Sunday, December 19, 2010

Digging Deeper into Digital

My last couple of studio shoots I got a bug up my butt all the sudden and didn't even touch the hasselblad. I got this cool little adapter ring so I can use some old German lenses on my fancy-pants digital hot rod, and turns out it's pretty fun that way. I'm doing all manual focusing and metering, since the old lens has no autofocus and the big-ass studio strobes laugh at my attempts to use in-camera metering. Then I load these RAW files into the wheezing old computer and try to get photoshop to make them look like something. That's been a huge learning curve too. Never thought I'd be slipping into the layers and curves and shit, but here I am, with photo-schmutz dripping from my fingers.

Here's the last set. But if you're offended by youthful beauty you'd better stay away. Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I'm a pornographer!

It is a sordid chapter.

Every summer, Portland's bicycle community puts on an extravaganza called Pedalpalooza, a celebration of everything bicycle, from pedal politics to polo to porn.

Yes, that's right. Bike Porn is an entire fetish genre created and promulgated by one man, our own Reverend Phil. Each year Rev calls out to the most degenerate elements of the community to create their own porno films with bicycle overtones, which he then weaves into a festival called Bike Porn, now in its fourth year. Bikes and bike parts having sex, people having sex with bikes, people having sex with people on their bikes, or any other coming together of images you can imagine.

So I shot Rev a note suggesting I make a bike porn slide show that would run before and between the other films. He ran this invitation for me on his web site:

Dude Ward, aka CityLife Photography and Studio 303, is deeply enamored of us and all of our pornographic body and bicycle parts. In that spirit, he wants to make a bike porn slide show to run before, between and after the films. To that end and in support of all porn efforts contained herein and forthwith and to the exclusion of all other contradictory erectile functions, we invite and propose the following.

If you have a body and a bike and want to flash your ass:

Step 1: Contact Dude Ward at

Step 2: Advise Dude Ward that you would like to be in the Bike Porn Slide Show.

Step 3: Arrange a date and time to meet at Dude Ward's photography studio.

Step 4: With all your body parts, bikes, dildos, chocolate syrup, barbed wire, and whatever else makes you feel whatever it is that you love to feel the most, show up at the studio and make some fucking art.

Things to know: The studio is completely safe and private. We will build our photographs together and your boundaries will be absolutely respected. Conversely, you are free to take your image wherever you want to go. Dude Ward's only boundary is that nobody goes beyond anyone's boundary. Lastly, anonymity is yours if you want it and yours to toss away if you don't.

Before long I had a list of a few guys and dolls who wanted to wag their bikes for the camera, and away we went! I pulled together four shoots, shot several hundred frames, and spent about twenty hours melting these down in photoshop and forging them into a six minute slide show, all of which was layered over a cover of the Beatles' Sexy Sadie and burned to DVD for the good reverend. (If you are 18 and of good moral character and want to see the show, send an email here and I'll take you there.)

After Rev saw the final product, though, he flipped out over it, decided that rather using it for a warm-up act he wanted it as the grand finale. I drove the DVD to his house at 2:00 pm on the day of the show. He grabbed the disk and ran into the house to get it uploaded to the digital tape master; he uses a tape system rather than disk because it is better able to recover from errors. So he flips the disk into his computer and it won't read the disk. Four shoots, 400 images, 20 hours of post-production, four hours till showtime, and it won't load. He used a word, I can't remember what it was, but it related to coitus in some way... Anyway, I got his call before I'd turned off his street, so I pull over and we scratch our heads. To make a long story short, he got it to run in his DVD player but had no way to get it from the DVD to his tape system, so we had to pray that the theater's DVD projector would read it. No time to burn another copy or to fiddle with settings, no time to make a practice run with the projectionist, who now had to change media halfway through the screening to get the DVD in the show.

