An Unexpected Education

07-17-2016 Manya K5010IManya K.I was sitting with my friend going over the weeks sessions when I half jokingly said, “You’re going to put me in the  poor house.” The remark was in response to his pointing out the next expensive item I needed to invest in. Being that the last six or so months had seen me purchasing a new camera, a lens, photo software, a sturdy tripod, new umbrellas and a studio light to name a few. It seemed a proper reaction. Then I thought about the education he’s been giving me and I suddenly found myself eating my words.

As I took a moment from my mason jar of home-made tea. I thought about how much time and effort has been invested in bringing me back and making every studio session better than the last through honest critiquing and continuing building blocks. And I continue to book shoots and regularly use the tools and knowlege given. My confidence builds, allowing me to have more creative control and in the end, satisfaction. For now I’ll keep my “thank you’s” to a minimum and use my time to listen, learn and appreciate. 感謝、私は残っています。


Things Go Wrong…

I was having sushi with an old friend and mentor when he jokingly brought up a job he put me on to during the summer of 2012. Since we first met some years ago we’ve worked together on a few jobs and he’s put me on to a few clients along to the way. One day I get a call asking if If I would be interested in handling a job for him. “This woman I’ve known for about thirty years just lost her husband and she contacted me asking if I could shoot the services for her.” He went on to tell how he had known her for years and that she was bat crazy for as long and most likely, long before.

Despite his description, I decided to give her a call to discuss the details. One call led to another, and another and another before getting all the bat shit details of the event down. I knew from my very first conversation that she was nuttier than a fruit cake and had a habit of repeating herself numerous times.”Yes Ms. M., I got that the first eight times you said it.” The date and hourly rate were set. About four hours of work at $200 an hour seemed easy enough. I would go to the funeral home in the morning to photograph the body and the mourners, (Creepy I know) then head to the church where I’d photograph the mass and to the mausoleum where the body would be put to rest.

The day of the event everything went as planned. Funeral I-4406The wake, the funeral mass and the entombing went without any issues. There were weird looks along the way such as the mausoleum director telling me he had never in all this years experience a widow who wanted the ceremony documented.  Through all of it though, I conducted myself with grace and dignity while sharing my empathy with the family and there friends. So much so that I was invited to join them for lunch afterward. Lunch being the time where I was able to take the most natural and laid back pictures of friends and family she might never again get to see. “Phew, I actually got though this with my soul in tact.” Or so I thought.

As promised I had the images ready for delivery in less than five business days. I made plans with her to drop off the discs I created and pick up payment. Funeral III-Shortly upon arrival everything began to unravel. I gave her the discs expecting the exchange to be short and without incident. “Let me see what’s on there.” As I inserted the first disc in to her decades old Del             I recalled her telling me she had no software issues and the she had many photos stored within. Slow became slower and she starts in “You need to fix my computer.” “There’s something wrong with it.” My blood pressure steadily rising, I kept telling myself to be patient. Still, I have seen no resemblance of cash or a check book.

After what seemed to take forever, the images began loading. I sat with her going from image to image. At one point we came to a B&W image “What the hell is that!?!” She rattled. I explained to her that I thought the B&W added a dramatic element and that she still had the original color image if she didn’t like it. She often muttered and spoke under her breath to which I would politely say “Excuse me?” Nice lady she was she would quickly squawk “What are you deaf?” Still no sight of any cash or check book. When I brought up payment she’d go into victim mode exclaiming “I’m not rich you know.” “This is a lot of money” and “I’m in mourning here.” The “What are you deaf?” squawks continued. To which I finally replied “I’m sorry, my ears are sensitive.” “They only register intelligent conversation.” An hour had past. A time where I clearly delivered  the product I was  hired me to document. I explained to her that all transactions have a beginning and an end and that I had delivered my part of the contract. It was now her responsibility to pay me. The insults and cries of poverty continued. Still no sight of any cash or a check book. I had reached my breaking point. Funeral II-Correction, I was way past it. My mind was racing. At one point, I eyed a pillow in the adjacent room and for a second thought of smothering her with it. No one would ever come for her I menaced.               Finally, I reached my senses. My stay had gone past an hour and I was never even offered a glass of water. I got up confidently. “I’ve taken enough abuse from you.” “I’ve had it.” “Pay me now or I’m leaving with the discs.” I left, cursing and menacing inside. As I walked to my car I felt so overwhelmed with anger I could feel it in my teeth. I started the engine and drove away with a road rage      I can’t even describe. I called my friend explaining what happened. “I told you she was crazy.” He did his best to calm me but I was so far outside of myself that no words could ease my tension.

