The Evolution of Over War
3-days, 50-Portraits, A Collective Voice. The Evolution of Over War
The Beginning. Being Understood.
There are people who understand you well enough to challenge you, but in that if-you’re-not-pushing-boundaries-you’re-not-doing-it-right kind of way, people you ultimately trust to have your back and your best interests at heart. Kate Chase, my friend, former rep and now producer, is one of those people. She’s the engine on this project – and while there were more than a few times that I was called to step outside of my comfort zone (I might devote a separate story to this), I’m really glad I answered.
Kate’s beloved uncle “Moose” was an Air Force pilot who had served in Vietnam, and flew the F-105, as a Thunderchief. She had heard from her mom that he would be attending a military reunion in San Antonio with other Thunderchiefs and she believed that I, as a photographer who chases characters and follows faces, should get myself there.
Moving On the Wind.
And I was off to San Antonio. I have always been up for adventure with my camera in tow, if there’s a whiff of a kernel of a spark of an idea for an interesting photograph, I’ll follow it on the wind. I packed up and showed up with a key crew. Texas was hot, the hotel nondescript. But what awaited us inside was a rich chapter of American history that I believe is unknown to most. These retired pilots are an often-overlooked part of the Vietnam War – itself by the year further relegated in our national narrative.
I stood with my camera among these pilots who have not forgotten any detail of how and why they are connected.
Fly on the Wall
The beginnings of the portrait-making. Setting up, observing, I never know what I’m going to encounter in my personal portrait projects, how a day will go. It’s the beauty of the unknown.
With the Thunderchiefs, I felt like a reverent fly on the wall as they warmed up, and fell easily into their friendships forged in the most difficult of circumstances.
I like to go to the source for these group portrait projects, embed myself in the space and community they share. I’ve used the technique before, creating a studio of sorts in the very middle of the space inhabited by the group I’d like to photograph. Here we set up in a rented conference room and pulled each pilot aside during breaks in their conversations. They didn’t say much when they stepped away from their fellow pilots, they didn’t need to it was there on their faces, the brotherhood, support, joy, pain, pride and life shared.
As they talked to each other and then later through interviews, I heard the things said echoed in what I saw through my lens.
The prevailing stories and images from this controversial war, are almost exclusively those of the grueling ground war, while these airmen remained mostly stoic and silent about their experiences. The exception, I discovered, takes place at these reunions where these men with similar experiences could enjoy the precious, and blood-earned, crucible of comradeship with fellow warriors.
Upon seeing the final product and her husband’s portrait, Jan Lockhart shared these heartfelt thoughts with us:
“To say I was moved by it is a gross understatement. As I scrolled down the piece, I saw many of our old and dear friends, and was so moved by the comparisons and the memories of the brave young pilots they were to the old warriors we see today. When I scrolled to the picture of my husband, I just burst into tears. His portrait, as so many of the others, looked through his eyes and into his soul…to the thrills and the tears, to the joy and the heartbreak of those days flying that wonderful machine in the most difficult air war ever waged.
These reunions are special in ways few people even realize. I have been going for a long time, and one of the things I have observed is that no one…not wives, nor children, nor parents, nor friends…truly can understand what those guys faced in combat during that war. They alone can truly know each other…the very young men they were, how they felt about everything involved in that war, how they all loved that particular airplane, and the comradeship and respect of the men they are today. I think it is one of the most important things they do…slap each other on the back, catch up on kids and grandkids, and be able to know that the men in these reunions truly KNOW them.”
So while it might be easy to mistake stoicism for a lack of opinion or an absence of emotion, a few minutes in their presence and a good look through the camera, provided a sea change of perspective.
As a photographer, I am comfortable looking for what needs to be communicated in the architecture and life found in faces and places. What I initially saw was a group of men bonded by experiences that only they understand, so much of it a glimpse into the worst of humanity.
Yet it’s as though the solemn reality of what they did, saw and lost, allows them to cherish the good stuff. Observing them and their wives, taking that closer look I could see how valuable that is, where it fits in their stories.
The Final Product, CadeMartin.com/OverWar
While I have many personal projects under my belt, I can say that Over War has been one of the most in-depth thus far; evolving from what I had envisioned as a series of Air Force pilot portraits to a project that – fifty years later -ultimately gives voice to these men who had a unique vantage point on the Vietnam war – an airborne perspective as they flew over the conflict below.
