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Posts Tagged ‘Landscape’

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, the Missus and I recently made a trip to the left coast of Amurrrica so I could finally relax from my mediterranean lifestyle. As usual I decided to bring the shabang (2 7bs, 4 heads, and the Mamiya RZ) on our road trip from San Francisco to LA and back.

The project I had in mind originally was to find and photograph motocross riders in the hilly desert of Southern California. It would have worked out great, if only they were there. Even though I found plenty of tracks, I could not rustle up one single rider in the time we were there. Maybe they needed a vacation, too.

So faced with the depressing possibility of schlepping (and paying extra luggage charges for) all my gear without getting anything noteworthy out of it, I sent an SOS call to my good friends Jerry and Laurel in SF. J & L worked already on several other bay area shoots of mine, one of them detailed in great detail in an earlier post here.

Laurel told me about her friend Isabella, who is a passionate mountain biker, though injured at the moment, who could hook me up with other riders. It was very short notice, unpaid, and the shoot was happening on Monday afternoon. Somewhat close to ideal conditions.

After a location scout in different parts of the city, the tourist in me won, and I decided to shoot on the Marin side of the Golden Gate. Obviously it’s one of the mostest oftenest photographed locations ever, but the beauty of the span is just too damn hard to resist. During the scout, we went to some of the military installations in that area and the one closest to the bridge had some interesting structures that provided for good riding and angles without tourists in the background. I tried out different lenses and liked the slightly abstract (safari) look I got from the 250mm tele.

On Monday we started setting up for a one o’clock shoot. We didn’t know how many models would come, but we knew that they wouldn’t have a lot of time. When three riders finally arrived an hour late, the fog rolled in. Initially I was ready to kick something small and innocent, but the fog turned out to be not really solid. Every so often the veil would lift and the bridge would appear in highly attractive half-visibility. Laurel was standing on a little hill, telling us to get ready when a hole in the mist would blow our way. When we got the timing right it looked like this:

…and when we got the timing wrong it looked like that:

The rider in this picture is Remy, who is not just an all around good guy and very skilled rider, but also the owner of the tip-top Mojo Bicycle Cafe in San Francisco. A very nice combo of bike shop and cafe.

We did a quick group portrait (Ralph, Remy, and Isabella),…

…and moved up the hill for a second location. This is how our first spot looked from above:

The second location was on the other side of the hill and had a little patch of spectacular trees. We placed two lights amongst the trees behind the rider, one head pretty much from the front and left of camera and one head from the sharp right aimed at the rider but skimming the gnarly tree next to her. The rider had to start in the background, get some speed, duck under that big branch, get photographed, and roll down a sharp little hill while avoiding the camera. The two guys went first, but then Isabella’s competitive side kicked in and she went for it, too, freshly surgically repaired knee or not, giving me the best image in this spot (and possibly the day).

It was a short little shoot, but more than justified the schlepp.

If you’re into bikes or coffee or both I highly recommend to check out Mojo if you should find yourself (or lose yourself) in San Francisco (with flowers in your hair).

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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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As the great philosopher and part-time musician George Harrison once said “all things must pass”, and last week was the time of another passing. The great green beast, my Volvo station wagon is no more.

On a trip down to Philly, halfway between New York and the City of lovely brothers, near the end of the NJ Turnpike, Susie and I were cruising along, minding our business when the car emitted a foreboding screech. A little bit later this was followed by a blinking transmission light and a little after that the car started slipping pretty seriously. We pulled over and called my friends at AAA. After their customary “Oh no, not you again” they arranged for a tow truck which got us to the nearest service station in Bordentown, NJ.
The mechanic after a brief diagnosis gave us the bad news, the “tranny” was shot. The tranny is kind of like the reproductive part of a car, and any problem down there is complicated and expensive. That, combined with other problems that needed fixing like a sagging bumper, a dubious timing belt, an exhausted car freshening tree, would have pushed the repair costs way beyond what the car was worth. So we decided to empty the coins out of the ashtray and say fairwell to our four wheeled friend.
I can’t say it was a dependable car, as a matter of fact it was somewhere between a lemon and a grapefruit. It’s volvnerability to all sorts of mechanical and electronic failures stranded me in some interesting places like Whitefish, MT, Death Valley, and a Walmart in Wisconsin. But we also traveled the country from New York to San Francisco, from Duluth to Savannah. We climbed the peaks of the Sierra and drove the Road to the Sun. We went to Montreal in -400 degree weather and crawled at 3 mph through a biblical rainstorm in Oregon. We drove the prairies of North Dakota and explored many a pothole in Brooklyn.

Good times, good times.

Rust in peace swede ride.

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From the Visual Research Dept.: It is a near scientific fact that every German male would rather be a cowboy, so it’s easy to understand the strong fascination I felt growing up for one of the records my mom owned. It was the brilliant Ennio Morricone soundtrack for “Once Upon a Time in the West”, Sergio Leone’s Western masterpiece. The album cover was just incredibly striking, the music was strange and mesmerizing and I always wondered what the movie was like.

Unfortunately my mom never allowed me to watch it because she thought I was much too young for the stunning violence and brutality of that movie (a fair point as I found out later). I was probably around 12 when I finally snuck into a rerun at a local theatre and, man, did it not disappoint.  The violence was stunning (right, mom), the rhythm of the movie was  amazingly slow, the characters ambiguous, and everybody was dirty and sweaty in a good way.

While the film had great set ups with stunning vistas,

romance (kind of, and not a lot),

and good old-fashioned gun fights,

the thing that still impresses and influences me the most after many years and viewings are the beautiful portraits of the actors Charles Bronson,

Claudia Cardinale,

Jason Robards,

and Henry Fonda,

that Sergio Leone and his cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli created throughout the film.

There is also this pretty cool but mildly depressing video about how the films locations have changed in the 40+ years since it was shot.

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From the Visual Research Dept.: Frank Webster and I used to live in the same Brooklyn neighborhood  for a while, and I would recognize particular buildings, and typical vistas, mundane or trashy, that every New Yorker is familiar with, in his large paintings.   But where I would be slightly annoyed by an overgrown condo high rise going up in real life, baffled yet accustomed to sneakers hanging from overhead wires, and just plain pissed at plastic bags in trees,  I would be stunned by the melancholic beauty of Frank’s version of these things.

When it comes to making the ordinary interesting in art, many (and I mean MANY) have tried and many (MANY) have failed , but Frank Webster is the rare artist that can actually pull it off.


Frank Webster’s website

All images in this post © Frank Webster

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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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