Jul 192018
 

Chronicle of Higher Education Editorial Cal Lutheran

Chronicle of Higher Education Editorial Cal Lutheran Portrait

I recently spent a morning at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif., photographing Dr. Rahuldeep Gill, an associate professor of religion, and Dr. Leanne Neilson, the provost, for a story on diversity hiring and the school’s changing demographics for the Chronicle of Higher Education. As a Sikh, Gill had often felt like he didn’t belong at the university, to the point that he considered not returning following time away on sabbatical. He did return, however, and is now, along with Nielson and others, a member of the university’s “evidence team,” a task force created to help the university recruit and retain faculty of color to better reflect the changing demographics of their student body, which has shifted in recent years from predominantly white to about 50/50 white to non-white. It’s an interesting topic. If you’re a subscriber you can check out the full story here.

Chronicle of Higher Education Published

 

Jun 122018
 

The Birds photography book

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!!

 

 

Jan 312018
 

Photojournalism - WSJ Honda

Photojournalism - WSJ Honda

Last month I spent an afternoon going door to door with members of Honda’s Recall Team in Torrance as they attempted to inform car owners that their vehicles are subject to recall due to the famously deadly flaw in Takata airbags that were used between 2001-2015 by Honda and numerous other carmakers. The only problem, they were hard to find! This is largely due to the fact that Honda, whose cars were affected possibly worse than any other company, has spent the past several years reaching out in every way they can to car owners and have already found a high percentage of them. They are also trying to reach 2nd, 3rd and higher-generation owners, whose records are often hard to find or turn out to be inaccurate.

After several hours driving to various residences, which their records indicated were home to Honda owners who had not yet fixed their vehicles, we found exactly zero actual owners. We often missed them because they were at work, in which case they left a flyer on the doorknob, and in one case found someone whose husband owned the car, but had just sold it. I’m sure it’s a frustrating experience for the recall team, but also worth it as there’s supposedly a 50/50 chance that the driver or front seat passenger of an affected Honda could die or be seriously injured by shrapnel should the airbag deploy. Pretty bad. The recall is considered the largest in history, affecting over 42 million vehicles across all manufacturers and killing at least 20 people worldwide. If you own a car you think might be affected by this hopefully you’ve been contacted already and taken care of it! If not, you can get info here. Honda will actually come to your vehicle and fix it for free, so get on it.

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Jun 282017
 

Editorial Corporate Magazine Photography - George Fischer - Paintball

Action - Editorial Corporate Magazine Photography - Paintball

Portrait - Editorial Corporate Magazine Photography - Paintball

I didn’t need a reminder that I made the right choice early on not to pursue a career in combat photography, but after feeling the sting of a paintball against my skin for the third time in only a couple minutes, despite several layers of protective clothing,  I remembered that it was indeed the right call.

Earlier this year I found myself out in the middle of a field seventy miles east of Los Angeles following around paintball enthusiast Justin Sorenson for Georg Fischer’s Globe magazine. Justin is a field service engineer by weekday, avid competitive paintball player by weekend and a really nice guy to work with. They were featuring him as part of a regular series they publish highlighting employees’ passions and pastimes outside the workplace. I had only played paintball once in my life, with some friends as a teenager. Being the new guy, they put me out front. I was quickly shot and went back to the house to hang out until they were through. So given my limited experience it probably goes without saying that I was unprepared when I suddenly found myself on the edge a battlefield where ten guys were raining hellfire upon one another with paint-filled balls of gelatin.

Justin and I had shot some portraits before things started and, when it was his team’s turn to play, made our way onto the field. He told me more or less where to shoot from to avoid being shot, but once play begins it all happens very fast. Starting at their home base on opposite ends of the field, upon the referee’s signal each of the five members of each team sprint in different directions, simultaneously scrambling for cover behind large bunkers while also shooting rapidly at anything they see moving on the other side of the field. The goal is to eliminate everyone on the opposing team by “marking” them with a splat of colored paint. You’re hit, you’re out. Last team standing wins.

Standing in the mud along the sidelines with nothing but a camera it feels a bit chaotic at first. The bunkers, inflated vinyl balloons, make loud thwaps each time they’re hit. I see Justin take off and immediately move so I can get a clear view of him in action. What I don’t see is one of his teammates crossing in front of me, which immediately draws fire from their opponents. Any shots that miss him, which was more than a few, have a good chance of hitting me.

The first one hits me right in the keister and stings like hell. I try to move along the edge toward the middle of the field where another team is watching. His teammate heads in the same direction and leaps behind a bunker. Paintballs whoosh by my ear. As I turn sideways one hits the side of my camera, ripping through the bag I’ve secured around it for protection as if it was Kleenex. Fortunately it hits a solid part of the camera body causing no harm. But I realize I should have brought a water housing. A moment later the referee yells to stop play and I let down my guard. Another paintball smacks me in the foot, stinging my toe even through the leather cleats I’m wearing for traction. What the &#*@!? The teams exit the field so the next teams can take a turn and, a little frustrated, I assess what I’ve shot. Not much. Besides spending most of the round trying not to get myself shot, Justin had taken a route up the middle of the field keeping him out of view, so I’d essentially taken all that fire for nothing.

Fortunately round two is better. I quickly learn to watch not only my subject but also to look out for anyone else running anywhere near my direction and to not get behind them. This time Justin runs an outside route toward my corner and I’m able to get a clear shot of him while also staying out of the line of fire. I’m shot only once more over the course of the afternoon and am able to get numerous images of him running, firing and diving for cover. Knowing I have what I need I decide to get myself, and more importantly my gear, out of harms way and call it a day. As for Justin, he intends to play for several more hours. Having watched them play I could see why. It’s a strategic, fast-paced and adrenaline pumping game that I’m sure is addictive once you get started.

As crazy as I may have made it sound, it was actually a great time and a really fun assignment. There are a lot worse ways to spend a Saturday. Even if most of them are less painful.

Here’s a video showing my POV from an iPhone I mounted to my camera. See below for more photos from the shoot!

Paintball Photography POV from David Zentz on Vimeo.

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May 032017
 

Editorial Photographer Tear Sheet

LACC Jazz Band - Editorial Photography

 

Late last year I photographed the Los Angeles Community College Studio Jazz Band for the Chronicle of Higher Education as they rehearsed for the following night’s concert. The story was about how the school had just received a $10 million grant from the Herb Alpert Foundation, which would be used to make tuition free for all music majors. Alpert, a jazz musician who founded A&M Records, and his foundation already had a history with donating to the school, but last year decided they wanted to give a legacy donation that would make a big difference in the lives of LACC students. The story reminded me of an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast that I listened to a few months ago in which he discusses a man named Hank Rowan who, in 1992, decided to give a $100 million donation to a local community college in order to create an entire engineering department. The podcast argues that more donors should think this way rather than only giving to the top Ivy League schools, which today have endowments in the multiple billions of dollars, but generally educate people who are starting with a lot of advantages. Thus the money doesn’t really do a lot for them in the way it would for the underserved students attending the small schools. It appears the Herb Alpert Foundation had a similar mindset. It was great to not only meet some of the beneficiaries of the foundation’s generosity, but also sit in on what felt like a private concert put on by a talented group of students.

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