Catalina Safari Station Wagon with 2 Nikons and plenty of Tri-X and it was such a great experience that I was itching to repeat it.

I bought a 1996 Volvo 960 Station Wagon (’cause it’s not a real road trip unless your car is big and temperamental) and hit the road.

I was planning on doing some Getty shoots along the West coast since I had a little support network there, and so this here story is about what happened in San Francisco.

First off I was staying with my friends Jerry and Laurel. I met Jerry when I was on my first cross country trip and he was living in Chicago. I had his number from a friend of mine and called him up when I hit town. He graciously invited me, a perfect stranger to stay in his gigantic loft on the South Side. The loft was in a house that used to belong to Al Capone’s gambling operation, but was home to several young artists when I got there. I had a great time hanging out and Jerry and I stayed in touch, periodically visiting each other. Eventually he moved to San Francisco and married Laurel, a smart, beautiful woman with a sharp sense of humor.

Both are gifted painters and like many artistic freelancers they are resourceful, creative and great problem solvers. Though neither Jerry nor Laurel have the technical know-how of an experienced photo assistant, they are quick learners and great on set with their local knowledge, creative enthusiasm and grounding sarcasm. I hired them as assistants and we started brain storming about what my options were to produce some unusual imagery in SF with a limited budget.

After bouncing some ideas around, Laurel mentioned her friend Andy, who lived on a boat and who rented “the Far Side” for harbor tours and parties. We went to see him and his flat bottomed tin can, settled on a price and started the casting process.

Since the shoot was done for stock, I figured their should be a business as well as a sports as well as a personal angle to it, and so we started looking for businessy-looking guys between 40 and 60, with athletic qualities who could also be gangsters. It’s all about options. Andy, the boat captain pointed us to the South End Rowing Club and we found Dwight and Ned there. Dwight was actually a business man and Ned worked in ship repair. Both were hardcore open water swimmers who had no problems jumping into the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay.

Simultaneously we put an ad on craigslist to cast for a younger female model (again options on the shoot) and found Annis.

I had my own Profoto 7b kit (2 heads) and a Hensel Porty kit (2 heads) which became increasingly unreliable (aka useless) on my road trip. In addition we rented a 7b kit along with a bunch of sandbags from Pro Camera.

The camera was my Mamiya RZ67 with a Phase One P25 digital back. We used mostly wide angle lenses since quarters were tight and we had to fit in the scenery.

We did our own styling and worked without Hair & Make-up. The female models are usually pretty good at doing their own make-up and the guys don’t need a lot anyway. Minor stuff can get cleaned up in Photoshop. As much as a good groomer can add to certain projects, it can be a huge time drain on others, especially on location and I always weigh the pros and cons for each shoot.

We met at the marina and got all our gear as well as food and drinks on board and started towards the bay bridge.

It was much harder shooting from a boat than I had anticipated. My usual way of working is to select a graphically strong background, get the light to my liking and then make sure that everything stays the same so I can concentrate on the person/s in the picture. But that’s not what they let you do on a boat in SF. To begin with, the ambient light was changing about every 15 seconds. There were clouds, sunshine, haze and everything in between and then to make matters even more interesting, that boat would not hold still for even a minute. You get the background just so, then you get the model in position and … hey, off wandered the background? But beside the problems it was a lot of fun to boss an entire boat around.

My general approach to photography is to look for tensions rather than harmony. So the basic idea behind this shoot was to juxtapose outdoor pursuits with an urban setting, and the human vulnerability with scenic grandeur.

In the first picture we put Annis on the edge of the ship. She was very athletic and (stating the obvious) had a great body.

We put 4 lights up with regular reflectors and tried to get as close to a “surround” light as the boat and framing allowed. Since Annis had a very warm almost orange skin tone she contrasted nicely with the blue morning haze hanging over the bay.

Next up was the Golden Gate Bridge. I think it’s just about impossible to overstate the beauty of this span. The landscape of the Golden Gate is stunning and the fact that the Marin Headlands on the other side are undeveloped is simply unbelievable. I’ve seen this bridge already in many pictures and a bunch of times in person, but seeing it for the first time from the water made me all warm and fuzzy. Until that cold wind picked up, that is.

We had a kayak that Ned got us free of charge from the rowing club. A little banged up, but nothing Photoshop couldn’t handle. We put 4 lights from 2 packs at the edge of the boat on full power. Annis got in the kayak and did her best to keep in the lights while Andy steered the boat and tried to keep her (the boat) steady. Meanwhile the bridge appeared and disappeared in the fog. Everything was shifting, tilting, shaking, floating, drifting and blowing and in my head I was yelling at Mamiya for not putting autofocus on the RZ. Not many frames were useable from this set-up, but in the end you need only one good one.

After we got Annis out of the water it became time for the guys to shine. Everybody who ever dipped a toe in the Pacific around San Francisco knows how refreshing these waters are. Ned and Dwight jumped probably 10 to 12 times and when they got out there was a frigid wind blowing. No cream puffs these two.

Again there were 4 lights with regular reflectors arranged in a semi circle around the 2 jumpers.

Not to be outdone by the guys Annis hopped in for a quick swim as well. No sissy this one either.

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I’m thrilled that Amber Terranova and Amanda Mauro posted my little diabolical photo novella Louise Cypher’s Suitcase on “PDN Photo of the Day” blog.

You can check out the “making of” a little further down this blog.

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