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Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

During a short and sweet road trip with the missus through Wyoming last year I noticed that there were a lot of bikers out and about and after a while it dawned on me that they were on their way to the big yearly meet-up in Sturgis, South Dakota. Most of them have been on their bikes for days and you could see in their faces the effects of the wind and the sun. It seemed like we could do a nice little portrait series.

The first day we wanted to do the shoot was too rainy and we decided to use the time for a thorough location scout. We drove out of Cody and took the Chief Joseph Byway to the Beartooth Highway, which took us all the way up into Montana. One road was more spectacular than the next. We decided to set up shop the next morning at a place called Dead Indian Pass.
The spot overlooked a beautiful valley where Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce faked out a pursuing US Army on their (painfully close but unsuccessful) run towards the Canadian border.

We set up lights at a pull-out and asked the bikers that stopped there if they wanted to sit for a portrait. I think we got a nice collection of Amurrrican (and a few Canadian) archetypes.

To check out the entire series, click here.

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There is a new gallery called “At the Races” on my website.  I spent a day at a messenger track race in Kissena, Queens which has a velodrome (what doesn’t New York have?).  The images were taken last year on the glorious, glorious day when Germany whooped Argentina 4:0 at the World Cup which might explain why it took me so long to post them (I’ve just stopped celebrating).  In any case there will be a longer post about the nuts and bolts of the shoot soon.

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Sometime late 2009 Julie Guidry called me up and asked me if I was interested in applying for a “Getty Grant for Good” to shoot an image library for Upstream Arts.

Upstream Arts is a Minneapolis based non-profit whose mission is to “enhance the lives of adults and youth with disabilities by fostering creative communication and social independence through the power of arts education”. The classes are taught by working artists including painters, sculptors, actors and dancers, who help their young clients explore different ways of expressing themselves. A pretty big deal for the participants, as it turns out.

Well, we didn’t get the grant, but filing the application started a thought process about how to portray people with disabilities. Most of the images we found out there were of sporty triumphs or happy-happy family moments, but almost nothing showed the complex human beings behind the disabilities. There was a need for straight-on portraiture. The more we talked about the project, the more interested I became, and eventually we decided to go ahead with the shoot. Grant money be damned.

So in the summer of 2010 the Misses and I loaded up our late Volvo with a large amount of gear

and headed to the Twin cities on the mighty Mississippi (4s, 4i, 2p, 1m).

On the way we stopped in Cleveland, since we’ve never been there. After we unloaded at the hotel, we went straight to Jacobs Field where we watched the Indians beat the Red Sox in convincing fashion. A very good omen for the trip. In my function as a semi-professional travel adviser, I’d like to recommend:  If you ever find yourself in Cleveland in the summer, try to go to a baseball game there. It’s really what baseball should be like in my opinion. A nice, smallish stadium, relaxed atmosphere, borderline affordable beers and sausages, and no $1500 seat in sight (and I’m saying this as a Yankee fan)

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We made another stop in Chicago and then it was onwards to Minneapolis with only a few hours lost due to a little automotive health issue.

Once in Minneapolis we started working at the shoot which was going to happen at the Jewish Community Center in St. Paul (which is the Twin in the Twin Cities). We went there for a quick location scout and requested one of their rooms large enough to set up our studio and provide space for models and their caretakers to hang out. The library fit the bill.

Julie Guidry did a great job finding our models and arranging the time table for the shoot.

I needed a few more pieces of equipment like c-stands and sandbags and we borrowed them from Jeff Cords, a local photographer at 8th Street Studio. Jeff beside being a great still life shooter, is a regular supporter of Upstream Arts and an all around good guy.

For the lighting we used Profotos Acutes and 7bs (plugged in).  There was a head with a beauty dish to the right of the camera and a head with a grid on the left.  There were also one head with a grid on each side behind and above the model.

The camera was a Mamiya RZ 67 (which really shines during close up portraiture) with a Phase One P25 back.

