Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Michael Barnett

I have long believed that one's ability to relate to one's fellow musicians off the band stand is as important is one's ability to relate on the bandstand.  This is usually referred to as the "art of the hang".  I first met Michael Barnett around 1998 or so, as he had just moved to Seattle from the Chicago area.  Playing in a little club along with saxophonist, Rob Davis, Michael impressed us not only with his musicianship, but with his personable nature.  Michael knows how to hang.

Easily one of the smartest people I've ever met, Michael gradually reveals himself.  Never pretentious, boastful or self-aggrandizing in any way, Michael's depth is gradually uncovered as everyday conversation moves from place to place.  I don't think I've ever met someone who knows so much about so many things who never feels a need to prove it.

Michael plays music with the same modesty.  He approaches each situation with fresh ears and ideas, truly interested in serving the music of the moment.  It's no surprise that Michael is one of the handful of musicians I know who has made a living playing jazz, without the need to augment his income via teaching or some other profession.

As you may have concluded, I'm a big fan not only of Michael's playing, but of the man he is.  I knew early on I wanted to include him in this project.  When conceptualizing the photo we would create, I initially thought about the fact that Michael is an avid golfer and thought about somehow tying that into his portrait.  It's been about a year since shooting Michael's image, so I'm not sure why I passed on that initial idea.  What we ended up doing was having Michael simply play his bass in the studio.  I observed him playing for some time and eventually caught him making the gesture you see in the image.  I had him reproduce the position, ultimately decided to bring another light around to brighten his face, and we were done.  Very easy.

The things I really like about the image: first the line of the bass and his body, his arms, and the contrary position of his head, second, the texture of the bass creates a wonderful contrast to the smooth background and Michael's plain white shirt.    Finally, I love that it, although ultimately a crafted pose, has the feel of an improvised moment.  The pose shows a connection between player and instrument, ear and string, heart and sound.

My thanks to Michael for participating in this project.

His interview can be found at:

Michael's site can be found here:

Technical info:

The image was shot with a Mamiya RZ 67 using Kodak TriX 400.
The main light was a Profoto Compact 600 through a Mola Demi.
The light on Michael's face was provided by a Profoto Compact 600 through a 20 degree grid.
Triggered by Pocket Wizards

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Greta Matassa

Singer, Greta Matassa, is one of the finest musicians I know.  There are few I have encountered who come from such an organic, pure place as Greta.

When planning her photo shoot, I wanted to capture her down to earth nature.  One thing many may not know about Greta is that she can hit a jump shot from 15 feet.  Shooting hoops in her backyard is a favorite pastime when the musicians take a break from one of her vocal workshops.  She'll come out and clean up the court, nailing shot after shot.  This led me to my first photographic idea.  Since Greta is such an anti-diva, I thought it would be funny to put her in a ball gown, on a basketball court, shooting hoops.  I can't imagine Greta willing wearing a ball gown, she's simply not the type to adorn herself with the artificial trappings of glamour.  As I said, she's the furthest thing from a diva.  Her voice and personality thrives on it's honesty.  She is both powerful and graceful, both witty and poignant.

As you can see, the initial image didn't happen.  I think Greta was a little concerned about looking silly and I don't blame her.  I love creating humorous images but never at the risk of making my subject feel uncomfortable or misrepresented.  Plan B is the image you see and I'm glad we went this route.  Greta came as herself, and I did my best to create a simple image that represents her.  When I look at this image, I see an approachable, honest, artist with a magnificent instrument, who never holds back are hides behind a facade.

Her interview can be found at:

Greta's site can be found here:

Technical info:

The image was shot with a Canon 5D MK II w/ef 24-70 2.8L USM at f/16 1/160th, ISO 100.

The lighting was provided by a Profoto Compact 600, bar bulb at low power to provide fill.
The main light was a Profoto Compact 600 through a Mola Demi with a grid.