We finally met up and he agreed to work as a middle man. He was just as angered, if not more, by her b.s. as I was. We put together a plan to meet again at her home. I would keep my mouth shut as he worked as a diplomat. Funeral IV-“If she doesn’t pay you then and there we will inform her that she will be taken to small claims court and we will have a lien put on her house if payment is not made. The plan worked perfectly. Though she continued to play the victim and throw vague insults our way.  I received paid within five minutes of our arrival. I smiled, thanked her and offered my services to photograph her own funeral. It was a parting shot I felt I needed to regain the soul I felt I had lost in those rough weeks before. Though I’m sure I’ll never get asked to photograph a funeral. I promised myself I’d never consider documenting such a sad event again.

Things Go Wrong

DM-3804The night had all the markings of a great shoot. A beautiful model, a talented make up artist and good lighting. Erica and Denise got to the studio on time and got right to work on the hair and make up. When Denise first brought up the idea of body painting we had very different ideas of both the approach and overall look. A couple of years back I photographed a fully body paint job from start to finish. It was quite and eye opener to say the very least. Denise’s idea seemed a little less larger in scope. Maybe some basic face paint, not much else. However, as the days past and the date was set, we came closer to a middle ground and came up with a great concept.

DMII-3852About two hours into the make up job I began taking shots and only minutes after the job was complete, so was the photo shoot. Not that it was rushed or anything of that nature, no, not in the least. We got some great shots in a sort amount of shooting time. We all parted on friendly terms with some new experiences under our collective belts.

A few days later after sending the images out to both Denise and Erica I began to see pictures find their way onto Facebook. Normally I would have no issue with it whatsoever. However, the images she loaded looked washed out  and less than flattering. DMI-3829    I commented on one of the images how they looked as if they were taken with a cel phone. That is when the fit hit the shan. Denise blew up on me on both Facebook and in a text. “How dare you criticize MY picture?”        “You are a rude fucking so and so.” The tirade continued and grew in anger and threats of retribution. It seemed uncalled for and quickly took on a comedic level of neurosis. It left me wondering, “Did I really say anything that could be construed as demeaning or cruel.” In going back to the picture and my comment I could honestly cut myself a break and chalk it up to somebody just completely blowing something way, way out of proportion. Though there are always three sides to every story, I really have a hard time seeing myself as the bad guy here. Needless to say, it was an important lesson in being very selective in who you spend your time with. Do what you must to control the crazy that sneaks it way into your everyday.

Time to Reflect

I’ve been having a real hard time finding the right words to describe my recent shoot with Roksolana. Sometimes it just takes time to properly let an experience run it’s course of emotions in order to write about it from an observers point of view than an actual participant. Roksolana IIIThis became evident to me when talking to a model I worked with the other day. I’ve worked with this particular woman for years and over that time, developed a close bond and trust. We’ve always shared stories and not only is she supportive of my wiring. She’s downright forceful in that she feels my stories are worth putting to paper. This Friday afternoon, as she unpacked her chosen outfits for that days session, the conversation quickly turned to just that. It was then that I realized why I do and do not write about certain subjects and certain experiences in my life. It was then when I understood why I was having such a hard time writing about this particular shoot with this beautiful and very sweet woman. Roksolana IIIt all came down to separation and the time it takes to remove yourself and a certain emotional element from the story. At the time of the shoot I was overwhelmed by Roksolana’s energy, her thwarting of everything I had planned and inability to focus on anything for more than a few seconds. That could all be easily overlooked if not for the pure fact that she turned my organized and uncluttered studio space and turned into a combat zone. Even going as far as moving my couch and taking the shirts I had picked out for her to model and spreading them across my couch insisting “See, it feels like a college dorm.”

RoksolanaYet, with all the madness, lack of direction and complete exhaustion those few hours created. I still had a beautiful woman in my studio. One who is inspiring in all that she’s already experienced in her short life. I was doing one of the things I love most in life and I was in the midst of a ‘real story’. I controlled my anger and emotions throughout and stayed focused. An hour or so later, my heart rate was normal and I was sharing dinner with my lovely wife.    I was not only alive, I was living.

Someday, We’ll Look Back On This and Laugh.