During this process, we’ve also been fortunate to cross paths with a number of people who are working to ensure that the individual stories and first person accounts of these men who put themselves in harm’s way are being told. Because many of the pilots did not speak about their experiences when they returned; and it seems because few had asked and even fewer were interested, we’ve come to understand that information is difficult to source. These first-person accounts are invaluable.
And while there are not many Thunderchiefs left that can give us a window through which to view and learn from their experiences, we believe it is important that we are careful stewards of their stories, that we do what we can to make sure they are able to speak their truths, to help us and generations to-come, accurately view the war.
It was an honor – and an extraordinary privilege to be a witness to this gathering, listening to the conversations and banter buzzing through the room. These men are cut from a rare cloth – living links to our collective history. They share obvious love for one another, a direct result of being together with the truest friends, forged of the same realities, culture and mindset.
And my forever thank you (again) to the team that made this all come to life:
Producer: Kate Chase
Story & Design Director: Ron Walter
Copywriter: Molly Leutz
Photo Producer: Amy Whitehouse
Lighting Director: Chris Bisagni
1st Assistant: Matthew Lemke
2nd Assistant: Robert Amador
Digital Tech: Kirsten Wyss
Post Production: Sugar Digital
Military Adviser, Archival Photographer, Thunderchief: Ed “Moose” Skowron
Website Developer: Chris Hull
On a break during a project, a client and I got to talking about tattoos, and a potential portrait project involving tattoos. She mentioned a tattoo festival being held the following week in the Washington DC area. I didn’t have any tattoos myself, but was totally intrigued. The thought of all those people with their stories essentially written on their bodies was something I immediately wanted to photograph, these were characters I wanted to capture. From there I rented a space and set up a photo booth. Similar to how I worked at Comic Con, we asked people walking around the convention if I could create their portrait. I photographed everyone against a grey backdrop. In postproduction, I collaborated with the re-toucher and sampled the tattoos on each person’s torso; from there we created a unique personal tapestry background for every subject. Everybody I photographed had amazingly detailed, as well as personal, tattoo work, it was such a clear commitment of time – and money – on their part. In addition to capturing this in the portraits, the background helped showcase and amplify that investment in expression. The whole experience turned out to be a blast – talking and working with people from all walks of life bonded by their ink. I followed the DC shoot with another tattoo event south of LA and it was another outstanding experience, both as a spectator and as a photographer. It’s been amazing to spend a few minutes with these people and to see how they are expressing themselves – I find it captivating, mysterious and revealing. But, I still don’t have any tattoos.
Delta Blues Promotional Package
The intersection of what we love and what we do – that’s the sweet spot right?I have always had a deep affection for the Mississippi Delta, and I’ve been making photographs for what we’ll call a good while now. This blues portrait project was that spot; just me and my camera in Clarksdale, Mississippi, capturing the characters of the blues. Making the images is what I do. Sharing them is someone else’s sweet spot. To share these I turned to designer David Calderley of Graphic Therapy. And at the intersection of that brilliant designer – who also happens to be a guy with whom I’ve shared both beer and adventure, I ended up with this. Both- pulp board. Die cut containing 10-panel concertina fold – and a short story about what I do, and what I dig.
Character, Not Characters
O Museum in the Mansion
The tagline of the The Mansion on O & O Street Museum begins with “everything is possible.” With my first exhibition of photographs hanging in the galleries of this most iconic of institutions I am inclined to agree.
People end up at the Mansion and O Museum in so many ways – stories you likely wouldn’t believe. As DC resident, I know these tales as a part of the character of this city. I once thought “if I could get one image on those walls…” and today, I am one of those stories and you’ll just have to believe me.
On a shoot break, talking tattoos with a friend from the Melanoma Research Foundation, a planted kernel of an idea, the DC Tattoo Arts Expo, conversation with H, and now twelve prints 41” wide on 49×62” paper hang in the O Street Museum as my first exhibition: Character, Not Characters.
