No, I’m not editorializing. Angel, is in fact their last name. Sneak peek from this weekend’s fun on campus at Rhodes…
Sankey Photography's Blog of Life, Photography... And what ever else comes to mind.
No, I’m not editorializing. Angel, is in fact their last name. Sneak peek from this weekend’s fun on campus at Rhodes…
So, here’s the thing.
We’re all sick to death of the campaigning and politics. The seemingly endless stream of posturing and obfuscation is incredibly tiring for most of us, and I am no exception. Even more tiring, though, is the level of animosity and vitriol that exists between the left and the right on the political spectrum.
But that’s impossible to fix, right? Maybe. But maybe not. Follow me on a tangent for a moment.
15 years ago, I was working in college admissions for a small liberal arts college in Memphis where I had been a student. I enjoyed the job, as it offered me the opportunity to share all of the things that I had enjoyed about my campus experience.
There was, however, one question – or at least some variation of it – that I expected to get from each family that visited. Ok, from the parents… The student would usually be rolling their eyes at this point.
“So, is this a drinking school?”
Variations on this theme included “greek school”, “football school”, etc. (For the record, it was anything *but* a football school. But I digress.) I’d usually get this question from a worried mother, with the father trying to look somewhat disinterested, but failing.
My response – universally – was that at a school like this one, with a student body of less than 2000 students, you were going to cross paths with just about every group there was – the Greeks, the jocks, the chess club, the underwater yodelers, etc. – on a fairly regular basis. It really wasn’t about whether or not your child was going to be exposed to any one group or another – it was more about whether or not you wanted your child to be able to *hide* in one particular group. On a campus of 2000, that’s not happening. On a campus of 25,000, however, you can surround yourself with like-minded folks and rarely hear any dissent, if that’s the route you choose… Or the trap you allow yourself to fall into.
…Which brings me to my larger point. 15 years ago, strange as it feels to say, the internet was a cobbled-together collection of usenet groups and Netscape was here to stay. (Yeah, right.) Today, however, it’s the ultimate big campus. I can find just about any type of group, forum or set of Facebook friends I’d like, and I have access to endless volumes of information.
But let’s be honest. How many of us make a point of routinely, actively seeking out those with whom we disagree? And even then, how often are we doing so with benign intent? Rarely, if ever, unfortunately seems to be the answer for most of us.
Ideas are in many ways much like any other commodity. By this, I mean that you’ve got a free flowing open market, with competitive product and varying quality. The comparison that I find most compelling, however, is that ideas – as with any other product – are only developed (and hopefully refined or improved) through innovation. Therein lies the rub.
This innovation, such as it is, simply doesn’t happen on any kind of macro scale unless you are willing to talk to those with different ideas and opinions. …Aaaand, as we’ve already covered, there isn’t a whole helluva lot of that happening these days.
So? What’s the point? What can you do about it? And what does any of this have to do with a photography blog?
1 If you can’t remember the last time you went out of your way to engage in a conversation on a less-than-easy topic with someone you know to have a different opinion than yourself, get off your ass and do it now. Worst case, you might learn something. But divorce yourself from the passion. Act like an investigator if you must. Don’t just find out what they think, find out why they think it. How was their opinion shaped? By experience? Family? Media? All of the above? All of these things can – and likely will – open doors you never saw coming. Walk through them, and go exploring.
2 What shapes a different opinion if not a different perspective? And who should be actively seeking different perspectives moreso than a photographer?
Look, if you’re as tired as I am of all of the non-stop ‘we’re-great / they-suck, I’m-right / you’re-wrong crap that crowds the airwaves and dominates the bureaucracy of our government these days, take it upon yourself to do something about it. We didn’t get here overnight, and we’re not likely to fix it overnight, but you’d be amazed at what changes you might see within your sphere of influence by simply being willing to talk. To. Someone. New.
A book could probably – and should probably – be written on this, but it’s late, and I’m tired. But look, even though we can’t fix everything, we can damned sure try to fix something. After all, the only thing worse would be to do nothing.
PS – Oh, and just in case you’re thinking ‘What difference does one person make?’, take a look at the following. Each and every ‘one’ person was necessary for us to hit the goal we (barely) hit. When you’re working to make things better – somehow, some way – don’t ever think your efforts are wasted. (Link is here, in case video does not appear below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjMPUOoGw_U&feature=youtu.be)
April and Randle got married last night. We are honored to have been a part of it, and wish them all the blessings their life can hold. Be blessed, be well and be happy.