Triggered by Pocket Wizards

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gregg Keplinger

Drummer, Gregg Keplinger, has been a mainstay on the Seattle music scene for 40+ years.  I first heard of Gregg as a young man living in California, reading Percussionist magazine.  I remember an interview with San Francisco Symphony Principal Percussionist, Anthony Cirone, where he mentioned the wonderful custom built snare drums he used.  He said they were the product of a builder named Gregg Keplinger and that they were made from a single, thick piece of steel.  I'd never thought about someone building drums who wasn't named Ludwig or one of the other big players in the music industry.  It was interesting and I never forgot the name Keplinger.

After moving to Seattle in 1994, I explored the musical city, hitting the drum shops, and eventually crossing paths with Gregg.  Gregg is without a doubt one of the coolest characters I've encountered.  He is a master of the hang.  I remember going into American Music and the drum techs would just be smiling and chuckling as they watched Gregg in the enclosed glass cymbal room, "breaking in" a cymbal. Gregg is a cymbal connoisseur.  He was always interested in whatever the newest, old sounding, cymbal came into the shop.  He would hit it and say with his lazy inflection, "Sounds kind of tight."  Gregg would then "untighten" the cymbal by taking it into the cymbal room to beat it within an inch of it's life.  Sure enough, every time he returned with the cymbal, it sounded different, better, more alive.  We were all pretty amazed.  You knew it was going to be a good trip to the drum store when Gregg's tired old VW Bug could be seen in the parking lot.

It was a while before I got to hear Gregg play the drums.  A master drum builder who ultimately began building his own cymbals and metallic percussion instruments, I knew Gregg would be a good player just talking to him, but I was profoundly surprised to learn what a raw, powerful voice he has on the drums.  I knew that Gregg and Elvin Jones were close, and hearing Gregg just reinforced their relationship.  Gregg has Elvin's raw, primal wash of sonic energy and a bent for immediate, in the moment expulsions of sound as ideas.  To see and hear him play is like watching and hearing waves crash as the tide comes in.  Insistent, pushing and propelling.  

Gregg was an obvious choice for the Leading Questions project.  I completed the interview and talked to him about meeting for a photo.  Gregg had seen my photos and was very complimentary, but I don't think he realized that his photo was something I wanted to take some time with, to ensure we got something good.  I explained that I'd like to get a picture of him pounding a cymbal or working at his bench on a drum, something that communicated the long history he represents not only in Seattle but in drumming.  So, I had a couple of ideas going in.  I wasn't prepared for what I would see when we met.

I knocked on Gregg's door and walked in to see him sitting in the corner of a veritable drum store, full of only the coolest stuff.  Gregg stood and asked me what I had in mind for the picture and without pause, I told him to sit back down, because this was it.  There was no question in my mind how to communicate who Gregg is in an image, it surrounded him.

This is the only idea I shot in the time I was with Gregg.  It just took a few minutes to figure out to light this wide scene while maintaining the character of the room as I found it.  I ended up using three sources of light.  The window is one source of light, but it was surprisingly directional. Gregg was pretty much in shadow as was the majority of the room. The second source of light was one strobe on a stand pretty high up just to camera right, bounced into the ceiling. This was low power, just to lift the shadows around the room a bit.

The third source is the one lighting Gregg's face. With such a wide shot I couldn't bring a really directional light in to light him as it would be in the picture and I didn't want to light him from a distance as it would have spilled all around the room ruining the vibe. I took a silver reflector and positioned it to kick light from the window up into his face. Obviously, this was going to be in the picture as well. I looked around the room and saw two sheet metal cymbal blanks Gregg is going to hammer into cymbals. I leaned them against the stand on the floor in front of him and lay the dark towel over the top edge to keep the reflected light from going up the wall behind Gregg. I think the round cymbal metal worked great as a reflector and visually belongs in the picture. 

In a lot of ways, I feel like this picture came about through some kind of divine intervention.  I walked into the room and the entire thing presented itself to me.  The final result is straight out of the camera plus a little bit of sharpening.  Some days, it all comes together, and some days you really have to work for the right shot.  Sometimes, we feel like we haven't done anything when it's easy.  That's fine, I'll take them however I can get them.

Here is a link to Gregg's interview:

Here's a link to Gregg's website:

His drum building site:

Technical info:

The image was shot with a Canon 5D MK II w/ef 24-70 2.8L USM at f/16 1/2sec., ISO 160.