The other part of the Mansion on O tagline is “Dare to be different.” In my photography, I’m looking for the stories and characters that reveal themselves when you look at things differently. These tattoo portraits are a closer look at stories told through ink – mysterious and intimate at once.
If you’re going to do something, might as well do it right. Having my work, my first exhibition, at the O Museum in DC is about as right as I can imagine. A huge thank you to O Mansion, H and Ted for giving me this opportunity.
Character, Not Characters is at the O indefinitely. If you find yourself in DC, book a tour.
Check out more about this project here http://aphotoeditor.com/…/the-art-of-the-personal-project-…/
Mexico. It’s a recurring theme in my personal work because it’s a place that has had a hold on me from some of my earliest memories. My family traveled here when I was a boy and I have revisited countless times, drawn by both work and play to this beautiful country.
After a full year of work, I returned with my own family on a holiday for the holidays.
No work I said. I made a point to leave my camera at home.
But, crazy thing is in the “Shot on iPhone” world we live in, we can’t really leave our cameras behind. And maybe a photographer can’t not be a photographer.
So when we went to the famous Museo De Las Momias – the Museum of the Mummies – in Guanajuato, I found myself in the phone in hand crowd, mesmerized and compelled to capture what I saw.
There is such history and such mystery in the faces of the mummies, once ordinary people caught and frozen in the Cholera pandemic of the 1830s. The hastily buried masses were later disinterred to make room in overcrowded cemeteries, their relatives asked to pay a tax for permanent burial. Those whose families could not pay were put on display.
There is something equal parts morbid, fascinating and foreign about death on display. Moments of almost awkward levity as we pose in coffins and imagine these mummies as they might have been as people. A mix of curiosity, chills and reverence, a bit like a film where you’re scared, but enjoying it enough to watch though a few fingers. Or your iPhone camera.
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
I’ve been working with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for approximately 10 years, and it has been one of the partnerships that I’ve been most proud of.
I can’t even remember now how we were first introduced, but so much of what we do is about relationships and how you connect and get along. Partnering with the CF Foundation team has been incredibly rewarding – they are really great, very positive, empathic and obviously passionately dedicated to what they do. Quite honestly, when I began working with them I didn’t have much more than a vague idea about Cystic Fibrosis, but I have a learned a ton, gaining so much understanding through the CF Foundation’s advocacy and education.
The projects we’ve collaborated on have ranged from in-studio portrait sessions to environmental shoots in the homes, clinics and hospital rooms of people with CF.
We have created honest images of people and families who are afflicted with Cystic Fibrosis – no makeup or glam squad, just as they look in their daily lives not defined by CF but by whom they are. A lot of the time the images are playing off of their environment – be it at home or a location that they connect with through work, school or a passion.
The mission of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is to cure cystic fibrosis and to provide all people with the disease the opportunity to lead full, productive lives by funding research and drug development, promoting individualized treatment and ensuring access to high-quality, specialized care. This organization and the work they do to make a difference in people’s lives is an inspiration I carry with me beyond our work together. If you are interested in learning more about the disease and the efforts of the CF Foundation please check out their website at www.cff.org.
Wish You Were Here – the Mississippi Delta
While I love everything about the collaboration that comes with a commercial shoot, when it comes to my personal work, I find I am drawn to the one-on-one with real, every-day people. You can’t make any of it up or direct it – how they carry themselves or have decided to dress for the day is better than where my imagination could take it. I always go out of my way to make the subjects look their best, to present them in the truest, most sincere way- exploring the architecture of their faces, the texture of their clothes and so on.
I worked on this post-production with one of my go-tos, Sugar Digital, and that familiar relationship is great for both understanding my process and pushing me to experiment. My original intention going into this Blues project was to produce these as black and white portraits, but the more we played, the more I gravitated towards a bit of warm color that brings a little more life, as well as further defining the magnetic architecture of their faces.
Greetings from the Bayou!
This shot was part of an impromptu personal project piggybacking a commissioned shoot in New Orleans. A location scout friend mentioned over a beer, fishing shacks you could only access by boat. New Orleans is utterly unique, its own ecosystem that’s both accessible and hidden at the same time. New Orleans and the bayou are such a draw for me, and these shacks – an hour drive and a half-hour boat ride into a different world were impossible to resist. I hired a waterman – from a line of lifelong watermen – to get me there.