Much more to follow, but here’s a quick preview.
“It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.” – Paul Caponigro
“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.” – Ansel Adams
“Long ago, it must be… I have a photograph. Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left you.” – Paul Simon
As long as I can remember, I’ve been taking pictures. At different times along the way, I’ve used a camera. While I would never claim to have the eye of Eisenstadt, Stieglitz or any one of dozens of other giants of the form, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t seeing the world in my own little vignettes and scenes. Just the way I’m wired, I guess, but I don’t think I’m unique in this respect. Far from it, in fact; I think that all of us do this to varying degrees.
I have always loved that photography as an art form is so egalitarian and… Available. This has only become exponentially more true now that we all seem to carry f/2.8 lenses embedded into the phones in our pockets. But for decades, photography has been that level playing field where any participant could record timeless images that spoke of joy, loss, wonder, fear – an endless litany of human emotions and experiences. And while we can all think of ‘timeless’ images that we’ve seen countlessly reprinted over the years, we’ll never know of the depth of emotion and power peacefully waiting in shoeboxes, albums and, indeed, hard drives around the world. And perhaps that’s part of the beauty of the form, as well; that all of the vision, artistry, spontaneity - and more often than not, good fortune of timing – is often created for an audience of one – the artist.
So, what? If you’ve read this far, you are likely wondering exactly where I’m going with this. (You might also be thinking that I sound like a pompous asshole. I certainly won’t contest that point.) I should clarify that I’ve offered all this background as context and a bit of explanation, rather than as any self-congratulatory build-up. I can think of plenty of moments when I’ve really enjoyed the photographic process – over and above the general idea that I dig what I do – and I can think of a handful of times when I’ve created images that were just good. But the times that I’ve felt like I was in some way living up to the promise of what photography can truly do have been the times when I was shooting something that I knew was going to help someone. Recently, I had the opportunity to do just that.
As some of you reading this post are already aware, Sam recently passed away. Sam was, simply put, a helluva guy. While I never knew him as well as many others did, the few occasions I spent with him were enough to know that once he made you his friend, you were family. (The fact is, my family considers his family as our own – Sam was just the one that lived much further away, so we didn’t cross paths as often.) As his sister Allison stated at his memorial service, Sam wasn’t the type to have wanted a eulogy. As such, the memorial was followed by a celebration of Sam’s life – a party, a gathering of friends from widely varying backgrounds, a chance to pay tribute to the passion with which he lived his life. He was one of those people that – if we’re lucky – we have a chance to know, who gives you insight and perspective on life that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and that you don’t soon forget.
Shooting an event like this is the kind of thing that – if you’re honest about it – is a blunt reminder that some of the most deeply private moments occasionally happen right out in the open. Recording those moments – especially as a participant, as I was – is an awesome responsibility, but is also a gift in itself, as you then have the chance to hand something back to all of those who were in those moments; a document of that experience that – while they would never forget it – they can now look at from another perspective. (An odd parallel, that, to the process of mourning; but I guess that’s a whole ‘nother post.) As I am still in the process of putting all of these photographs together to present first to Sam’s family, I won’t be including any images from the event in this post. They will unquestionably be shared – Sam wouldn’t have had it any other way – but the images are, first and foremost, his family’s.
Because after all – and I hope this isn’t lost in my ramblings above – this isn’t about me. While I’ve no doubt meandered on the way to making it, that’s the point. It’s about learning – again – that often, the best thing a photographer can do is get themselves the hell out of the way of the moment. It’s about being reminded that photography as a medium can have an immediacy, intimacy and honesty unlike any other, and being a part of the process that (hopefully) creates those documents is a humbling, uplifting experience.
And for that reminder, that lesson, that experience, I can simply say this: Thanks, Sam.
-Posted by Joe
I’m very happy to say that we’re well underway on a project we’ve been kicking around for several months now. Those of you who are in Memphis are well aware of ‘the Greenline’ (officially known as the Greater Memphis Greenline, if I’m not mistaken.) If you’re not from ’round here, a bit of background is in order. Over the course of the last several years, a group of non-profits and citizens worked tirelessly to secure the development of a multi-use pedestrian (i.e., non-motorized – bikes are fine) path through the heart of Memphis, using an abandoned railbed as the foundation. (For more info on the Rails-to-Trails concept, see this.) Happily, these efforts culminated in the opening of the Greenline in 2010.