A few weeks back,  I had the opportunity to sit and interview Norwegian singer, songwriter Dyveke as she was finishing up her album at Water Sound recording studios here in Hoboken.  Though I had just met her our exchange was very easy and open ended. I learned a lot about her during that hour or so conversation. I learned about her upbringing in Norway. Her music education in Liverpool England and her recording with some very talented and well known artists. I also learned one very important thing. “Sarcasm is not a part of  Norwegian culture.” Knowledge that could have served me well if i had remembered days later when we prepared to start our photo session.

As we drove from nearby Jersey City to my place in Hoboken I shared a recent experience I had with a very difficult customer. In telling the story I mentioned that I got to a point where I thought to myself “I could just take that nearby pillow and snuff the life out of her.” Though it was meant purely as a joke and to show just how bad the interaction had spiraled out of control. My new friend and model for the day did not take it as such. As we got out of the car, she revealed that my story had really gotten to her and she no longer felt comfortable going to the studio alone with me. I immediately recalled her explaining to me that sarcasm is something foreign to Norway. At that moment, I felt like a complete and total ass. A cad, a fool and a villain all rolled up into one horses ass. As we walked     I tried to ease her fears and tensions with no results. The backgrounds, lights and refreshments were all ready for action but production had been shut down. I made the best of my foolishness and followed her suggestion to just go with some location shots. As we walked along the Hoboken side of the Hudson, her tensions seemed to ease. I did my best to convince her I wasn’t one to murder old ladies, feed arsnic to children or kidnap Norwegian singer/songwriters. I really felt terrible about my stupidity. As a photographer, the most important thing I can do is make my subject feel comfortable and trust my instincts. Without that,       I am a lost soul. That’s when she assured me that everything was okay. That someday, “We’ll both look back on this and laugh.” I certainly hope so. I realize we all make mistakes. We all fail from time to time. So, instead of banging my head against the wall and continually punishing myself for my own stupidity. I hope to learn from my mistakes, learn and move on. Overall, my experience with her was very positive. I learned a lot about a very talented musician. One that came all the way from Norway to record in my mile square town. I met a stranger and learned from her. I even got a story to tell for my little blog.

Everything Falls Apart Again.

It was Monday morning and a plan that had been in the making since the beginning of the year was finally about to take place. Steph and I had been working on an erotic lingerie shoot with several other models at one time or another over the past three months. Each time coming close but missing due to schedule conflicts, illness, death in the family and everything else under the sun. However, on this particular Monday, it was all going to fall into place. Steph had an entire day put aside and I had the perfect model confirmed. “Shit is gonna happen.” I got up extra early and made sure everything was ready. Around 11:30 Steph contacted me to let me know she’d be leaving her place in just a few minutes. I was calm and collected. I sat down at the computer to check my Facebook page and ………… “Blamo!!!” A message from the other model. “I can’t make it.” “I got called into work.” Fifteen minutes before starting time I get this. No call. No text. A f%&king Facebook message. So I scramble for the phone to contact Steph with the news. The phone picks up but all I hear is a scrambling sound. We’ve all heard it before. The phones on and you can hear a number of things going on in the background but the person on the other end is nowhere to be found. I call again and it’s the same thing but someone eventually picks up. Whoever it was it wasn’t Steph. I thought “Either Steph’s boyfriend is fucking with me or I just called for Chinese food delivery”. Only seconds after hanging up  there’s a knock on the door. Of course, it’s Steph. I asked “Didn’t you get my voice mails and texts?” “She cancelled at the last minute.” A combination of disappointment and confusion came over Steph. “I didn’t get any messages.” “What happened?” I scrambled for my phone to show her my calls and texts. That’s when her confusion grew. “That’s not my number James” “I don’t know why you have that number.” We laughed for a minute but the disappointment in her eyes was irreversible. I calmed her down a bit and convinced her to stay for a bit. “I’ll make it worth you’re while.” “We’ll get some beautiful pictures.” She ended up staying and we got some nice shots. But damn, how hard can it possibly be to get two naked women in one room at the same time? The Photo Gods are definitely not in our corner.

Zoia Returns (In Color)

This Saturday I had a chance to take care of some unfinished business. Back in June of 2009 I had the chance to work with a beautiful woman named Zoia. She had contacted me recently to tell me she had been keeping up on my work and was impressed with my growth. I took that compliment as my chance to finally take care of unfinished business.