The shack itself was perched low in the water and far from anything else, like a structure emerged from the brackish depths. It was somewhat improbable and otherworldly in that really New Orleans way. As I saw it in person and made my images, my mind kept wandering to what it would be like to boat up to a structure with other amenities – an even more unbelievable sight.
Besides bayous having a special meaning to me, ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved the comic strip Pogo. Pogo is the title character in a long-running comic strip that started in the 1940s by cartoonist Walt Kelly. Pogo is set in the Okefenokee Swamp of the southeastern United States. All the characters live in the swamp with Pogo the possum as the main character and his good friend Albert the alligator. Poetry, wordplay, puns and lush artwork all come together to create humor, wisdom and thoughtfulness that have been enjoyed by kids and adults alike all these years.
Another influence at work here was a childhood favorite, A Cajun Night Before Christmas, by James Rice and Trosclair. Here the classic Christmas narrative poem by Clement Clarke Moore is retold in a Cajun dialect with an alligator who helps Santa and then is left behind in the Louisiana Bayou. To finally bring my idea to life, I reached out to Souverein Weesp to help design and create these fun, dancing and singing alligators, jazz bands and the Bayou atmosphere.
My Well-Worn Chair at Sugar Digital – Wish You Were Here!
Tattoo Personal Project
When I went into this project, I knew what I wanted to capture, but as with most of my personal projects the final images were very much a product of inspiration, exploration and collaboration. On a break during another project, a client and I got to talking about tattoos. She mentioned a tattoo festival being held the following week in the Washington DC area. I don’t have any tats, but they’ve always intrigued me. And the promise of all those people with their stories essentially written on their bodies, those were the type of characters I’m compelled to chase. At the festival, I rented a space and set up a photo booth. I photographed everyone against a grey backdrop.
I went into postproduction without a concrete vision of how to make them sing. The final images are a true testament to how much the relationship between photographer and retoucher matters. There was so much professional trust and respect involved as we threw out ideas and played around. Ultimately we sampled the tattoos on each person’s torso; from there we created a unique personal tapestry background for every subject. Everybody I photographed had amazingly detailed, as well as personal, tattoo work, it was such a clear commitment of time – and money – on their part. In addition to capturing this in the portraits, the background helped showcase and amplify that investment in expression. This technique was nothing I’d tried before – and nothing I’ve attempted since – but it was truly right for these portraits. It felt as though these backgrounds allowed their stories to travel beyond their bodies.
We had a great time, you can see more here:
I have a strong affinity for Mexico, the place and its people. I have been traveling there since I was a little boy and have returned numerous times for personal and professional photography projects.
On a recent trip to Mexico, I visited the state of Tamaulipas for a couple of days and created this series of photographs on farm workers.
On a ranch just north of Tampico, I came across migrant workers harvesting onions from the fields. This part of Mexico, just south of the Tropic of Cancer and a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico, is ideal for growing onions, hot chili peppers, and soybeans – its rich, tropical soil yielding multiple crops year-round. The onion harvest is a hectic operation that involves picking the onions by hand. Once cut, they are left in the fields to dry before being trucked to a shed to be sorted, packed and ultimately shipped to market. To work the fields, a nomadic group of Tamalín Indians make a yearly journey here from the tropical state of Veracruz. Their weather beaten faces tell a story of many years of hard work in the fields under the relentless sun. I made these images in a shed and in the fields where they worked – in the middle of their day.
As a “commercial” photographer, I really enjoy what I do. Of course, there are great characters and stories to capture in any shoot – but I continue to be intrigued by real, every-day people. I try to seek them out whenever possible, like I did the migrant workers on this ranch. You can’t make any of it up – the authenticity of their faces, their culture, how they carry themselves or what they face in the reality of their day is endlessly rewarding for me.
For me it is so true that one thing always leads to another. On my projects, the creative people and ideas often spark and inspire my own artistic “next.”
During our campaign for SNWA, I had one of those light bulb moments. I was so drawn to everything about our wrestler, Omar Garcia. He was such a pleasure to work with – par for the course on this shoot along with the fantastic R&R team.