As a cyclist, I was thrilled to see the project get completed, and even happier to ride on it. However, critics had been scoffing at the project almost from day one. ”Crime!” ”Waste of money!” ”Et cetera!” “Harumph!” You get the idea. Well, I’m happy to say that not only have the critics turned out to be wrong, the success of the Greenline has pretty much blown away even the most optimistic expectations, to the point that efforts to expand the project have been accelerated. On any given day, you can find kids and adults of all ages, races and from all over town – not just those areas with immediate adjoining access. The Greenline has, quite literally, become a destination. (This is living proof that there’s no end to what can be accomplished with the right people, resources (financial and otherwise) and agencies all focused on a common vision. There’s a lesson there, folks.)
So what does this have to do with us? Well, the idea was to create a series of portraits of people from all walks of life (pun intended – heh) using the Greenline. It’s one thing to hear people say that the numbers are above the projections, but it’s another to show the cross-section of people using what has already become an invaluable resource. From a photographic perspective, this project had a lot of appeal to us as it’s a very atypical portrait – which is right up our alley. The challenges of getting the whole thing moving proved to be part of the fun, as well. This became many projects in one:
The result, or at least a preview of the result, is this:
[Note: The following is more of an explanation of the photographic side of things. There will be a fair amount of gear-geekery. You have been warned.]
In a perfect world, this shoot would involve several of us working together to bring the whole thing off. However, I knew that – at least initially – I needed to be able to run the rig by myself. Simple enough, right? All I had to do was support two cameras (one shooting stills, the other shooting video) and four speedlights (two of which should be placed to the side, and slightly aft of the subject; one on either side.) Oh, and the whole thing has to be mobile and versatile enough to keep up with someone who could be walking, running, skating or cycling. (I know; you’re thinking, “Is that all?!?”)
For the record, there are two manufacturers who (unknowingly) had a great deal to do with the success of this project. And no, Acme wasn’t one of them. (Any resemblance our rig has to one of Wile E. Coyote’s contraptions is purely coincidental.) Manfrotto and PocketWizard were the solutions we landed on, and they’ve done pretty darn well.
For the triggering, we’re using PocketWizards FlexTT5′s, the AC3 Zone controller and a MultiMax remote to fire the whole thing off. For the mounting, we’re using Manfrotto’s Superclamps (5), Justin Clamps (4), a compact quick-release ball-head, two three-section light stand extensions, a Magic Arm, a mini-clamp and probably several other things I’m forgetting. Mix that all together with my wife’s bike and my daughter’s tow-behind trailer, and what do you get?
(Nevermind my nephew looking confused, my dog ignoring the whole affair and my father-in-law thinking his 50-year-old Leica would be a lot simpler. He’s right, of course, but that’s entirely beside the point.)
The idea, as you’ve probably surmised, is that the subject would walk/run/skate/ride/levitate between the ‘outriggers’ holding the rear flashes, thus giving us some separation light and accents on their arms and faces, at least in theory. That assumes everyone is riding in a straight line and is actually close enough, but let’s focus on what we can control, shall we?
The trick to all of this is the PocketWizard’s a) relay mode and b) high-speed sync. The camera has one FlexTT5 (and the appropriate sync cable) mounted in the hot shoe, and has been configured via PocketWizard’s software to fire when it receives a command on channel 1 from the MultiMax on my handlebars. In turn, the camera-mounted Flex then fires off all four flashes (SB-900′s nearest the camera mount – group A, and SB-800′s on the outriggers – group B) all of which are seated in FlexTT5′s programmed for channel 2. That’s the trick to relay: camera-to-flash transmission must be one channel higher than the trigger-to-camera signal. As for the high-speed sync, well, when you’re shooting wide open (2.8) in broad daylight, you’re going to leave 1/250th in the dust. As an example, the back-lit jogger (yellow shirt) in the video was shot at 1/6400th. Ye olde PocketWizard Plus II’s simply can’t do that, nevermind TTL control.
A few other thoughts: