To borrow a line from their hit single “Thrift Shop,” the above headline is what was going through my head while shooting the world tour poster for the hip-hop collaboration Macklemore & Ryan Lewis two weeks ago on a dry lakebed 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Shooting a world-famous hip-hop group in the middle of nowhere with live animals, including a very large, and fortunately very well behaved, tiger. Just another Tuesday, right?
The image references their song lyrics as well as their recent music video for their song “Can’t Hold Us,” which includes shots of their trumpeter Owuor (sounds like “No War”), riding a camel. It was conceived by Macklemore and Ryan and I was stoked when they called on me to execute it. The image is currently being used to promote their upcoming world tour on the heels of the release of their new album, The Heist.
Making the shoot happen was no easy task, and owes a lot to the group’s producers, Nic and Honna, who managed to arrange for the musicians, a live camel, tiger and flamingos, a variety of props including a rare 1980′s Cadillac they found in San Diego, me, my assistant and all of the lighting and grip gear I requested, to be assembled out in the middle of nowhere. Once together, my role was as much photographer as it was director, not only composing and lighting the shot, but communicating with the talent and the numerous animal wranglers (from Hollywood Animals and Gentle Jungle), who were fantastic when it came to getting the animals in the right place at the right time. And if things weren’t already interesting, we had to contend with 30 mph winds that knocked over props, knocked hair out of place and turned the 8-foot octabox on my key light into a giant power kite that at times required the strength of my assistant, two producers and four sandbags to keep it from flying away. Also, as you can imagine, the tiger could not be in the same shot as the camel or flamingos, lest she become a little…hungry. She was, as I said, well behaved, but not so much that she wouldn’t be interested in some tasty pink snacks. So we had to shoot plates of the tiger and flamingoes separately, that were later combined in post.
The group was fun, but was all about business, which made working with them a great experience. What I like best about them is their insistence on going it alone despite offers to join the ranks of numerous labels. (Hard to blame the labels for wanting them considering the “Thrift Shop” video now tops 250 million You Tube views, as well as their recent appearances on SNL, Conan and the MTV Movie Awards.) This means they have creative control over everything they do, which I’m sure is a dream for many creatives with their level of success.
Word is they’ll be in Europe most of the spring and summer and will be returning to tour the U.S. in the fall. You can find out more at www.macklemore.com
Above is a spread from a recently published project I shot on Death Valley National Parks for National Parks Magazine, as well as a gallery showing a wider take of images from the project. The shoot took place over two fantastic trips at the end of 2012. The goal of the assignment was to create a mix of imagery showing not only the stunning landscapes the park has to offer, but also showing people actually using the park. Both turned out to be challenging tasks! I knew from the start that I was going to have to make two trips for this assignment, as I could only go for a few days at a time and knew the park was going to be impossible to cover in only 3 days. Death Valley NP is 3.3 million acres with some destinations taking several hours to reach by off-road vehicle. I committed to the idea that the first trip would primarily be exploratory as I tried to figure out what would be necessary to get the shots I wanted.
On my first trip the weather was gorgeous - topping out in the 80s when it was supposed to still be in the high-90s – but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, leaving me mostly with a palate of tan earth and stark blue skies to work with outside of the hours surrounding sunrise and sunset. The scenery was still magnificent, and having a few stark photos would work, but I really wanted more color. Photographing people also proved to be challenging since despite there being a fair amount of them visiting the park, most were doing the same thing. That is, driving to their destination, hopping out of the car to take a photo with their point-and-shoot or cell phone, and then getting back into the car. You can make a photo from this – one made it into the spread in fact – but not a very interesting one. In addition there were very few kids in the park as school was still in session. I knew one of my best bets was to join a tour, so headed up to Scotty’s Castle to join one of the only tours available at that time of year. (Rather than go into detail here about the history of the seemingly out-of-place Scotty’s Castle, follow the link at the end of this entry to read the online article by Scott Kirkwood.) Finally, after a couple days of wandering around looking for anyone doing anything active in the park beyond taking photographs I came across a group of graduate students as they piled out of a van at the Mesquite Dunes, a popular attraction located in the center of the park. The group was at the park doing geological studies for a course at UT Austin and had arrived at the dunes to blow off some steam before heading back to Las Vegas to catch a flight home. To my delight, they were in a playful mood and started jumping from the low dunes, doing handstands and tossing a football around. They weren’t the rugged hiker photos I’d envisioned, but it yielded some fun photographs that I thought could be part of the final piece. That night I left the park happy with what I’d shot, but knowing I’d be back in a couple months. Fortunately, the magazine had given me a 3-month window to complete the assignment! A rare luxury.
In December I returned with my girlfriend Erinn to keep me company and possibly stand in as a model should I need a body in a far-off location. As a trained journalist only comfortable staging photos when shooting portraits and commercial work, this felt weird. But this was a travel piece, not straight journalism, and the editor was all for whatever made the best images. Mostly out of pride of being able to find photos where none seemingly exist, I made up my mind that I would shoot what I could find first and only resort to photographing her as a last resort. Two photos of her made it into the magazine. We arrived in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both holidays are apparently peak tourist season, but there’s a deep lull in between. So, even more than my last trip, we had the park to ourselves. The weather, however, was a bit more cooperative. There were clouds! This added some much-needed drama and color to my shots, particularly one early morning, where from atop Dante’s View, overlooking the entire Death Valley, the clouds turned into magnificent tufts of pastel-colored cotton candy. On this trip we also rented a Jeep from Farabee’s, located in the center of the park by the Furnace Creek Inn, in order to make the 27-mile, bone rattling, off-road trek to the famous Racetrack, known for it’s mysterious sliding rocks. This is probably the most amazing spot in the park and well worth the Jeep rental and the three-hour trek! The Racetrack is a dry lakebed surrounded by mountains that has a perfectly flat surface of lightly colored, cracked mud. The cracks form nearly identically-sized shapes across the entire 3-mile long surface. We arrived at sunrise – which required waking up at 3:45 a.m. – and were the only ones there for the first two hours of the day. Only here and in White Sands, New Mexico, have I ever felt like I was on another planet. In the far right corner of the lakebed is where you’ll find the rocks, slowly creeping away from the crumbling hillside they have fallen from, leaving long trails behind them in the dried mud. The biggest shame was coming across a number of trails in the mud that had no rocks at the end of them. Some wonderful people apparently think these rocks, which take many years to move across the mud, make great souvenirs. It’s apparently common enough that the park service has adhered metal plates to some of the rocks reminding people to leave them be. Fortunately, there are a lot of rocks still in place for those who care to make the trek.