The first show was at 7:30 and about ten people showed up. Phil grabbed the projectionist and started his rant about getting everything cued up and when the music would start and when to trip the DVD, and then he stopped talking. He pawed frantically at his pockets. His eyes rolled back in his head.

"Oh Lord, no. Please, no... Alright, look," he said, "the tape is at my house up in northeast. I'll be back in like ten minutes, Serious."

No way. It was a 20 minute drive and he was on a bicycle. Ten minutes out, the cell phone rings. Phil. "Look, the tape's not here. You see my pack there anywhere?" Little leather pack with a red triangle on the flap sitting on the table at the popcorn machine. The tape and DVD were in the pack. I gave the tape to Seth, the projectionist. He went to set it up. 7:30, show time, Phil falls through the front door and pants his rabid stream of thoughts to Seth, Cue the tape, I'll talk for a minute, run it and stop at 55 minutes, I'll run the DVD. He grabs beer and heads for the stage. The show is on.

We set the tape to playing and everything went fine and at 55 minutes darkness fell in the theater and the room went silent. Seconds ticked by. Nothing. Where's Phil? Drunk bastard, no idea. I wandered out of the theater to the street. The ten confused souls in the audience started to filter out. Seth? He thought Phil was going to hit . Phil came crashing out of the bathroom and saw house lights, grinned and hugged me. "How'd they like your show?"

Ok, no time to cry about it. It's 8:45 and this time there is a line outside for the 9:00 show. I mean a serious line. This is an annual event and there are three bars within 50 feet of the theater, and the people are already in the mood. The theater fills to the aisles, hundreds of souls. And this time, somehow, Phil and Seth seem to be back in the land of the marginally functional. There was a semi-nude bicycle carnival act, sort of a BMX acrobat strip-tease duo and then the films start. Bike chain sperm fertilizes a bike sprocket egg, naked bike riding lesbians wrestle under the St Johns Bridge, a dude who is crippled by sexual performance anxiety keeps breaking out of his girlfriend's embrace to talk about his bicycle. All as good as no-budget indie niche camp can be.

55 minute mark. The theater goes dark and quiet. Seconds tick by. My poor frayed nerves. And then...

Yes! It flickers on the root menu and the invisible hand hits play. Images flash and dissolve, and the music pounds them home. At first, the audience is quiet, but soon images are greeted with whoops and hollers, whistles, and by the end it is bedlam.

I can't say that the show was a work of art or that the audience was who I would have imagined for myself, but there were a lot of things about the experience that really left me feeling happy with it all. First, it was really fun seeing the thing projected on a big-ass movie screen with music crashing across the room. There were a handful of shots that I really do like and it was wild seeing them at that scale. Second, it was really fun getting such an immediate, visceral rush of responses from a big crowd of people like that. When does a photographer get to feel like a rock and roll singer? (I even had a drunk girl try to lick my tonsils!) I guess the challenge of the project was to read my audience and make something for them that I would be willing to sign my name to. It won't hang in MOMA, but my audience wouldn't go to MOMA either. And I got to know some really spectacular folks!

And it makes a good story. I won't show the DVD to my mom, but I did tell her the story. She laughed like a songbird.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Somehow, There I Was...

I recently had the chance to shoot two very well established artists and models in my little studio. Mariah Carle has been an art model for many years and for several years has been making her own wonderful photographs as well. She lives here. V Nixie has been traveling the country for a few years, supporting herself with modeling for commercial and artistic endeavors.

Studio shooting is so weird. On the street, I am a wanderer in the world as it is, among the people as they are, waiting for the moment and then flicking the shutter. It is passive, in that I do not try to rearrange the elements, but the process of observing and maneuvering is very active.

In the studio, the first question is always, "So what would you like me to do?"

