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Archive for August, 2010

From the Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: After a good summer with lots of travel and some interesting projects, it’s almost enough with the fun now and back to work. But let me start the long, dark drudge towards winter by bragging about a few good developments here:
Recent Heavy Light interviewee Stephen Mallon made it to the finals at Critical Mass,

© Stephen Mallon

and so did our pal Manjari Sharma.

© Manjari Sharma

My good friend and office mate Myriam Babin won with her blog New York Kitchen at a contest that will be officially announced in the near future, but can not be named just yet. It will be juicy, though.

© Myriam Babin

Julie Grahame (recent guest contributor for The Heavy Light) got a big shout-out from PDN in their last print issue for my favorite internet photo magazine aCurator.com,

© M. Sharkey

and yours truly placed second at the International Photography Awards (The Lucie Awards) with the Giddy Up series (Advertising/Self Promotion),

got an honorable mention for The Sultans (People/Portrait) again at The Lucies, (unfortunately the IPA galleries look a bit like they were designed by a blind squirrel),

and placed second at the Grand Street Cup Soccer Tournament with the Kaledonian Klowns (yes, be careful, when you let a Scottish bar owner name your team!).

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BlahBlahBlah

The science of baby babble was the focus of this shoot for Discover Magazine. My assistant and I drove up to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to illustrate the research work of Laura-Ann Petitto, a cognitive neuroscientist using a technique commonly known (ok, not commonly known) as near-infrared spectroscopy to learn about the speech development of infants.

We had to photograph a baby with the near-infrared spectroscopy apparatus on his or her head. Not only did the contraption look like it hurt (which it didn’t),but it also kind of looked like Hollywood’s idea of a science experiment, which of course is a good thing for a photographer.

We hung up a yellow backdrop in a cramped little room and started playing with the light. I had never used a ringflash before this shoot but I had a hunch it might be the right light for the job. We tried a few different things, but the ringlight by itself looked best. We had a few babies there in case one (or two) went cranky on us.

I’m not sure anymore if I shot with an 80 mm or an 150 mm lens on a Rolleiflex 6003 but in any case, I (and the ringflash) were very close to the baby’s face. To make sure the conditions were sufficiently child safe, I looked straight into the ringlight and gave it a pop. After going blind for a few seconds I kept seeing green and magenta circles for pretty much the rest of the day. After that I decided to shoot only profiles and semi profiles of the babe.

Of course toward the end of the shoot the kid, with the lightning quick movements of a ninja, turned his head and looked straight into the light just as I pressed the shutter. A look of surprise, followed by 7 or 8 rapid blinks. Oh boy, I thought here come the waterworks and the scolding look from mother. But to my surprise, a nice, big, fat grin came over the little face, which in turn led me to believe that, during my time at Dartmouth I developed a near scientific test to predict which infants will grow up to become teenage potheads.

To read the article by Mary Duenwald.

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A few months after 9/11 I received a phone call from Michele Fleury , the photo editor at The Advocate, a gay interests magazine based in L.A.. They wanted to publish a tribute to honor New York’s gay and lesbian police officers and firefighters and Michele wanted me to shoot a group portrait of some of these brave individuals. I was thrilled about the assignment to say the least.

I’ve known about this rooftop location with full view of The New Yorker Hotel for a while since an acquaintance had his studio in this building. I’ve always wanted to shoot there but held back until I needed the “ultimate” NY backdrop. Obviously now was the time. I called my buddy and asked if he could get me up on the roof. He hemmed and hawed a bit but finally agreed for a reasonable fee. Rooftop access wasn’t really in his studio lease, but I figured once I was up there with a bunch of cops I could talk my way into or out of anything.

The group shot went pretty smooth even though we had only one fireman. The FDNY was still so decimated from all their losses during the attacks that only one of the openly gay firefighters could make it to the shoot.

Some of the stories we heard that day were truly heartbreaking. One of the police officers, who was securing the area downtown during the attacks ran into his boyfriend, a firefighter on that September morning. They talked briefly and then went on to do their jobs. The cop survived, the fireman did not.

Everybody in this picture lost friends and colleagues that day.
It’s still hard to think back to all the grief that came to New York that day.

Beside the group shot there was another picture I wanted to do that day. Part of the inspiration came from a 1993 New Yorker Valentine’s Day cover by Art Spiegelman.

