the optimist

“There are no problems, only challenges.” 

I’m always looking for edgy, hard, funny, ironic, and explicit material to shoot. What better way is there to capture the quirky, angst ridden, sexy, and darker side of life than with a camera? But do I always have to shoot a car crash? Sometimes shooting a sunflower field is just as striking. The trick is to make it engaging.

What I didn’t realize when I set out to shoot Joyce was that I would be forced into happiness. There is literally no way to tell Joyce’s story without creating an uplifting piece. She simply will not allow for negative drama or angst to be a part of her experience. So, I got shoehorned into shooting something inspirational no matter what.

My 20 something year old assistants and I showed up early with gear, lists, schedule etc. And we forgot the coffee. Ouch. That was a big enough problem for me to want to push a pin through my eyeball. Shooting is often referred to as “problem solving.” Joyce’s perspective is, “There are no problems, only challenges.”

And yes, we got the coffee. (Joyce demanded it.)

Angling for a reaction with the question, “What do you think of the term Live Fast, Die Young?” I got nothing more than, “Well, I don’t live that way. But if makes someone happy then it’s all right.” Nice try on my part, but no dice. She was even hard pressed to find “The most negative experience she ever had.” It didn’t amount to much. Notice it’s not in the video.

What is in the video is just how remarkable Joyce’s energy and vitality is given her optimistic mind-set. It’s real, genuine, and infectious. I learned something and was lucky to have some of that positive energy rub off on me. I feel more energized than ever to shoot a bomb shelter, desperate hero, unlikely sex symbol or something.

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don't call it a scarf

Cowboy Dave is not only a true wrangler, but also an actor and a model and a very forceful tour guide indeed.

One does not experience the real Montana (or get pictures) without eating testicles cut right in front of you from a baby cow then immediately cooked on a charcoal grill. (They taste like fluffy, fatty hamburger). 

Nor was I to escape the authentic, good time experience of building a cabin in the middle of nowhere at high elevation.

I was assured that models and contacts galore would be found at what turned out to be a drunken square dance that almost ended in a brawl. Quick tip — never refer to a cowboy’s neck ware as a scarf. It’s not a scarf; it’s a wild rag. I learned the hard way so you don’t have to. Oh, and if you happen to have a pair of vintage Iron Maiden Vans that you think are totally cool, leave them at home.

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crazy smurf

I approached Brent with my ideas for a film that included an artsy tracking shot of him in an environment and finding a location for smashing a car beyond all recognition. You might think that a guy like Brent would get nervous, excitable, or vocal about being filmed like this. He was as calm and placid as a totem pole. Beyond the faint wisp of a smile, the smoldering coals packed deeply behind his eyes burned with quiet anticipation. In the Hilltop Diner, with a photomural of Mt. Shuksan framing him from behind, as if laying down a royal flush, he said, “You came to the right guy.” Judging by Brent’s calm and intense demeanor, I believed him.

Brent just happened to have two cars ready and available just for the purpose of smashing. One of them was to be the designated “dummy” car. The other had water running through the oil line. I know more about origami than I do about engines. But even I realized we were going car shopping. Let the Craig’s List haggling begin.

$500 is the going price for a complete piece of junk that may or may not run. So when I found a willing seller for a car that would barely make it across town for $275 I knew I had scored big. I paid cash. Brent signed the registration, did a doughnut in the parking lot, loaded the car on his tow truck, and drove off. You know you trust someone when you buy him a car and walk away.

Brent’s wife, Michele was also extremely helpful. She put me in touch with her father, a retired police officer, who suggested that I let the cops know we were going to smash a car in an open area next to the freeway. Just in case a passerby took our stunt as for real and freaked out. I was scared to death we would get shut down. I called the day of the shoot and downplayed the crash as a fake crash. Also, Michele was studying to become a registered nurse, in part to be there for Brent after derbies and roll over contests for when he got hurt. I was feeling better all ready.

The cars arrived as mock-ups of real demolition derby vehicles. Brent worked hard to gut, prepare, and paint them. The dirt field was frozen solid from a dip of temperature into the teens. By noon we were swimming in mud. All the angles were considered. The cars had been expertly positioned. Brent, calm as a cucumber, suited up, strapped in, gave a thumbs up and put the hammer down. The wailing of the un-muffled engine broke the sky, cameras were rolling, lights were burning, and my hands were on my head.

Weeks and months of prep gone in one violent second. Perfect.

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derby days

Smoke bombs, trophies, and medical props in hand, I showed up at Richard’s farm.

I couldn’t count the number of vehicles. I’ll guess 20 ranging from demolition cars to brand new heavy-duty pickups to tow trucks. On top of that there were several beautiful horses, German shepherds, planted crops of trees, gorgeous barns, and people of all ages getting ready for the show. My task was simple, get portraits and hopefully a couple of solid set up shots…

Then Brent showed up. If this guy were not at the center of roll over car and demolition derby mayhem he would be the next star on a more intense version of Duck Dynasty. This guy carries the demeanor of Clint Eastwood in front of the camera and right on into the dirt track with his battering ram of a truck.

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got tooth?

Raising her upper lip in a toothy smile, she pointed out a jewel fixed permanently to one of her upper front incisors.

She informed me that she uses teeth in her work because of a recent accident she had flying over the handlebars of a bicycle and eating a curbside sandwich. 

I always want to work with the most talented people I can find. So naturally, I approached Julia about styling a photo shoot in studio. I had a few ideas, but none of them were really our ideas. And I wanted Julia’s creative machine and styling experience in my photographs. So the spit balling began. Obviously, I loved what Julia did with her Oral project. Ultimately we landed on another of Julia’s creations; perfume. Julia’s perspective is that perfume is “a work of ephemeral sculpture”. Hmmmm… perfume as sculpture… how to turn that one into a two dimensional image?

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showdown at pappy & harriet's

Spaghetti westerns and U2 album covers fueled my love for the California desert.

When I discovered Joshua Tree and the 29 Palms area I was standing in for Bill Murray during the making of a movie poster. Something about a Jamaican bobsled team. I was in love with the Martian-like landscape immediately. I already had images of the area burned into my heart and brainpan by Anton Corbijn’s black and white images from U2’s album “The Joshua Tree”. 

Joshua Tree is the one place where I feel connected to a higher power. Every time I visit something happens that is inexplicably spiritual. Even the burn areas that have been swept by fire leaving smoking matchsticks in the sand or the cracked salt flats blasted by wind and sun seem to calm me down.

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and then i met kat

Kat was the dominatrix next door. She introduced herself in a polite manner and offered to sound proof the walls. 

Curiosity did not kill this cat. What I did do was turn this into a creative photo project. 

Shortly after I captured Kat at Factory Place, I decided to include these characters in my work. For the laundromat image I reinvented the idea of a dominatrix by placing her into an everyday scenario. I found models, rented the plastic and leather from Warner Brothers, and found a willing laundromat.

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one night at phillipe's

Since “Pulp” I’ve eaten about 500 French Dip Sandwiches. 

Here’s a concept: Photography is fun. Especially if you’re paying homage to a film you love by a film maker who is brilliantly re-interpreting films that he loves. There can be only one Tarantino, but many, many versions of “Pulp.”

When you’re jazzed about a fun project getting actors involved isn’t too difficult. They want to create work as much as you do. Locations, however, in LA can be a nightmare. Which is why I was blown away when I walked into Philippe’s “The Home of the French Dip Sandwich” and was immediately granted permission to shoot.

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