The lighting was provided by a bare Profoto Compact 600.

Triggered by Pocket Wizards 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cuong Vu

Trumpeter Cuong Vu is an internationally renowned performer and is looked to as a leader, shaping the future of improvised music. I met Cuong for the first time a little over a year ago when he joined us, teaching at the University of Washington Summer Jazz Workshop. I found him to be a quiet, but insightful person. With credits like his, it would be easy to simply cop an attitude of having seen and done it all. This is not the case with Cuong, nor has it been the case with any of the truly great musicians I've known in my life. Cuong is humble, always listening carefully to what is being said and played. He is the opposite of complacency, always working, always improving, always learning something new. He has strong opinions, the result of a lot of thought and practice, but I don't feel that he would ever close the door on a new way of seeing a situation.

With all of that said, trying to communicate this about Cuong in a photo was a challenge. When I contacted Cuong about participating in the project, I didn't have a photo concept in mind. Over time I thought about what I felt would work and considered a variety of ideas. When I visualize an image, it's really more about trying to communicate a feeling, I think about the person, I think about their personality and I think about what I know about the subject in their life outside of music or whatever they are known for.

I knew I wanted something with a serious vibe for Cuong, although I did consider one humorous concept that I'll save for another subject. With Cuong, I wanted something direct. That was about as far as I could get. I ran through I variety of ideas. I had an idea and had scheduled a session where I wanted to have Cuong leaning against a wall on side of the frame at night, with a busy urban street on the other side. I wanted the image to be split in two, with a dramatic swath of light diagonally illuminating Cuong. I liked the idea but hit a roadblock when scouting a location. I just couldn't find a spot I liked. I shelved the idea and considered using another location, scheduled a session with Cuong, only to find that the city had closed access to the area temporarily. This brought me to the location we used, a short walk into the woods behind my house.

One of my initial ideas had been to shoot Cuong in black and white, with some kind of cucoloris behind him, his face lit with strong shadows around his head. I went back to this idea but instead choose to have a blurred, wooded backdrop. I lit Cuong with a single strobe fitted with a 20 degree grid. I ran it across his face, with the initial idea of shooting him from eye level. Over the course of shooting a few test frames with a digital SLR, I starting shooting from below and liked the feel. I switched to film and shot a roll. After seeing the digital images, I was really struck by his expression in two of the shots and I loved the way the light framed his face. I couldn't wait to see if I had had the some luck with the film. Switching from one camera to the next is always an opportunity for everything to subtly change. In the end, the film shots were beautiful, I loved the shadow transitions and the tone, but I was a little lower in perspective than the digital and it was enough to change the entire vibe. So, in the end I went with the digital shot.

I really like this shot. I think it really portrays what I had in mind and I think it matches the intensity and directness of Cuong's interview. Furthermore, I feel like this picture involved a bit of a risk on my part. It's really unlike anything I've shot as one has to be careful when shooting with a small, focused hard light. But, I think Cuong's music is about taking chances, so I think it was the best time to hang something out there and see if it would stick. I feel like it's sticking pretty well.

Here is a link to Cuong's interview:

Here's a link to Cuong's website:

Technical info:

The image was shot with a Canon 5D MK II w/ef 24-70 2.8L USM at f/7.1 1/60th, ISO 100.

The lighting was provided by a White Lightning WL X1600 fitted with a 20 degree grid.

Triggered by Pocket Wizards

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Saul Cline

Saxophonist, Saul Cline is a musician I have been familiar with since about 1996. I remember having toured across Washington with guitarist, Hans Fahling and saxophonist, Rob Davis. Saul was at a gig we were playing that later became a jam session. Rob was talking about what a fine player he is and after hearing him I was convinced. Since that time I have been continually amazed by his playing.

In early 2009 I met with City Arts Magazine in Seattle to discuss doing a print version of the Leading Questions series. They liked the idea and it was agreed that we would profile four musicians for the Tacoma edition. They requested that I find four Tacoma area musicians who were not generally in the limelight. Saul's name immediately came to mind. He's a musician known and respected by all other musicians, but rarely get's the press he deserves. I'm glad this article is a step in rectifying this situation.