 

In the summer of 1991 a car that was part of a motorcade for a hasidic Rabbi, spun out of control in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and killed 7 year old Gavin Cato, the son of Guyanese immigrants.
The Jewish driver of the car was beaten by bystanders and taken from the scene by a Jewish ambulance while police and other EMT were still trying to free the child from underneath the car. Black locals perceived this as favoritism and became outraged. Rumors and allegations started flying, mixed with long held grievances, stewed in the August heat, and finally exploded in what became known as the Crown Heights Riots. A few hours after the deadly traffic accident a young hasidic scholar named Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed to death. The riots went on for a few days, partially because Mayor Dinkins couldn’t bring himself to act decisively against the violence. These events probably cost Dinkins his job and poisoned race relations in New York for years.

A while later the Valentine’s Cover appeared on newsstands and started a big controversy. People were outraged, outraged I tells ya. But when asked what was so outrageous about kissing a Jew or a black person, well, a few brave, confused souls contorted themselves in pseudo theological arguments but most just knew better and shut up at that point.

I had never read the New Yorker before, my English wasn’t up to snuff back then, but I had been a fan of Spiegelman ever since I’d read Maus, and I was totally amazed that a magazine would do a cover like that. To throw a nice little peace bomb into a hateful situation, to help a city return to civility, was just a fantastic piece of publishing. It also drove home the point that you can express certain things with a picture that cannot be expressed with words.

That cover drawing popped back into my mind when Michele called me with this assignment.
The rights of gays and lesbians represent probably the last major frontier in the long struggle for equality in the US and I thought photographing a kiss between a gay cop and a gay firefighter could be my modest contribution to the cause.

But when the shoot came I was extremely nervous about asking for the kiss. Obviously there was only one firefighter (so I knew who to pick from that camp) and I thought I should probably ask the friendliest cop, but they were not boyfriend and boyfriend and I was afraid that I would piss them off with my request. Plus, I didn’t want them to think that I’m turning the 9/11 tribute into a joke. So, first I made sure we got the group shot in case they would walk out on me, all the while I was thinking about the proper way for a man to ask a man to kiss another man. Then I took several deep breaths, counted to 10 and just as I was about to pop the big question the friendliest cop started telling me a story about how he and the fireman met a few days earlier in a subway station, both wearing uniforms and how they greeted each other with a big hug and a kiss, and how that was a total freaker-outer for a bunch of subway riders. At that point I just asked if they would recreate that scene in front of my camera and both were immediately into it. Easy as pie.

There was one kind of funny observation I had during the shoot concerning the gay men. By no means would I call my “gaydar” above average but on all the other Advocate shoots I’ve done, I would have known that the guys were gay even if I hadn’t known it already. Yet with these guys in uniform it was different. If I had met them while they issued me a traffic ticket (that’s how I normally hang out with cops), I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that they were gay.

I met some of them again a few months later to give them prints from the shoot and now in civilian clothes they were pretty clearly gay. When they were in uniform it was like they switched something on (or off for that matter).

Years later this is still one of my favorite pictures and as an added bonus it made it into American Photography 19.

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From the Visual Research Dept.:

Jack inn business

A few of the picture postcards that hang over my desk to aid me in my daily struggle with their inspirational and entertaining qualities, come from Martin Bronsema’s “Vorsicht Schussaffen” series.

Martin is an old pal of mine from Hamburg and his working method is quite interesting from a photography standpoint. He picks very small movie stills from German tv-guide magazines and crops them with masking tape, then looking through a loupe they become the basis for his paintings. This leads to an imagery of gestures that is distilled to an archetype.

The paintings are acrylic on American newspapers glued on canvas. Fragments of newsprint are shining through the paint and give the images their titles.

The name of the series is a nice bit of wordplay since the German word for guns is “Schusswaffen”, by dropping the “w” the meaning is changed to “Beware, Shooting Monkeys”.

Obviously Martin Bronsema is a peaceful man and his treatment of pop culture “Hero” images has a pretty subversive bend.

Mega Jobs

Contract Manufacturer

Evolution

High School

You Are Your Best Lover

Martin Bronsema’s website

All images in this post ©Martin Bronsema.

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Stephen Mallon is a Brooklyn based industrial, art, and industrial art photographer. His photographic documentary of the salvage of Flight 1549 (the one that Sully landed safely on the Hudson) resulted in some stunning art work and generated a lot of buzz in the media.  His project about the sinking of old subway cars in the Atlantic to build reefs can be seen in his upcoming show “Next Stop Atlantic” at the Front Room Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Stephen graciously agreed to share the nuts and bolts of this project during an interview for the The Heavy Light.

Dirk Anschütz: Let’s start at the beginning. When and why did you decide to become a photographer?

Stephen Mallon: When I found out I couldn’t become a pilot (because of spinal meningitis at age 15) I started to follow other interests. At that time I had a Kodak Instamatic, after that I upgraded to a Kodak Disc Camera, then I “stole” my Dad’s Canon AE1 and so on. I took some photo classes in High School, worked for the student newspaper and finally went to RIT in Rochester.

DA: Did you shoot industrial images straight out of college?

SM: No my first passion out of school was fashion photography.

DA: That’s a hard field to establish yourself in. Did you get a lot of work in fashion?

SM: Well, I had a few jobs for Maxim which in turn led to an ad job for Canadian Club Whiskey, but…..
There were quite a few editors who liked my work, but suggested that I start using “real” people as models and take it more in a lifestyle direction. Especially for stock.

DA: So, what caused the switch to industrial photography?

SM: A conversation with my CD at Photonica Karen D’Silva. I had traveled to Africa in 1999 and showed Karen some landscapes I’d taken in Niger. She liked them, but told me that they needed some kind of human footprint to become commercially viable.

DA: So what was your first industrial photo shoot then?

SM: Well, I’ve always shot industrial stuff. Even in high school I loved shooting mechanical things. I’ve shot airplanes and airfields. Once a pilot phoned in to tell the airport that they really shouldn’t let a photographer sit on the runway. I just lost my way a little bit in college.

DA: Let’s talk about the subway shoot. How did you learn about the fact that old subway cars were being dumped in the ocean?

SM:  I’d first read about it in the New York Times in maybe 2004 and I thought that project was all finished.  But in April 2008 I spotted a barge loaded with subway cars while location scouting in New Jersey.  I drove to adjoining yard which belonged to Weeks Marine, the company that turned out to be the owner of the barge.  I talked to the security guard and told him that I was interested in photographing the barge.  The guard passed me on to Lou, the yard manager, and Lou passed me on to Jason, the senior engineer.  I told Jason about my ongoing photo project about recycling “American Reclamation”, and gave him my website.  He was himself interested in photography and liked my work, and after I secured permission to photograph from the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) he gave me full access to the “loadout”.

When the loadout came I drove to the 207th Street rail yard in the Bronx where the old stripped down subway cars were loaded onto Barge 297.  It took about 2 days to load the barge with as many cars as possible.  Then the barge shipped back to Bayonne, NJ where it sat for a few days.  I wasn’t allowed on the loaded barge for safety reasons. I was also not allowed to stand under subway cars for safety reasons, but I only found that out later.

Finally Jason called that they were ready to head out to the drop site. I set up on the crew boat on May 16th while a tugboat pulled the barge out on the Atlantic to a spot off the Maryland coast.

DA:  How many shoot days did you have during this project?

SM:  The subway cars were dropped off the coasts of Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware and Georgia.  I went to 4 drops  and 2 loadouts.

DA:  What equipment did you use?

SM:  I shot with a Canon Mark III DS and 4 lenses.  A 24-70 f 2.8, a rented 70-200 f2.8 with image stabilizer, a 70-200 f 4, and a 17-40 f 4.

DA:  What were the technical challenges?

SM:  On a boat everything is moving.  I had to use pretty high shutter speeds since things happened very fast.  I usually shot 1/500th at 400 ASA.  I was tracking the action like on a sports shoot.  Almost everything was shot with the motor drive on high. Oh, and one more thing: Don’t try to preview your images on the back of the camera while shooting- HELLO MOTION SICKNESS!

DA:  Tell me how this personal project has influenced your career so far.

SM:  The subway project was what introduced me to Weeks Marine, so when the plane went down in the Hudson, I called Tom Weeks to see if they would do the salvaging. When they got the job, Tom asked me if I wanted to work. I had to get permission from National Transportation Safety Board and after that got full access to the proceedings.  I had been staying in touch with Front Room Gallery for about 3 years, showing them  my work and going to openings, so when they saw my series “Brace For Impact: the aftermath of flight 1549″ they decided to give me a solo show.

That work also got a Lucie Award and led to a commercial assignment for Maytag, which turned out to be the biggest job of my career so far.
The image of the floating subway car made it into the Communication Arts Photo Annual and the subway work will be shown at the Front Room Gallery in September.

It’s just great how it segued from a personal project to an art project to assignments to another project and so on.

DA: Thanks a lot for the interview and good luck with your show.

Stephen Mallon‘s show “Next Stop Atlantic” will open at The Front Room Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on September 10th.

All images in this post ©Stephen Mallon.

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