The entire shoot happened in one afternoon.  Our first model was Caleb, Julie’s stepson. He was also our toughest customer, since he was a bit under the weather and in a bad mood. He had a hard time sitting still in front of the camera. We took our time, showed him the entire set up from the camera to the lights, and how everything worked. Whenever we did that Caleb gave us between 45 seconds to a minute in front of the camera. The images turned out pretty well though and Caleb wound up on the cover of our Magcloud Magazine and the postcard of our exhibition.

Caleb

After that the other models and their caretakers started showing up and to my relief the other shoots were easier than the first one. Most of the participants were really into the shoot.  Since I was shooting digitally, I was able to immediately show them the images on a monitor, which helped a lot with the collaboration.  The models had a wide range of disabilities and our interactions reflected that.  Quite a bit of the communication between the models and me happened non-verbally and many creative decisions were based on gut feelings.  There was a pretty high energy on the set, but most of the models managed only about ten minutes in front of the camera before they were exhausted.

Every good portrait is a collaboration between the photographer and the model. It takes a bit of courage to really look hard at somebody but it takes quite a bit more courage to show yourself when somebody is staring at you through a lens. Looking now at the finished images I feel fortunate about the openness and sense of generosity with which these young people approached the shoot.

Julie Guidry organized a show of this portrait series at Intermedia Arts Gallery  in Minneapolis and tonight is the closing reception (and Upstream Arts fundraiser).  It’ll be interesting to see the reactions and hear the opinions of the models first hand.

On a last (and own horn tooting) note:  I just found out that four of the images made it into American Photography 27.

Intermedia Arts
2822 Lyndale Ave. South
Minneapolis, MN 55408
612.871.4444

http://www.intermediaarts.org/

April 5th through April 18th, 2011
Monday-Friday 10AM to 6PM, Saturdays 12PM to 5PM

Closing Reception and Upstream Arts Benefit:
Monday, April 18th, 6:30-8:30 PM



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Antelope Island is, as I mentioned before, one of my all time favorite places. It sits in the Great Salt Lake and looks pretty Lord-of-the-Ringish. It has a healthy fauna with plenty of antelopes and buffalo roaming around. The way to get there is by a long very straight road that traverses the lake.

On the second day of our Giddy Up shoot we met again at my hotel downtown Salt Lake City. Again we had three riders, Tate and Cameron from the day before and as a new addition David Orion Thompson. We also had hired Hillary, a female model from Craigslist, her though for only half a day.

Once we got to the island, we ran into some problems. We had called a few days earlier about a permit and were told to just get it on the day of the shoot, that it would be a matter of minutes. I confirmed this again the day before, but of course once we got there nobody knew nothin’ and we had to make a slow march through state park bureaucracy. It would have been pretty frustrating except for the fact that the van with all the BMX’ers had broken down along the way and we wouldn’t have had anybody to photograph anyway. In the time it took us to get the permit, the boys somehow managed to get the broken heap off the road and to organize a new vehicle. When we all finally made it to the location we decided to play it like rock stars. Who really starts working before 11 o’clock anyway? In any case it helped my nerves considerably that the shoot the day before had worked out so well.

For the first set-up we picked a little dirt road at the south side of the island and started with Hillary since we would only have her for one more hour thanks to our earlier adventures. She and David definitely looked like they could be a couple and we tried to create a shoot that was half hipster, half Norman Rockwell.

After that we went to a patch of reeds near the lake. I always loved playing in these things as a child since this was probably the closest a German kid would come to a Tarzanesque environment.

After the girl left we went back to the dirt road with the riders. I had told them before the shoot that I wanted to incorporate Western iconography into the images of them riding. Cam didn’t need much prodding, he had an extensive collection of old time country music on his i-pod and a fine variety of cowboy shirts, but he went far beyond the call of duty by bringing a bona-fide bullwhip to the shoot.
He was very good at making the bike ride by itself even on a bumpy dirt road, and so here he gave it a push towards the camera, grabbed the whip and and gave it a good smack at precisely the right moment. Yeeh-haw!