In planning for this shot, it was a collaborative process. The art director of the magazine decided we should use a famous Tacoma antique mall for our backdrop. A week in advance of the shoot I went to the building to scout locations. The building is very old and full of odd rooms and things. This room had a great feel and I felt pretty strongly that it would suit my purposes for a portrait of Saul.

The shoot was very simple, we moved a few pieces of art, grabbed a chair from another part of the building and placed Saul in front of a large window. A large reflector was placed just out of frame to Saul's right to lift the shadows a touch.

Here is a link to Saul's interview:

Technical info:

The image was shot with a Canon 5D MK II w/ef 24-70 2.8L USM at f/5 1/60th, ISO 200.

The lighting was provided by a large, north facing window with a little bit of shadow lift from a large reflector on the opposite side.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Clarence Acox

Clarence Acox has been a force on the Seattle Jazz Scene since his arrival in 1971. He came to Seattle by way of New Orleans to accept a job running the music program at Garfield High School. Over the years, he managed to create one of the finest high school jazz programs in the United States and probably, the world. All the while, Clarence established himself as a permanent fixture on the Seattle scene working not only as a drummer, but as a band leader, leading his own group in addition to co-leading highly regarded groups with Floyd Standifer and the Seattle Jazz Orchestra with Michael Brockman.

I was very pleased when Clarence accepted my invitation to participate in the Leading Questions project. I think there are a couple of players that really must be a part of this project if it is to truly represent jazz in Seattle. Clarence is one those players.

Clarence completed his interview in December and I considered trying to photograph him before Christmas. I had a couple of different ideas in mind. I considered photographing him in front of a dark background, with a small soft box in front and a bit above him to light his face, and then use a large octabank behind myself to add a very subtle bit of fill light. I also thought about shooting Clarence in his office. However, I've never been in Clarence's office and I have no idea what it looks like or if it would lend itself well to a picture that would communicate what I want to say about Clarence. It is a danger that has to be monitored when trying to conceive of a shot. I can imagine Clarence in an office, I can see him sitting at his desk with light coming through a window, a career's worth of books lining the shelves. Yeah that would be a great picture. But, again, I haven't seen his office, so I have to keep an idea like that pretty low on the list.

Garfield High School is a beautiful old building. I could imagine shooting Clarence in one of the hallways. When I talked to Clarence about meeting for the shoot, he suggested we meet at the grand staircase that leads to the main entrance of the school. This sounded like a good plan, but something in the back of my mind started to suggest to me that I was heading down the wrong path. I realized that I didn't really want to make the presence of the school somehow overshadow who Clarence is. Of course, the school's successful jazz program is a tremendous accomplishment, but it almost seems a disservice to Clarence, the person, to define him by this single facet. There's a lot to the guy and to place him in the context of the school almost seems like placing him in a box, not to mention the fact that shooting him there seems a little cliche. It seems like the obvious choice, what every photographer would do.

So I did it.

Well, you know, you have to be willing to try anything and who knows, maybe it will work. It didn't work. I don't like these images. The second thing I did was to shoot Clarence from below. This was another choice, that I knew walking in, that I didn't want to do. Clarence is an imposing figure. He's a confident person with a deep resonant voice and when he speaks, people listen. He is comfortable in his own skin and you can sense it by the way he carries himself. No pretense, just real. So, why would I not want to shoot him from below, clearly expressing the traits I've just described? Two reasons. First, again, I don't want to fall into the cliche. It's the shot anyone would take, it's the obvious picture. I'm not really interested in the obvious picture, I want the one that shows a truth about a person that only people who know that person and who have talked to that person understand. This brings me to the second reason, I have talked to Clarence, I've taught his students. I won't tell you that I know Clarence well, but I know him well enough to know that there is the Clarence I described above and there is a Clarence that really cares about his students. If someone asked me about Clarence, I would say he is a sweetheart of a guy, and it seems odd to me to say that, because Clarence doesn't act like a sweetheart of a guy. He's not effusive or emotional, but if you talk to him and listen closely, you can hear how much heart this guy has and how much he cares about every kid he's worked with over the years.

