It was great seeing not one, but two, pieces published in the October issue of Discover magazine! The first story was shot at the UCLA Brain Imaging Center to illustrate a first-person narrative by writer Jeff Wheelwright relating his experience getting tested for the Human Connectome Project, a large study creating a baseline map of the brain to better study how it ages. For the story we created a series of images of him going through various cognitive tests, as well as an overhead of him lying in a decommissioned MRI machine. That latter was a challenge, but we pulled it off with the help of my assistant LR, a patient subject and a Camranger remote, which allowed me to shoot live view wirelessly from my laptop to my Nikon, which was carefully positioned overhead on a boom. The second story was a fascinating piece on advancements in stem cell therapies that are allowing people such as Kristin MacDonald, who I shot at home in Beverly Hills, to regain partial vision almost totally lost to Retinitis Pigmentosa, an incurable degenerative eye disease that caused her to start going blind in her twenties. Others have successfully used the therapy to overcome paralysis caused by stroke or injury. The advancements were initially made possible by the passing of California Proposition 71 in 2004, which provided $3 billion in funding for stem cell research in the state after the feds cut off funding for embryonic stem cell research in 2001. I did a related story several years ago when scientists were just figuring out how to work around the ban, so it was great to see how far things have come in the last seven or so years. I’m looking forward to seeing the advancements this field is sure to produce in the coming years.
Miami meets Venice Beach! A few weeks ago, I photographed Danni Washington, a Venice resident I met at the Venice Beach TEDx a couple months back. An environmentalist, using prize money won in a ROXY “Follow Your Heart” competition, Danni and her mother started The Big Blue and You in 2008, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching children about ocean conservation. She recently relocated to Venice, and I had the opportunity to photograph her both at my home base 1320Main Studio and on location in Venice and Malibu. Without even thinking about the fact that she was a Florida native, I had spotted this two-toned yellow wall in the neighborhood and knew I was going to shoot her there. She showed up in a colorful top and the next thing you know it looks like she’s back in Miami, despite being nearly 3,000 miles away. I guess it’s not that far of a stretch though. Any fan of Showtime’s Dexter TV series (at least until the final season) knows LA plays a pretty convincing Miami on screen. In addition to these shots we had intended to actually get out in the water, but didn’t realize the light goes away in Malibu earlier than the rest of the coast, due to the direction of the bay. Oh well. We’ll have to save that for another day.
I love shooting some of the many amazing, creative people residing in Venice. So I was thrilled to get together with the very talented Ace Norton last week at his Venice home. Since being introduced to Ace a few years ago, I’ve admired how creative and prolific he is as a filmmaker. Specializing in creative, conceptual shorts, he has created numerous remarkable music videos for artists such as the Scissor Sisters, Foster the People and Regina Spektor, as well as several commercials that bear his creative signature by frequently employing rudimentary animation, amazing color and a unique, twisted sense of humor. We had a great time roaming around his house looking for cool props and settings to play with. In retrospect looking at these images, he kind of looks crazy, particularly staring out his window. It’s all tongue in cheek, I swear. If you’ve got some time check out Ace’s body of work here: www.acenorton.com. Be prepared to spend awhile there though. Once you see one you’ll want to watch another.
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
These are some a couple of my favorite portraits from recent sessions with Los Angeles artist Aaron Axelrod. I first met Aaron through my girlfriend, who works with his cousin. I came across him again several months later while he was doing an live painting at Google, who were hosting the Venice Art Walk at their new offices in Venice. When I came across him he was covered in colorful paint splatter and standing in front of a wall he was painting in his signature dripping style, (seen in his Pot, Sex & Acid series on his website), as well as on buildings around the city and in a recent commission for Apple. If I had my camera on me at the time I would have shot him right then, but – oops – I didn’t. It was cool though, because what I was really envisioning was a lit shoot that would really make the color pop. I later contacted him through Erinn to express my interest in doing this and, fortunately, he was down. We met in person a few days before shooting and came up with the idea to sandwich him between a mural in his studio and a piece of plexiglass that he could paint on as we shot. The effect I was hoping for was that he would appear to be a part of his own painting. The bunny ears were entirely his idea, and I did not object! He had recently worn them during a successful live painting show at the Vortex Dome called Melting Rainbows, in which he dripped paint on a spherical projector, making it appear as though colors were melting down the wall. The shoot was fantastic and yielded tons of great images, none of which are repeatable. Since the paints are water-based, he was able to simply wipe the surface clean and start again.
At that time he was also working on a commissioned piece comprised of two life-sized reindeer, which he heavily spray-painted and adorned with giant neon antlers. The pieces were just installed in front of the Westfield headquarters on Avenue of the Stars in Century City. I hung out for an afternoon shooting him as he painted them in his garage and then came back a week later to shoot the portrait above. The deer are surreal and I can’t wait to see them in their intended space. You should go check them out too!
Here’s one from a recent shoot with hip-hop artist Ice the Villain. The shoot was a collaboration with a stylist friend, Sunshine Harding, that we submitted to the music and fashion blog Style & Hip-Hop. For the shoot we found a great graffiti wall in the Crenshaw neighborhood that provided countless backgrounds and textures to work with. Check out more here.