Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Inspiration, Influences and Instinct

There's a saying I hear a lot... "If you want to be a better photographer, study the work of great photographers". Turns out this is a minor obsession of mine. I spend way too much time looking at photography websites. Browsing books and magazines pondering what makes a photo great and what the photographer was thinking. But I've often wondered if it really matters. How do you incorporate all of that into what you are trying to express with the camera? How does it not become completely derivative?

This past weekend I photographed the first race of the 2011 USATF New England Mountain Running Circuit at Northfield Mountain, Massachusetts. On this course, I'd have only two chances to shoot the field... once on the way up the mountain and once on the way back down. Where you choose to shoot from is always a calculated risk, especially if you haven't taken photos on the course before. Once the race started, I quickly realized I was in the wrong place. The runners were still too close together coming out of the start making it difficult to isolate runners into clean compositions. Because of the tight pack, this round of shooting was over in literally a few minutes.

Trying to adjust to a better position, I did make the image below and while it isn't technically the best of the several hundred frames I shot that day, I liked it. To me, it showed movement and how the pack advances as one. The trees in the background were compelling and, along with the curve shape in the pack of runners, they gave the image depth.

Color Start Pack

Hand in hand with contemplating the work of other photographers, I also contemplate my own and something about this image made me particularly thoughtful. Why do I like it better than any other image I made during the first leg of the race? Why did I take it? Was it as simple as this was all I could capture in the mad scramble? I started the race shooting tighter. Why did I pull out to a wide angle and shoot the pack from the side?

Then I had a thought and went to the Internet to find an image I've admired many, many times by the legendary Paul Caponigro. Paul is the father of noted contemporary digital artist John Paul Caponigro. The elder Caponigro made this image called Running White Deer in 1967. He was in County Wicklow, Ireland on a private estate to photograph a rare herd of white deer. As they fled, he made one image and this was the result. Below Caponigro's image, I've posted a black and white version of my shot from the race.


BW Starting Pack

Let me say clearly that I'm not directly comparing the fine art made by Caponigro to my race grab. But there are interesting similarities that I'm not sure are coincidental. Who would have thought fine art photography could influence sports shooting? Maybe this explains why I chose this shot when I needed a fall back plan to my poorly chosen shooting location. Maybe the pack of runners connected with some iconic component of Caponigro's image that I carry around in my head. Maybe not. But I'm going to keep my habit of tucking my kids in to bed and then passing the evening browsing websites of important photographers. It's more interesting than television and maybe something rubs off.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree
Wonderland of Rocks
Boy Scout Trail
Joshua Tree National Park, California

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Leonard's Salvation

In 1985, native Vermonter Leonard Knight found himself trying to get a hot air balloon off the ground in the desert just north of Niland, California.


The balloon was hand sewn by Leonard and embroidered on the side was his personal creed… “God is Love”. After countless repairs on the patchwork balloon, he gave up. Leonard decided instead to build a small tribute to express his faith, starting modestly with a half bag of cement. 25 years later, Leonard’s work still isn’t done. He’s used adobe, hay bales and over 100,000 gallons of paint to craft a six story monument called Salvation Mountain. In demonstrating his personal faith; he’s created one of the most amazing folk art installations in the world.


I was introduced to Salvation Mountain in the 2007 movie Into the Wild. I’m a fan of interesting art and alternative lifestyles are always interesting to me. When I visited there this week, I was surprised to meet Leonard. I didn’t know what to expect. I’m not a religious person. He was reclined under an awning off the back of a late model Jeep Cherokee that was covered with his iconic artwork. His hearing isn’t good, but when he realized I was there, he sat up and welcomed me with an invitation to sit in the shade, out of the 103 degree heat.


We talked about growing up in New England and the power of the Internet to bring pictures of his mountain “all the way to China”. Leonard is a gentle man with a peaceful smile. He didn’t preach or inquire about my beliefs. He never asked for a donation. Actually, he gave me a DVD and was generous to let me make his portrait.





Monday, May 9, 2011

A Hickory Wind Blows in The Desert

Joshua Tree Inn

Gram Parsons is not to be confused with early 80's one hit wonder Alan Parsons. But, mention his name and 8 out of 10 people will say "Oh ya, that guy with the Project... Eye in the Sky". That's too bad. Gram Parsons was one of the most influential musicians of our time. Gram's band The Flying Burrito Brothers, his brief stint in The Byrds and collaborations with the Rolling Stones and Emmylou Harris brought rock and country together in a new way. Without Gram Parsons, most people believe Exile on Main Street would sound a lot different. The Eagles certainly owe their fortune to him.

Gram died in 1973 from an overdose of morphine and alcohol while staying in Room 8 at The Joshua Tree Inn in Joshua Tree, California. People now believe they have experienced paranormal activity in this room.

In many ways, this is a typical rock and roll story, but there is much more. At the time of his death, Parsons' stepfather, Bob Parsons, arranged for his body to be flown to New Orleans for a family service. Some believe his motivations were to capitalize on a large family inheritance. But that never came to pass because through a wild turn of events friend Phil Kaufman stole Gram's body. He used a borrowed hearse to take the body from LAX and fulfill Parson's wish to have his ashes scattered over Cap Rock in Joshua Tree National Park. In the middle of the night, next to Cap Rock, five gallons of gasoline in the coffin did the trick. Kaufman never faced repercussions for stealing the body but did get a fine for burning in a national park. Check out the movie Grand Theft Parsons or the book Hickory Wind: The Life and Times of Gram Parsons by Ben Fong-Torres.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Freewheeling California Part II

Anza Borrego State Park California. The largest state park in the lower 48.
Anza Borrego


Borrego Springs, California
Horse with No Name

Desert Giants

Clash of The Dinosaurs

Friday, May 6, 2011

Freewheeling California Part I

I took advantage of a business trip early in the week to take a few days off in Southern California. It's just me, a rental car, a new pair of cheap sunglasses and a bag of camera gear. Here's a few shots from the first day.

Gaslamp District San Diego, California
Cab Fare

Old Town San Diego, California
The Road is My Home

Ocean Beach Street Scene
Ocean Beach Bongo

Ocean Beach Bongo 2

Street Cala Lily

Ocean Beach Scene

Ocean Beach

Doorway Fiddler

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park California State Route 79
California Wildflowers
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