So, this is why I chose the picture at the top of the page. To me it expresses something different about Clarence. His head is bowed, he is drawn in instead of having a commanding outward presence. To me, it's as close as I could get to a visual representation of the man inside.

When I arrived at the school, I saw the stairs but I also noticed the very modern looking brushed metal panels on the exterior of the new Quincy Jones Performance Center. They immediatley struck me as a potential background, so I set up two separate light plans. For the images on the steps of the school I used a White Lightning X1600 through a 60" Softlighter 2. For the images in front of the performance center I used an Alien Bees B800 shot into a 45" silver bounce umbrella. Both set ups were powered by Vagabond II's. Having two set ups made it very easily to quickly move from one place to the next enabling me to complete the shoot in about 15 minutes.

The contrast of the two separate set ups is huge. One is very old school, literally an old school, the other very modern and sleek. This modern element was really appealing to me because I think it also helped to cast Clarence in a different light. Jazz doesn't have to always look like 1955. This is the 21st century and though the music may have a long history, it is still vital and alive in this modern age.

Here is a link to Clarence's interview:

Technical info:

The lead image was shot with a Canon 5D MK II w/ef 24-70 2.8L USM at f/11 1/160th, ISO 100.

The lighting was provided by an Alien Bees B800 bounced into a 45" silver umbrella to get a little bit of a contrasty quality.

The school image was shot with a Mamiya RZ67 w/110mm 2.8 lens at f/9, 1/60th of a second, using Kodak Portra 160 VC film rated at ISO 100.

The lighting was provided by a White Lightning X1600 into a 60" Photek Softlighter II.

Triggered by Pocket Wizards

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mark Taylor

Saxophonist, Mark Taylor is one of the first musicians I met and worked with when I moved to Seattle in 1994. Over the years he has always been among my favorite musicians to work with as well as one of my best friends. In addition to being an incredible musician, he is one of the most down to earth, good-natured people I know.

I have a fairly long list of potential subjects for the Leading Questions project. The main consideration for me when selecting my next subject is whether or not a have I concept for their photo. This one came to me when shopping at a joke store with my kids. I saw a bin of these Chinese finger traps and immediately thought they might make a good prop for a picture. Seconds later, it occurred to me that it would work well for a photo of Mark Taylor. Mark has a great sense of humor and an expressive face, it was easy to imagine him going along with it.

It's probably a good time to mention that I really try to match the photo concept with the subject, and my biggest fear is that a subject might find what I consider a humorous concept to be something that they feel makes them look foolish. That's the last thing I'd want. I really want them to be comfortable with what they're doing and how they are being represented. If a subject feels misrepresented in a picture, then I have failed in my basic objective, trying to express an element of who they are.

That said, I'm glad Mark liked the idea of the photo and we had fun shooting it. Mark had a broad range of expressions and was doing his best to avoid laughing when I snapped a shot. One of the things I found interesting is that Mark had never seen these Chinese finger traps before, something I thought every child had been a victim of at some point in life. He took them home with the intention of terrorizing his own children.

I thought quite a bit about how I wanted Mark's shot to look. I knew I wanted it to be a studio shot as opposed to on location. I recently saw an image that photographer Platon had taken of Annie Liebovitz and thought it looked good on a not quite black background, so I decided to follow this route as well. I initially considered using just one light, but decided that I might be able to create more tension in Mark's expression with light that emphasized highlights as well as shadows. A single light would have created correctly exposed skin tones accompanied by dramatic shadow, with the light scheme I chose, you can see that there is an emphasis on the strong highlights on the sides of Mark's face as well as nicely contrasting shadows on his wrinkled brow. I think this makes his expression "pop" a little more. Finally, the additional lights did a great job separating Mark's black shirt from the black background. (Actually, the shirt is mine. I made Mark wear it because I thought the little bits would add a nice element.)

To light this, I used a medium soft box directly in front of Mark, above and on axis with the camera. It was metered at f/11. Directly above Mark is a small soft box, lighting the top of his head and shoulders, metered at f/16. On each side of Mark is a four foot strip light, directed straight into his arms. These were both set at f/16 as well. Mark was actually sitting on the floor of my studio and there is a large, white circular reflector on the floor directly in front of him.