During our morning with Omar, I found out that he is one of two brothers who grew up in Juarez, Mexico. And I learned that their father was also a wrestler – a luchador- in Juarez and they have followed the tradition. He and his brother now live and wrestle in LA and they have their own wrestling league – Lucha Libra Alliance. The portrait gears were turning.
Me: “So, you have other wrestler friends?
Me: “Can I come and photograph them?”
Omar: “Sure thing.”
A few months later, off I went.
I photographed the Luchadores on a rooftop in LA, Omar and his friends. They carried themselves with such confidence and with an obvious pride in the traditions of Lucha Libre. Some of the older wrestlers maintained their character – in mask – from the moment they parked their car, through the shoot until they’d driven away. As someone who grew up on the Lone Ranger, on the masked hero and secret identities, I loved every second of this.
As I witnessed the honor with which these men wore their costumes, as I captured each unique mask, and each character communicating with my camera through two small eyeholes, I felt privy to the history, the care and the camaraderie.
On one of my last projects in New Orleans I had a beer one night with location scout, Aaron Dunsay. While we talked, he told me that if I were to drive a half hour and then take a boat for another half hour, I would come across these fishing shacks you can only get to by boat.
It’s exactly the kind of thing – utterly distinctive – that I can’t resist. I was all in.
So I stayed an extra day in Louisiana and hired a waterman, from a long line of watermen, with a boat to take me out. I was so excited to have had this day and experience, to spend a little time capturing this somewhat surreal water world in person and with my camera. Not too many places are as unique as this one, places that make you wonder “am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?” I ran with that, and with the sense of magic of the bayou to create this image – are you seeing what you think you’re seeing?
Down in Mississippi...
I’ve always had a fondness for the Mississippi-Louisiana corridor, the Delta in particular, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads – rich in food, textures, characters and of course, the blues, this region lives in me. It was a place I traveled to during summers as a child with my family and am so fortunate to have made numerous return trips to the Delta to make photographs both personally and for work. The Mississippi Delta has produced more blues musicians than any other region, and it’s really not even close. On one visit to Clarksdale, MS, a local told me about the Riverside Hotel, which I visited and made a portrait of “Rat”, the owner at the time. The unique story of the Riverside and its historic place in the fabric of the Delta are tangible to me in the image.
The Riverside Hotel has been in operation since 1944. The hotel is one of many historical blues sites in Clarksdale and is famed for providing lodging for such blues artists as Sonny Boy Williamson II, Ike Turner and Robert Nighthawk. At some point in the mid-1940s, Ike Turner moved into the Hotel and wrote and rehearsed his song “Rocket 88.” Turner’s bedroom is said to have been in what is now room #7.
Before being born as the Riverside Hotel, the site was the G. T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital, Clarksdale’s hospital for African American patients. In September of 1937, famed singer Bessie Smith was taken there for treatment after being involved in a car accident, which later proved fatal, outside Clarksdale.
The original structure had eight rooms. In 1943, Mrs. Z.L. Ratliff rented the property from G.T. Thomas for use as a hotel. Ratliff drew up plans that expanded the building to include 21 guest rooms over two floors. Thomas assisted her in this renovation and it opened as a hotel in 1944. Ratliff purchased the building outright from Thomas’s widow in 1957 and it has remained in the hands of the Ratliff family ever since. For much of that time it was run by Frank “Rat” Ratliff.
The portrait of “Rat” itself was very simple. He gave me a tour of the hotel and I asked if I could make his portrait sitting on the edge of the bed in one of the rooms. He was game and we had nice window light. The camera was hand held with transparency film and after couple of quick snaps we were on our way. It was just a quick moment, nothing fancy but I enjoy the image, of a character of the Delta in his element. I was lucky to have had the experience and interaction with him.
“Rat” passed away in 2013, but the Riverside Hotel is still in business, currently run by his daughter Zelena Ratliff.
I first heard about 2 wolf-boys in Mexico 20+ years ago. It was a legend, a character that stuck with me and I couldn’t shake them. This past Thanksgiving I ran into Guadalupe Ortega Ramirez, a long time producer friend from Mexico City, and for some reason I asked her about what I had heard all those years ago. Guadalupe knew what I was talking about and, via an article in the UK that I came across, she found one of them, Jesus Fajardo Aceves, on Facebook of all places. We both friended and connected with him there and found out he was in a small traveling circus, Circus Golden Bross, and (as luck would have it) outside of Tulum for a few days. I love Tulum. And the draw to follow – and unpack the truth about – this character that had so captured my imagination was so strong that I packed a bag to find him, on 2 days notice.
