Those of you who follow me on Instagram are probably well aware by now that I have started a Kickstarter campaign for the initial print run of my self-published book, “The Birds.” The book contains a series of photos documenting the sudden ubiquity of BIRD’s, a brand of motorized, dockless scooters. In late 2017 and early 2018, BIRDs began appearing on the streets, sidewalks, and virtually every other unoccupied public space in some neighborhoods of Los Angeles. They were particularly abundant in Venice Beach and Santa Monica, where the company was founded.
The series documents unoccupied scooters — as they were found — in the early months of 2018 as they first gained popularity. It also includes intermittent quotes of dialogue from the 1963 apocalyptic Alfred Hitchcock classic, “The Birds.” We’ll come back to that later.
I started this project in Feb. of this year. As I was skateboarding down the bike path along Venice Beach one evening around dusk I noticed a BIRD sitting alone along the path in front of a landscape of beach, ocean and the distant Santa Monica Mountains. Sitting by itself the scooter appeared to anthropomorphize into an amusing, odd looking creature. Something about it’s long neck, big handlebar ears and it’s upright posture seemed to give it personality. I immediately thought picturing them this way would make a good photo series and the next day set out on foot looking for BIRD’s at rest. As the series progressed and the scooters continued to grow in popularity, the idea came to me that the BIRD’s were taking over the town, which immediately made me think of Hitchcock’s classic film of the same name and essentially the same plot. I looked up quotes from the film on IMDB and after reading one or two I realized they would not only be funny when put with my images, but could also add extra layers of meaning and could be used to form a loose narrative around the photos. From that point on I began shooting with that story concept as the driving force. I admit it’s an unconventional approach to what’s essentially a photojournalism project. But it’s also a photo series about scooters! How could I not have fun with it?
If you haven’t seen them in the news yet, dockless scooters are the latest trend in transportation. BIRD and other brands, such as Lime, Spin and GOAT, started appearing around the same time in cities such as San Francisco, D.C. and Austin and have since expanded to numerous other cities. The main feature that sets them apart from other ride sharing devices begins with the fact that they are GPS enabled and can be located and activated by using an app on a user’s phone. The user can then ride to their destination, cruising along at speeds up to 15mph using the scooter’s electric motor, and when finished, simply hop off, log out and leave the scooter where it is. It’s a great idea, but it has not come without controversy. In fact, new rules potentially capping the quantity of scooters in one area are being debated by the Santa Monica City Council as I type this. While the concept’s merits, such as convenience and environmental friendliness, have been validated by their obvious popularity, detractors have complaints and/or concerns about a number of issues. The two most common revolve around safety and optics. The scooters are literally everywhere. Not just along the edge of sidewalks and paths where the companies suggest riders place them, but also in the middle of sidewalks, down every alley, in parking lots and almost any other public space you can think of. They are often knocked over as well and can frequently be found blocking access to doorways, driveways and various other right of ways. This presents not only numerous opportunities for pedestrians to trip, but is also considered unsightly by many who would rather not see them lying on the ground and randomly strewn about the community. The public’s frustrations (and amusement) can be seen in many of my photos, as well as countless ones posted on social media, that depict the BIRD’s tossed in dumpsters, hanging from ropes as if lynched and having been either vandalized or physically destroyed. It’s a complicated issue to be sure. I try not to have a strong opinion either way, but think that both sides have merit.
In shooting them and creating this book I wasn’t so much trying to make a point, but to document a new trend and to have fun with the way I present it. I didn’t necessarily aim to show the scooters only blocking sidewalks or in ridiculous situations, but aimed for strong compositions, varying numbers of them grouped together and, of course, anything that made me laugh. I also found along the way that through the BIRD’s the images are also documenting my neighborhood. The area’s colorful textures, amazing beaches and unique architecture are some of the numerous features on display.
If you made it this far thanks for reading! If you enjoy this project please consider supporting the Kickstarter and/or sharing the project on your social media. I’ve created a special project website (thebirdsthebook.com) and Instagram handle (@thebirdsthebook). Thanks!!