In the end I was satisfied with what I’d been able to shoot over the course of both trips and am happy to finally see it in print. There were still missed opportunities though, so I’m actually heading back to the park again next week to keep shooting. I’m hoping to see some spring blooms and just to enjoy the park one more time before it gets too hot! I’ll be sure to post some favorites after my return.
Last month I photographed the Rev. Cecil Murray in his old stomping grounds near the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles, where he was pastor for 27 years. The shoot was for a cover story for California Health Report about his recent endeavors, at the age of 83, as leader of the Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement, a part of USC’s Center for Religion & Civic Culture. It was a fascinating afternoon spent talking with him about his years in the ministry and the rich history of his neighborhood. He is perhaps best known outside the community for his role advocating a return to rational behavior during the Rodney King riots in the early 90′s, but certainly had a much broader influence over the years. Outside the church is a roundabout with with a well-tended garden named in his honor, along with a placard featuring his likeness and a bio touting his accomplishments. On the quiet afternoon of the shoot we were stopped by no less than 3 different people who were overjoyed to see him back in the neighborhood. Between rounds of adoration we were able to take a few photos showing him overlooking the community he has done so much for. Read the article
I had a fun time recently photographing John Brenkus, host of the ESPN show Sport Science, on set on a cover shoot for Sports Insight magazine. The art direction was to work with the concept of Brenkus as a sort of mad scientist, but to avoid making it look like he was standing on the set of his show. This is because beyond hosting the Emmy Award-winning show he is also a successful entrepreneur and author, as well as an accomplished athlete, having completed several Iron Man competitions, one of which he featured on the show, analyzing what his body went through getting in shape to compete on that level. I needed to provide both a cover photo and inside photo for the story and was provided only a boxful of beakers to create the look. In the brief 45 minutes I had with him we shot three setups – on white backdrop, using the beakers filled with colored water against a cavernous black space and against a wall - the latter two shots using underlighting to accentuate the mad scientist look. All two and three light setups. The white backdrop was originally supposed to be the cover with the plan that it would be overlaid with scientific jargon, but they ended up going with the beaker shot. Overall it was a good shoot and I enjoyed getting a behind the scenes look at the set. The show strikes a great balance between being educational and entertaining. If you ever get a chance to watch I’d recommend it.
Haven’t posted in a while! Time to get back on it. Here’s the first of several recent cover shoots I’ve done in the past couple months. In January I photographed Howard Kahn, CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan, in his Los Angeles office for the cover and an inside story in Managed Healthcare Executive. Kahn was great to work with and the view from the company’s new downtown office was pretty nice too! Check out the article.
Cover photo of Matt Plaskoff for Remodeling Magazine
Last month I photographed Matt Plaskoff for a cover story in Remodeling Magazine, a trade magazine focusing on, you guessed it, remodeling. Plaskoff was being honored as the 2010 Fred Case Entrepreneur of the Year for his achievements with his One-Week Bath business in Gardena, Calif. When I first received the assignment, I learned that Plaskoff, who also owns a business remodeling high-end homes, was for a time working with the Extreme Home Makeover show, and I was curious if he had worked on the show featuring Jake Grys and family, whom I did a story on a few years ago as they were waiting to get on the show. It turns out he was not working with them at the time, but at least it gave us something to break the ice with as the shoot got underway. The initial suggestion for the cover shot was to shoot him in the showroom bathroom known as One Week Bath University. This is where employees are trained to remodel bathrooms in a one-week time frame and is also a spot where he had been shot numerous times before. It was a sure thing, but also a safe one. Since it was requested, we started there and then moved in to his on-site warehouse to shoot a few alternatives. After shooting a few images there, I thought we were done and was getting ready to pack up. For some reason though, I followed him into his office and looked up on the wall, noticing a giant rubber ducky painted on the wall. I had been in there briefly in the morning, but was apparently not yet awake and had hardly taken notice of it. Now that my eyes were open, it was an obvious spot to take a shot that I knew would stand out from the rest. I asked him what the significance was (not that it mattered as I really wanted that shot!) and he told me it was more or less the company mascot. Which, of course, made sense and made it all the more important that we do one more photo there. He laughed at the idea, but was a great sport. Once seated he started playing around, mixing up straight faced looks and smiles, and propping his feet up on the table like he owned the place. I was hoping the magazine would appreciate the photo, but at best thought they might use it inside. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when I saw that they’d used it as the cover! An excellent decision! The rest of the piece also turned out well and can be seen after the jump.
I am a Los Angeles photographer specializing in portraits and documentary storytelling. I am available for assignment worldwide. For inquiries or bookings please contact me at email@example.com or 310-745-9854.