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entropy

captain at age 8, shortly before my command was sunk by a hurricane

everything lasts forever in a photograph.

Sometimes people ask me why I got into photography or what I like about it.

Although my father did like to take vacation photos on fancy cameras and I even got to play with a Canon F1 that was lying around the house, I didn’t grow up surrounded by photography. Instead, most of my childhood memories are of family trips to England and France, and even more of constant relocation. We lived in Germany, Brazil, Israel, Northern Virginia, New York, etc. Just ahead of the internet age, there wasn’t really any such thing as “keeping in touch” with your third grade crush (although I did end up going to prom with her in another country, but that had more to do with fate and the US Air Force).

Through a series of (un)fortunate events, I eventually found myself in the strange position of making a living from photography. Still, I don’t think I had ever really examined what I liked about photography. Sure, I enjoyed the process, the combination of technique and artistry, the collaboration with subjects and crew, the pretty girls, the catering (might I recommend the caprése), the pretty girls, etc. All accurate, but it ignores the fundamental question of “why is photography important to me?” There are plenty of other things I could do for a living…so why photography?

It comes down to this:  I’m an antisocial person who lives for human connection on a visceral level. I love seeing what makes someone tick, exploring relationships and friendships, feeling physical chemistry, finding vulnerable beauty. Unfortunately, due to imperfect memory, age, death and red wine – once I learn this information in a 3am conversation, I can’t always retain it.

I only have a hazy memory of what my friend Josh in third grade was like to hang out with (and no police reports to reminisce over, as we both had diplomatic immunity from our respective countries and paid cash for doctor visits). I only have a vague image of what Nikki, the first girl I kissed, looked like – modified by my own id and years of poor quality chocolate consumption (thankfully remedied in my adult life). And I’ve lived in many incredible cities, but can only really remember the family vacations that stuck in my head and occasionally in my father’s camera.

my father at his law firm on fifth ave at 42nd st

Sometimes, through sheer luck or possibly with the help of some craftsmanship, a photograph can capture a moment or even a person.

Throughout our lives, relationships change. Occasionally through traumatic physical events like death or illness, but often through the more mundane machinery of life. People grow up, lives diverge naturally, arguments turn into lifelong excommunication, lovers grow apart, old relationships take on new dimensions, etc. Things are constantly evolving, being destroyed and reborn.

What I love about photography is that in my images, nothing will ever change. While my own perspective on the person or place in the image will surely change in the years to come, when I go back to that image, it hasn’t changed. In 1/60th of a second, I can show someone’s mischievous spirit. I can capture the introspection in their eyes. I can highlight their sexuality in an everyday expression.

There’s a certain type of immortality that can infuse a photograph of a person. To me, a perfect image is not one that is technically brilliant, or has the most innovative composition, or was shot with unusual equipment, or any of those things. To me, a perfect image is one that gives you the same emotional experience you would get if you could sit down in a room and interact one-on-one with that person at that moment in their life.

my mother's class photo at cornell

No single image will capture a personality – hopefully we are all a bit too multifaceted for that. And neither will a 30 minute conversation capture a personality – if it did, modern courtship would be a far different animal. Instead, I’d like a single image to capture a 30 minute conversation.

I want the picture to be worth a thousand words…of meaningful conversation with my subject. You can learn a lot about someone in a thousand words. We have 278 left…

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for creativity’s sake

Creative Projects

When you become at least moderately successful in a creative profession, it’s easy to let all “non-professional” endeavors fall by the wayside. A professional actress may not feel the need to act in something just for the experience, when they have years or decades of experience. While I understand this mindset, I try to guard against it as then you only do projects that have an obvious and often immediate return. Some of the most rewarding projects I’ve done (both financially and creatively) have been things that didn’t have immediate value and were often divergent from my work at the time, but were things I personally wanted to pursue.

The other important aspect is that people generally pay you to do more of the same. In other words, a beauty photographer generally gets paid to shoot beauty. Convincing someone that you have a great eye for gritty sports reportage requires stepping outside of your normal box to prove it. If you’re an actress who does great romantic comedies, you face an uphill battle convincing directors and producers to cast you as the lead in a dramatic piece. This is where “personal” projects are most valuable.

You are constantly refining your vision, and proving your abilities. When you no longer feel the need to do either, you are no longer creating…you are reproducing.

The musician Beck has an ongoing project called Record Club. They get a bunch of musicians together and record a cover of an entire album in one day, then release the tracks one by one online. I like some, I find others interesting exercises that you’d have to pay me to endure. Nonetheless, I love talented and professional people collaborating on a project for the enjoyment of the medium. It doesn’t happen very often, but there are many wonderful examples throughout history of the confluence of creative people.

So enjoy Record Club while you can. And to clarify, I’m not saying that “personal” work always means “unpaid” work, just that I try to constantly create for creativity’s sake. I think it not only makes your work more creative, in the long run it will make it more fulfilling…financially and otherwise.