I shot multiple takes with my Canon 5D digital camera and then shot a roll with my Mamiya RZ67 using Kodak Portra 160 NC. I could have easily used the digital or film files, in this environment, they looked very similar and it was not hard to get the digital files to match the color of the film. The shot I chose is a film shot, it was simply the best shot. Sometimes, the 20 seconds moving from one camera to the next is enough to change a pose just enough to make the difference.

Here's a link to the interview: Leading Questions
Here's a link to Mark's site: Mark Taylor

Technical info:

Shot with a Mamiya RZ67 w/110mm 2.8 lens at f/11, 1/400th of a second, using Kodak Portra 160 NC film rated at ISO 100.

The lighting was provided by a medium soft box on axis with the camera as key, a small soft box over the subject's head and 4' strip lights on either side. A large, white, circular reflector is on the floor in front of Mark, helping to lift the shadows just a touch.

Triggered by Pocket Wizards

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jay Thomas

Trumpeter/saxophonist, Jay Thomas was kind enough to collaborate with me on the third submission to the Leading Questions Project. Jay has an international following and is among the most significant figures on the Seattle scene. Equally at home on trumpet and saxophone, he is a true, lifelong student of jazz, always pushing himself to new levels. I chose Jay for this project, not only because of his stature on the Seattle jazz scene, but because he is known for his clever and quirky thought process. I think this is clearly seen in his interview responses.

My initial concept for this project was to photograph Jay with the I-5 ship canal bridge looming behind him. This struck me as a good choice for Jay as the bridge is a prominent feature spanning Seattle's Lake Union that also seems connected to Jay, at least in my mind, as he lives very close to it. For some reason, I've always put the two together. Additionally, I think I might subconsciously see a romantic relationship between jazz and bridges, probably a seed planted by Sonny Rollins' 1959 recording The Bridge.

Early fall in Seattle is generally a time of rich, red sunsets. When envisioning this portrait in my mind, I could see the red light of the setting sun, cast upon the bridge's steel structure. This was naturally dependent upon cooperation from the weather, the last thing you can really depend on in Seattle. After a number of rainy, overcast days, Monday the 22nd of September looked promising. I called Jay and arranged to meet him that evening, allowing plenty of time to set up before the red rays of sunlight would pass.

Jay played his horn as I got my equipment in place. I took a number of test shots and then informed Jay that we would just need to wait a few minutes for the sun to begin setting. It dawned on me that this would be a good time to load a roll of black and white film that I had put in my pocket on the way out the door. I shot through the roll, watching the sun gradually diminish. After a few minutes, it became clear that we weren't going to get the sunset I'd hoped for. I continued shooting, working with the digital camera as well as shooting a couple rolls of color film. This really was my only chance to get this shot and it became clear to me that it wasn't going to be the one I had envisioned. I kept shooting, hoping that something else from the session would work, but I wasn't feeling optimistic. I told Jay that we had probably gotten what we were going to get and called it a night.

When I got home, I went through the digital images and found a few that I liked, but didn't feel that any were quite what I was looking for. This image is one that I played with:

In fact, when post processing I was even able to add a bit of the red sunlight to the side of the bridge that I had hoped would be there. I wasn't crazy about the trees in the background and felt that in combination with the wide focal length, that the picture was pulling my eyes all over the place. It just didn't come together for me. So, I just hoped that the film would yield something better.

When I picked up the processed film, I was pleasantly surprised, finding several images that really struck me as strong. The color images were nice as well, but the black and white frames had something special. Obviously, you can see above that I chose the close-up shot of Jay as the lead for the project. It is not the idea I went in with, obviously there's no red sunlight, there's no color for that matter, you probably wouldn't know that the structure behind him is a bridge. But in the end what really matters is that there is a strong connection between the viewer and the subject and I really feel it from this picture. It really communicates what I see in Jay, the person. The direct view into the eyes of a guy who is all about his music and the journey through life that he follows with his horn. That's Jay. And, he's really blowing here, not pretending. I don't think Jay would look right pretending to blow.