I’m excited to share a sneak preview from a series of images I made with acclaimed violinist Anne Akiko Meyers for her website and upcoming album, due in September. The shoot, which features her extremely rare and valuable “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu violin, known to be the most valuable violin the world, took place at her home in Los Angeles. The instrument was lent to her by an anonymous collector to play for life after being purchased for north of $16 million. We had originally considered going on location, but the rarity of the violin, which is in pristine condition despite being constructed in 1741 (!), caused us to reconsider. So, we opted on setting up an outdoor studio on the shady side of her home, where we could ensure that the instrument’s perfect varnish would never see direct sunlight. Did shooting an essentially priceless piece of musical history on a live set make me nervous? Nah! Do it all the time. Did we quadruple sandbag any and every object within 15 feet of the set? Absolutely! Was I lying about not being nervous? Uh, yeah. Sorry. The winds did actually kick up a bit later in the morning, causing our backdrop to ripple, but my team had secured everything so well that it wasn’t a concern.
It was both a great honor and pleasure to work on this project with Anne. An experience I won’t soon forget. One of the highlights was realizing that we were getting a private recital part way through the shoot. Part of me wished I could stop clicking my camera long enough to really enjoy it. I can’t wait to hear the album and see the finished product. I’ll be sure to share when it’s out!
On a technical note, the scenes we were shooting for required multiple lighting sources, so we set up for a variety of scenarios that we could rotate through in order to create images that appeared to be in open shade, low morning sunrises and moonlight among others. To do this we started with a Profoto pack on a large Elinchrom Octabank to create a beautiful broad key light and then rotated through multiple variations using combinations of a soft box, beauty dish and 7″ reflector as back and side lighting. For fill we set up a Scrim Jim a couple feet from Anne, which was secured by multiple sandbags, clamps and an assistant to make sure it didn’t move an inch. We also added in a Reel EFX fan to create a subtle breeze and add movement.
Finally, I also couldn’t have done this without the great crew, listed below.
Stay tuned for the follow up in September!
Sometimes I liken photography to fishing. You just have to pick your spot and be patient. I know I’m not the first to make the analogy, but it’s often fitting. With varying success I’ve waited in one spot for close to an hour at times, hoping something would materialize in front of a background I’d found interesting. Some serious nature photographers have been known to stay in one spot for days. Yesterday an opportunity to go fishing arose after a rare hailstorm visited Venice Beach. The weather, which lasted all of 5 minutes, was enough to get me outside, but didn’t itself yield any great images. But the late-afternoon, white winter light light mixed with the overcast skies and freshly soaked pavement motivated me to stay out a while longer looking for photos. One of the first things to catch my eye was a beam of light illuminating some corner shops on the boardwalk, causing their bright yellow signage pop out against the dark, grey-blue skies behind them. I knew the spot would make for a great image if something interesting passed by and decided anchor myself, to continue the analogy, and see what would happen. A couple skaters passed by as well as a group of pedestrians who, after the rain, had reemerged in search of rainbows. I made some decent frames over the course of a few minutes before a cloud passed in front of the sun, taking the life out of my background. I figured that might be it and nearly moved on. That’s when I looked to my left and and spotted a couple walking my way pushing a bulldog in a pink-lined baby stroller. I decided to stay put. Just as they approached the sun re-emerged and everything lined up and I reeled in a big one. Okay, that’s enough of that. The point being, it’s nice when you put in the time and are rewarded with a nice fish. Er, photo.
I recently got the itch to polish my video skills and it so happens that my good friend and badass artist Curtis Weaver was putting the finishing touches on his solo show, TREES IN WOLVES’ CLOTHING, before its debut at the Garboushian Gallery in Beverly Hills. A few shooting days and many hours in front of a computer later and this is the result! Curtis is an incredibly creative sculptor and painter. His work generally revolves around a reimagining of the biological evolution of plants, with an environmentalist bent. While in the past he’s used a variety of synthetic materials to create imaginary beings from scratch, this time he chose to base everything on found pieces of wood, which he then disguised with paint and real-world objects such as shoes and clothing. The resulting pieces are great and worth a gallery visit if you can make it before the closing date of Oct. 26th. Check out the video and his artist statement on the gallery website for a better description of the work, www.garboushian.com . I am beginning to ramp up my video production capabilities, so keep an eye out for future projects in the coming months!
I recently met up with the talented and extremely photogenic actress and dancer Jacqueline Yunez at Concrete Studios in downtown Los Angeles to shoot portraits for part of an ongoing portfolio of LA-based artists. A Chicago native who moved here to pursue a career in the arts after graduating from the University of Tennessee, Jacqueline combines an urban aesthetic with a sort of laid-back, midwestern politeness that made working with her a pleasure. Here are a few of my favorites from our afternoon together.