At the time of our prior session I was doing pretty good work but I was still in this phase where the real confidence wasn’t there. The shoot started off badly when I made a rookie mistake of forgetting the camera battery. I had charged it that afternoon but when she came to pick me up for a short drive to the Monroe Center I completely for got to take it out of the charger. We were half way there when I realized and had to turn back. Once we did manage to get started everything was fine but I was killing myself for that mistake. “She must think I’m complete nob.” We got some nice shots at the Monroe Center and headed back here to finish up with some studio work. Again, the work was good but somewhat rushed. She never said anything but I felt as if I left a bad impression with my amateurish mistake.      Fast forward almost two year and I’m ready. “Battery? Check. Lights? Check. CF Card? Check. Model? Check.” I fire my first shot and nothing. My Photo Wizard II is not communicating with my Genesis lights. No Flash, whatsoever. In the past when something went wrong I would panic and lose it. But I’ve learned that, as corny as it may sound, every problem has a solution. I tried everything. Everything was working but for some reason they weren’t communicating. Time was ticking and I’m thinking “I’m cursed” “Nothing is working and I’m going to have to send this woman home.” Finally, I ran to the bedroom and got my backup camera. Connected the flash and fired a test shot. Alas, I heard a pop and saw the light. “I can live.” “I have been spared the certain shame, humility and doom that would surely follow my failure.” Once we got started it was magic. I finally got to tend to that unfinished business. Zoia and I did great work together.

The red head from the former Soviet Union is now a Brunette and in those two years is even more beautiful. Later on I found out that is wasn’t the cameras hot shoe as i had briefly suspected. It was the setting. I had used it at a concert a week ago and disabled the flash. Just forgot to reset it. So yes, I’m still kind of a dork. I’m a little clumsy and forgettable. I’ve got a heavy case of ADHD but I’ve come a long way in that when I’m given a problem or hit a road block. I’m able to see it through. Find a solution or a way around it.

The Switch

My shoot with Tara had all the makings of disaster and even confrontation. Scheduled for 4:00 p.m., the shoot and her make up artist didn’t arrive until 5:00. But that was just the beginning . Every other model I’ve ever worked with has done their own hair and makeup so I really have no experience dealing with a MUA. Having no experience with one, I gathered it would take five, maybe ten minutes tops. (Not even close.) Time passed and five minutes turned into a half an hour and then into a full hour. I tried to keep my cool but I was steaming. That and the fact that there was makeup everywhere. I was done. Ready to throw them the hell out.

6:00 p.m. came and they were finally done. I was going to do a very quick shoot and get them out of my place. As i started shooting I noticed the makeup artist shadowing me with her pocket camera. It was as close as it could possibly come to me completely losing it. “You can’t do that!” I barked. This is my work. She barked back “This is my work too.” The stage was set for a complete blow up. However, calmer heads prevailed and I explained “This may be your work. But this is my studio and my rules.” “I’m sure I’m a better photographer. If you want pictures, I’ll be taking them.” I don’t know what happened. Everything switched. Within second Tiffany (The MUA) and I were gelling. We were BFF and working together. She contributed by making suggestions on wardrobe from time to time. We were communicating. Tara was a pro throughout. She was quiet and very sweet. Things ended so much better than they started and everyone went home happy.

Later that night I told my wife Kayuri and smiled. Knowing full well my history with my temper and sometimes confrontational nature. (Going as far back as working at Sears Portrait. I had told customers who pushed me to the edge off on occasion.) She said “I’m very proud of you.” I’ve grown a lot in recent years. It’s important to grow as a photographer. I’ve seen a tremendous amount in the last two years. But growing as a man. Learning to be a problem solver and be a better communicator feels really good. Seeing that growth makes me proud. Maybe I’m finally growing up.

Woman on the Stairs

I’m going through this mornings session with Tanu Suri and have come across so many that just take my breath away. It’s going to take a while to go through and pick the best of the best but I wanted to share something. Though this was a studio shoot we went up to the roof and also took a few shots on the stairs. I thought this particular one was interesting. 

Extras from my Shoot with Tara.

Once we were done with getting the head shots she needed.      Tara asked me if I could take a few of her in her leather jacket. I could immediately tell that the clothes she had brought fro the shots didn’t fit her or her personality. Once the jacket went on the real Tara came out. It was a pleasure to see. Such an amazing personality and fun person to work with. We were literally rolling on the floor with laughter.