So, the lessons to drive home here are: don't be so married to your idea that you aren't willing to try something different on the fly (in fact try some different things even when your original idea is working) and don't call it a success or failure until you've seen the files and film. You never know what might be there. In the end I learned something new and important for myself, always put a roll of black and white in your pocket on your way out the door.

Here's an alternate image I considered:

Here's a link to the interview: Leading Questions
Here's a link to Jay's site: Jay Thomas

Technical info:

Featured and second alternate image shot with a Mamiya RZ67 w/110mm 2.8 lens at f/5.0 1/15th of a second, using Kodak Plus X 125 film rated at ISO 80.

Alternate color image shot with a Canon 5D w/EF 24-70 2.8L USM lens at ISO 100, f/6.3 1/10th of a second.

The lighting for all shots was provided by a four foot octabank with a White Lightning X3200 strobe, powered by a Vagabond II.

Triggered by Pocket Wizards

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Clipper Anderson

Next in the Leading Questions Project is bassist, Clipper Anderson. Clipper is an incredible musician and really personable guy. Clipper laughs often and places a high value on friends and family.

This shot came about in mid-July of this year. Clipper and I were scheduled to play at the Port Townsend Jazz Festival with pianist, Randy Halberstadt. I thought this would be a great opportunity to use this interesting location to get a portrait of Clipper.

Within our busy schedule we had about a two hour window on Friday afternoon, July 25th, to get the shot. The problem was that I hadn't come up with a strong concept. It is my desire that the images for this project have a lot of character.

We were staying at Fort Worden, an interesting old military base that was used for the filming of the movie, An Officer And A Gentleman. There are a number of cool buildings, open fields and so on to work with. I walked through some of the buildings hoping to find the right room, but nothing was striking me. 10 years ago, these buildings had beautiful wooden floors, high ceilings, rows of old windows, in a word, character. As I looked through the rooms, I was disappointed to see that a bit of modernization had taken place, substituting the old and interesting with new and generic. Industrial strength carpet lined the floors, and the walls looked like they'd been painted with surplus colors from a Starbucks. Not the vibe I wanted.

I could see Clipper in a couple of poses, the one above, humorously playing his gigantic bass like a guitar, a stronger stance with the bass away from his body, I just needed to find the right location.

With about an hour before I was scheduled to meet Clipper, a concept came to me. I had heard that there is a Goodwill store on the outskirts of town, so I hopped into my car and quickly raced out to find my prop, an old hat. 99 cents and I was in business. I raced back to the fort, called Clipper and asked him to put on a suit and meet me with his bass at the end of the Fort Worden Pier . I raced down to the pier and started making multiple trips out to the end, carrying a C-Stand, a tripod, a Vagabond II, digital cameras, my Mamiya RZ67, an octabox, a drum stool and worst of all, 3 20-pound sandbags. (you know that feeling when you are already wiped out and you haven't even started shooting?) Normally I would have carried my gear on a cart, but the bumpy planks of the pier weren't going to accommodate such easy access.

Clipper's bass is a fine instrument, worth many thousands of dollars. He hauled it out to the end of the pier in it's case. It was very windy and the sun was blazing. He informed me that we had only about ten minutes as the bass could not be left in direct sunlight for very long. I kept him in the shade and began setting up my 4 foot octabox with a White Lightning X1600. When ready, I brought Clipper into position at the end of the pier. The sun was to camera right, just a little behind my back. I decided to place my octabank in it's path, essentially blocking the sun, casting a shadow on Clipper. I really only wanted one light source in this image. I removed the outer panel from my box leaving just the internal diffuser. I wanted a large light source but with a little bit of an edge to it.

In front of Clipper I placed the Goodwill hat with a dollar bill extending from inside. Because of the strong wind, I placed my keys and a 580EX inside, just enough weight. I took a couple of quick meter readings and then had Clipper sit on the stool. I placed a polarizer on the lens to help the sky a little and took a couple of test shots. I then had Clipper execute the two poses I mentioned. I then switched to film with the Mamiya and had him repeat each pose as well as getting a Whibal shot.