Now that I had located him and was on my way to meet him, I began to look closely into his story and transform the tale into the man. The condition Aceves has is hypertrichosis, which is simply an abnormal amount of hair growth over the body. The other “wolf-boy” from the stories of my youth turned out to be his cousin. Hypertrichosis runs in families and Aceves’s two daughters have it as well. As is so often true of how people deal with the unknown, Aceves was bullied and gawked at. He sought a “normal” existence outside the circus and sideshow circuit and in 2005 the BBC did a documentary, It’s Not Easy Being a Wolf Boy” on his efforts to shave and look for employment. Aceves has since returned however to the familiar world of the circus.
On to Tulum. Guadalupe & I traveled, scouted and went to the circus. There I finally met the wolf boy – now a man. And Jesus Faiardo Aceves is one of the nicest guys I’ve met, both gentle and shy. He graciously sat for my photograph which ended up being a tight portrait to show the architecture of his face, his warm eyes and hint of a smile. I also wanted to show detail of the hair as it is, not as our imagination might create when we hear “wolf-boy.”
Youthful fascination. To photograph him was like my Scooby Doo mystery, like scratching an itch I’d had since I was a little boy. The legend of the Wolf-Boys had lived in my mind like those of the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot. But to make a human connection with the legend was to find character and humanity in the man beyond the stories told late at night by flashlight.
While photographing Aceves at the circus I ended up creating images of a captivating contortionist as well. Who can do that??! All in all, a very inspiring day at the the circus.
Photographing the photographer. Memphis. I got wind of a juke joint festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi and I hopped a flight in London, through Chicago and on to Memphis to photograph it. It turned out to be a hurry up and wait deal when I learned the festival started a day later than I had thought. Memphis, home of William Eggleston, with time to kill. Why not? A true original in the field for nearly 60 years, Eggleston turned his lens and his attention to the commonplace, finding stark beauty in the banal, and forever changing the aesthetic of the American photographic landscape through color. A true original regardless of medium, a forever creative inspiration to me to always follow your own path.
A call to his son and I got the go-ahead, some advice only a son could give, and no guarantees that I’d get a chance to make this picture. I walked into William Eggleston’s quiet apartment and found him down a hall, lying on his bed smoking a cigarette. After a couple hours of visiting time, where he blew me away with his razor sharp memories of his work down to the camera he used in 1973, we came back around to creating his photograph. He put on his suit and ascot, I asked him for 7 minutes outside and – despite his son’s prepping me for a “no” – I was able to convince him to come to the simple set I’d built in the park across the street. I kept my promise on the 7 minutes, I’d waited patiently to hurry up and make a picture of one of the great American photographers.
As we worked outside, I asked Eggleston who was the most difficult person he’d worked with. He replied, “you.”
This personal project is no small part nostalgia, married with a visual bonanza. The people who dress up and take so much time to prepare for Comic-Con have stories to tell. 2+ years in the making, I see it as performance art and it has it all – creativity, execution, passion, commitment, celebration, voyeurism, exhibitionism and sex. It has been an honor to capture how people bring their favorite characters and vivid imagery to life.
Blues Portrait Project
I’ve always had a fondness for the Mississippi-Louisiana corridor, the Delta in particular. As a child, I was fortunate to travel there during summers trips with my parents – we explored the area a number of times. And luckily for the adult in me, both work and personal trips have taken me back on multiple occasions. It’s a place rich in food, textures and characters from all walks of life – farmers, artists, writers and musicians. This region has captivated me, especially the blues – the Delta blues – where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads. The Mississippi Delta has produced more blues musicians than any other region (and it’s really not even close.) I had heard about the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi for a number of years and was interested in creating portraits there. Clarksdale is said to be the original birthplace of the blues and people come from all over the world to this music festival.