After the dirt road shoots we broke for lunch at a few nearby picnic tables and noticed a small plane circling low and slow overhead as if looking for something.

After lunch we moved to the next location where David performed a bit of rodeo inspired riding. As with the other set-ups, we shot everything on a Mamiya RZ with a P25 Phase One back and lit the scenes with Profotos 7b’s. We usually arranged the heads with regular reflectors in as much of a circle as we could get away with.

For the last set-up of the day we moved to the access road to the island. Usually a sleepy stretch of blacktop were you can see oncoming traffic for miles. On that day it was far from sleepy though. We had set up our lights and had just started shooting when we saw police lights flashing in the distance. After a few minutes a huge Suburban police truck came flying by at 90 miles an hour, a few minutes later another police car with lights and sirens shot by followed by fire trucks, ambulances and more police cars. We kept shooting through the whole parade because even at their break neck speed, we had minutes to get out of the way. Cameron was manning the radio and finally found out that a private plane with a lone pilot went down on a remote part of the island earlier in the day. The plane we saw at lunch must have been looking for the missing aircraft.

Despite a bit of nervous energy on the set from all the racing emergency vehicles the shoot turned out very nicely. We had Cam (who also brought some nice suits beside the bullwhip) jump “over” the rental car. The image is a simple composite to get both the bike and the car in focus, I didn’t change the height of the bike at all. Cameron really could jump.

These two images are the only ones we really used photoshop on (besides color, contrast, blah, blah, blah) to showcase a bit of the different riding styles. Where Cam could really get high (aw, c’mon, you know what I mean) Tate could really go low. His ability to dip the bike and pop it back up was a thing of beauty. We had to hurry up with these images because at the end of the day the light was changing fast and we needed consistency for the composites.

After that we turned the set-up around to get a shot of the three of them with a nice sunset.

The images we produced during the two shoot days were pretty well received. Fab Julie Grahame picked the Bonneville pics for a feature on aCurator.com, David’s bucking bike made it on the American Photography contest website (and, as I just realized, disappeared again thanks to their low notch web maintenance), and the series placed second at the Internation Photography Awards (the Lucies) in the self-promo category, also clearly visible to an archaeologist on their engaging winner’s gallery.

Unfortunately at the same time the whole market for stock photography turned to and I decided to hold back with submitting the images until they have a better chance to make money. Hopefully the market for stock images as well as photography in general will rebound, but I do have a queasy feeling that the last pic of the day might have been a premonition.

Giddy Up-Bonneville
Giddy up-Intro

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The Bonneville salt flats near the Utah/Nevada border are so eerily beautiful and spectacular that I’ve wanted to shoot there for years.  Me and 10 million other shutterbugs.

The salt flats are one of the most used locations in the US.  Everything gets shot on the white flat surface from cars to cellphones to pantyhose.  It makes sense of course, you can add immediate natural grandeur to even the boringest of products and it’s practically not possible to make anything look bad out there no matter how large the lack of talent might be in the creative team. And that’s just the bad stuff. There is also a lot of really good photography going on in that spot. Kind of intimidating, really.

So, for quite a while I was mulling over what project I could do here and what my approach would be. I checked out Bonneville the Winter before (during another ski trip) and it had an inch or two of water on it. It looked great and different from most of the pictures I’d seen before. I kept that in mind and when the possibility of shooting BMX riders came up I started wondering what they could do with this place.

I went for a location scout and found (to my relief) that the water was back. The salt underneath was surprisingly firm. I asked Jordan Utley, our local fixer and BMX videographer extraordinaire, if his friends would be willing to ride their bikes in the shallow saltwater and he assured me that they would be up for anything.  Nice.

On the first day of our Giddy Up project Jordan brought along his friends Matt Beringer, Cameron Wood, and Tate Roskelley.  Fine riders, one and all.  We also booked a female model from Craigslist to go lifestyle-y in case the bike pics fell flat.  Her day would turn out to be pretty uneventful.