As quickly as we began shooting, we were done, I got Clipper and his bass out of the sun and began packing up.

I felt a great sense of satisfaction upon completion of this project. My concept of a bass player in a suit, playing for dollars at the end of a pier, with his instrument humorously positioned like a guitar had come off. I feel that the image has character and humor, and a unique, appealing look. Thanks to Clipper Anderson for his willingness to do what I asked of him.

Here is the alternate image I considered, taken with my 5D.

Although I like this image, I felt it lacked the humor and character that I feel Clipper possesses.

Here is a link to the interview:

Technical info:

Featured image shot with a Mamiya RZ67 w/110mm 2.8 lens at f/5.6 1/250th of a second, using Kodak Portra 160 VC film rated at ISO 100.

Alternate image shot with a Canon 5D w/EF 24-70 2.8L USM lens at ISO 100, f/6.3 1/200th of a second.

The lighting for both shots was provided by a four foot octabank minus the outer diffuser with a White Lightning X1600 strobe, powered by a Vagabond II.

Triggered by Pocket Wizards

Saturday, August 16, 2008

James Knapp

The Leading Questions project is one I have thought about for some time. I'm really excited to see it come to fruition.

When selecting subjects I try to consider not only how I think they will interview but if I feel a strong concept for their portrait. My first subject, composer/trumpeter Jim Knapp, was an easy choice. I have known Jim since 1995. I performed in his jazz quintet for some time and have always been a great fan of his compositions and playing. Jim is also a very intelligent, witty person. He really enjoys language as can be seen by some of the clever titles he chooses for his compositions.

At the end of June, 2008, I contacted Jim regarding the Leading Questions project. Because of his wit, I thought Jim would be a great first subject. I had a feeling Jim would understand the concept without my really having to explain it to him, or provide examples that might steer Jim down a less intuitive path. I feel that Jim hit the nail on the head, providing a perfect first outing for the series.

After receiving Jim's completed interview, we scheduled a photo session. I really wanted to shoot Jim with black and white film and chose Ilford FP4+ to do so. We shot Jim's photo on the stage of Poncho Concert hall at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where Jim is a professor. It had been a while since I had been to Poncho and I initially envisioned shooting Jim, sitting in a chair with the trappings of the stage behind him. I imagined curtain riggings and theatrical tools littering the background, but was disappointed to find that my memory of this stage was not accurate. It has none of the things I imagined. (Note to self, never trust your memory, always do a location scout in advance) I however, made due with the situation and instead decided to turn Jim around so that his back would face the seating of the hall.

I set my lights and did a few tests. Now, the tricky part of working with subjects not used to being photographed, is getting them to look relaxed and natural in front of the camera. There is a real art to this. When conceptualizing this shoot, I knew that I wanted to get a shot of Jim laughing. Jim tends to be a fairly quiet, low-key person, who will surprise you with a sudden outburst of laughter when something strikes him as amusing. I wanted to catch this element.

During the session, Jim was his usual self, patiently waiting for me to set up my gear, engaging in a little bit of small talk. To get the image I wanted, I gave Jim a little bit of direction regarding how I wanted him to sit in the chair and then I casually started telling him jokes. (Now, I didn't just go straight into a comedy routine, I tried to keep our conversation natural, but just happened to have a few jokes to share.) I lift my head from behind the camera so that I could directly engage him but kept my finger on the shutter release waiting for the perfect moment to fire. I must admit that I had trouble telling jokes fluidly as I was trying to watch Jim closely while operating the camera at the same time. In the end, I got several images of Jim that I really like and decided to go with the shot above as it really typified what I wanted to communicate about Jim Knapp.

Here are a couple of shots that I considered as well:

Thanks to Jim for his cooperation.

Here is a link to Jim's interview, hosted by

This is Jim's site:

Technical Info:

Ilford fp4+ shot with a Mamiya RZ67. 110mm @ f/5 1/400th second
White Lightning X1600 through 4' octabox as key. Alien Bees B800 through 4' strip light to rear and camera right. B800 shot into hall in background.

Triggered by Pocket Wizards