When I finally made it to Clarksdale it was a bit of a scavenger hunt, truly I had no idea who would be attending so I set up a photo booth and approached people who looked interesting to me. Musicians were playing sets all over town and often I had to wait until their set was complete before asking if they might be interested in getting their portrait taken. “Having” to wait was one of the greatest perks of a shoot I can imagine. I’m ill equipped to capture the blues in words, but I think this quote hits it for me “ The blues is a sound that’s about more than just catchy rhymes and rhythm. It is a language all its own. A confession, a plea, an outcry, a raw style of conversation born from cotton fields, poverty, hard lifestyles and hope.”
The images I ended up capturing conveyed both the struggle and the beauty of the blues, and the authentic roots of this iconic American musical genre that were evident in the heart of the Delta. I attempted to do really honest portraits and was interested in stripping everyone of their environment and playing off of the architecture of faces, their eyes especially as well as the textures of clothes. I was honored to capture the faces of the Clarksdale Juke Joint festival and I had such a good time as both a photographer and fan.
Humbled and honored to be included in Lürzer’s Archive 200 Best Advertising Photographers in the world.
Dia de los Muertos
I have been traveling to Mexico since I was a little boy, and I have a real affection for the people and the country; as someone that great up on the East Coast, their culture of family and celebration felt so vibrant and new for me; their landscape so untamed and full of color, texture and history.
My earliest memories of my time in Mexico are in San Miguel de Allende, which we started to visit when I was 7.
Fast forward a number of years, I’m in India on a project for National Geographic and I meet a woman on a train, the Punjab Mail to be exact. We get to talking and I learn she grew up in Mexico and I ask if she had ever been to San Miguel de Allende, she looks at me funny and says she’s been going there since she was 7.
Leap ahead a few more years, we’re married and now I go back often. At some point, I realize I want to photograph people at a Day of the Dead celebration in San Miguel de Allende and once I got my permit for the town square, I set up shop for a few nights to photograph people and costumes that I found most interesting. The same magic of the place I knew with the wonder of a 7 year-old still sparked as I captured the colorful ritual of Dia de los Muertos.
These portraits are all about the faces, which told the stories of the color, texture and history of Mexico, and I can’t take any credit for that. I just had to get myself in the middle of it. I had one battery-operated light, and we set up and searched for faces from hundreds of people walking by. My job – if you can call it that – was easy. It doesn’t get much better.
Many of my personal images happen as the result of a habit I have of seizing on an opportunity to capture a something or a someone that I’ve heard about or want to know more about. Case in point, I was in Harlem on a project with David Calderley of Graphic Therapy. We went late into the night, and decided to grab a beer. While chatting he asked if I’d like to see pictures of the town he grew up in, then on his phone he pulled up and showed me photos of Whitby, England. I wasn’t prepared for how absolutely amazing it was, and just like that I wanted to go.
So a great group of amazingly talented friends, whom I’ve met and worked with over the years, got together and we made the journey to Whitby with David, to create images in his hometown for a personal project. We played around for a couple days, acting the tourists as we went and had a wonderful time.
My inspiration going in to the Whitby project was one of Jane Eyre meets Appalachia and it evolved, as it always does, once we saw the lay of the land. Whitby is a seaside town in Yorkshire, northern England. On the East Cliff, overlooking the North Sea, the ruined Gothic Whitby Abbey was Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula. So in all honesty – the majority of the visual work was done simply by my showing up.
I hoped to keep everything as simple as possible and worked with only available light. The landscape itself is breathtakingly beautiful, the stuff of imagination, and I wanted to the images to be about the environment as much as anything else. I liked having the model as a human element to help provide a narrative as well as to give scale and context to the environments.
While I am proud of the images we created – timeless and slightly haunting, it is always the case that for me the journey is paramount, the adventure reward enough – and the images – no matter how great – are a bonus.
Life in the Bayou
I’ve always loved the bayou outside of New Orleans. On one of my last projects in Louisiana I stayed an extra day and hired an ol’ Cajun French guy with a boat to take me out to shoot and explore the bayou. I’ve been a big comic book guy since I was a little kid, so in collaboration with Souverein, I wanted to do a project inspired by POGO, a comic strip that started in the late 1940’s. I was also inspired by A Cajun Night Before Christmas, a children’s book.