We met up at our hotel in SLC and started the two hour drive West. The location was incredibly easy. There is a rest stop on Interstate 80 that’s architecturally cool and just steps from where the water started. We parked, walked 15 yards, and set up the lights. By the time we were ready the guys were already in the lake hopping around like frogs on payday.

For the next image we moved to the picnic area (another 15 steps) and set up the Profoto 7b’s in a 3/4 circle.  We had to rehearse this shoot a bit since the timing was crucial to everybody’s health.  First Cameron made a run and hopped on the table with his front wheel up (that’s called a “manual” or “Manuel” if you’re from Mexico), then Matt rode in and jumped on the bench with another Manuel and then Tate came screeching around the corner with his bike dipped low.  Everything had to happen right on time and at a fairly high speed.  It was amazing how quickly the three guys figured it out and how consistently they could repeat it.

After that shot we moved along to use the striking architecture of the rest stop.  The first two pictures I shot with a 250 mm lens on the Mamya RZ from across the parking lot.  I liked the look but every communication with the riders involved a 30 yard sprint, then jog, then walk to and fro.

The image with the 3 of them was basically them improvising on their marks.  It was amazing how high Cam could pop his bike of the ground.

Here’s a little aside:  a while ago a German BMX’er crashed pretty badly during a shoot of mine, breaking his hand and a bunch of bike parts in the process.  When I bought him replacements parts he requested pieces from S & M Bikes that had names like “Beringer fork” or the “Beringer stem”.  So it was funny to meet the “Beringer” himself on this shoot.

The last set up of the shoot was at the end of a little road that led out into the middle of the flats.  While we shot some portraits by the edge of the water the unoccupied talent rode way out into the middle of the lake.  In the fading evening light it had all the creamy dreamy quality that I had hoped for from Bonneville.

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©Stefan Falke

Even though The Sultans show at the Deutsches Haus at NYU enjoyed a very solid turnout despite New York being a giant icy puddle that night, I’m not resting on my laurels. As a matter of fact, after checking the spice rack in my kitchen, I don’t even have any laurels, but I’m not resting on my sprigs of rosemary either. No, I’m on to the next solo show which will happen in Minneapolis, MN, the town where they have 200 different words for snow.

The exhibition will feature my “Upstream” portrait series of adolescents and young adults with mental disabilities that we produced for the terrific Upstream Arts non-profit organization.

UPSTREAM
at
Intermedia Arts
On view from Wednesday, April, 6th to Monday, April, 18th.

Closing Reception on Monday, April, 18th.

2822 Lyndale Ave. South | Minneapolis, MN 55408

Phone: 612.871.4444
Fax: 612.871.6927
Email: info@IntermediaArts.org

Monday-Friday 10AM to 6PM and Saturdays 12PM to 5PM

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Dr. Pfeil, a general practitioner, has been a medical institution in my German hometown for as long as I can think. I never really knew him though since I went with my troubles to Dr. Ertz, the other local medical institution. Like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones or Michael Jackson and Prince, it was one or the other. My mom took me to Dr. Ertz when I was a little boy and that was that.

In one of my early works I photographed Dr. Erzt and the mother of all desks.

A few years ago though I started to get to know Dr. Pfeil, through a common friend. He is a passionate hunter and has a great dog (always a good sign in my book) named Quitte. The Doctor and his family including the dog modeled for me on a few occasions and Quitte (which is the German word for Quince) actually ended up on the cans and boxes of a line of German dog food with this idyllic shot.

In any case I wanted to shoot a somewhat formal portrait of Doc and Quitte and after picking his best looking rifle we walked to the edge of a nearby field. We positioned 2 heads on a Profoto 7b and 2 heads on a Hensel Porty around the two, but made sure we didn’t overpower the lovely evening light. We shot with a Rollei 6003 with an 80 mm lens on Kodak Portra NC 160.

Both were a pleasure to work with and I really enjoyed our time together, but then again I might feel different about them if I was a forrest dwelling quadruped.

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