Both of these shoots presented emotional challenges for me. Each of these models has stood before countless photographers and presented whatever face was required for the shoot, but my quest has always been for authentic connection, for a photograph that feels like a moment alone with its subject. I honestly don't think I have the skills to shoot models the way they are shot by those other photographers. If I am going to come up with anything remotely meaningful, it will have to be coming out of my odd skill set, which has nothing to do with reflectors and strobes and soft boxes but everything to do with engagement and honesty. I like models because they are physically uninhibited, but the challenge of establishing a feeling of emotional openness and authenticity is real.

I wonder, when an experienced model turns on her "engaged" persona will I have close engagement, or just a photo of what close engagement would look like if it was there? 

I was very touched by my friend Ken Mierzwa, also a close friend of Mariah's, who wrote of my set, "The thing that amazes me.... she's been photographed by about a zillion photographers....  And yet you found a way of photographing her that's just a little bit different than anything else I've seen."

Well, here's what I got.

Mariah Carle

V Nixie

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

And the winner of the Perseverance Award is....

In September 2009, more than eight months ago, long enough to gestate almost a whole baby for crying out loud, Aerica sent me a note about doing a session together. We met in a coffee shop sometime in the fall and I liked her immediately. She is a melange of quirks, shy and charming, creative and self-effacing, quick to smile but her laugh is very quiet. I was ready to run straight to the studio, but it was not to go that easy path. Eight months passed, while boyfriends came and went, while hair was trimmed and grew back out, while winter clouded over and broke back into spring, while camera lenses fell from my fragile fingers and splayed out on the floor. Finally, we found the right day. She lugged a box of clothes that almost dislocated her shoulders and I spread out Cotswald cheese, fresh strawberries, croissants and mango juice. This is Aerica. The set can be viewed here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I meet the nicest people!

I was out for my usual camera stroll and met Allison, a poet, who was kind enough to sit and visit for a while. As I observed to her in a subsequent email, it is amazing how a stranger can suddenly feel like a friend. Though she confided that she "doesn't photograph well," she indulged me that day. Hopefully her displeasure with the resulting image will compel her to let me try again. And again. This is her gift:

Playing Dead

They had decided—only three. So if the second
hadn't refused, hadn't come undone and bled
its way out of my mother, I wouldn't be alive.
I suppose I should be thankful.
My brother was the third, the charmed one,
born with a slip of beauty as if in compensation
for having followed through. Since I was the last,
I got the hand-me-downs—a few good bones,
the lanky shadow—the makings
of a shabby reproduction. His eyes were dark,
kohl-black; mine were ash-gray, evidence
of something scorched, burnt down—but what
my brother had been given didn't matter:
it seemed he couldn't get enough
of death—after all, he'd followed just behind it,
he knew its raw, wet scent, how cold it was,
how perfect. As children we took baths together;
sitting in the lukewarm water, he'd lean his head
against the tub's cool porcelain, slide down
until the water rinsed his ears, his bottom lip
between his teeth, eyes closed. I pressed my hand
against his chest, held still and waited for the heart
to pause, the churn of blood to turn to silence.
He was playing dead. He called it practicing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Studio 303 is BORN!

Studio 303, the creation of seven mad photographers of Portland, is a collective studio space in the old Town Storage warehouse just off the Burnside Bridge in east Portland. The space is just lovely, with huge southern windows and old wood floors. Images to follow very soon!

Thanks to Dan Davis for the image. There is more about the building at his blog,

Friday, April 2, 2010

Big Day

The book is officially released today! Have a look and see what you see. If you like, all proceeds go to support autism research. The details are here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sidewalk Management Plan? No Thanks.

The mayor's office here in Portland is hell-bent of cleaning the panhandlers off the sidewalks of the city. Last year their "sit-lie" law, which made it illegal to sit or lay down on the sidewalk, was tossed out of court as unconstitutional. This year, under the guise of making the sidewalks usable for the disabled, the mayor has introduced his new Sidewalk Management Plan, which proposes a "sidewalk usage framework based on the Americans With Disabilities Act". I submitted the following letter to the mayor's team:

I use a wheelchair almost every day in downtown Portland. Though I have to steer around many obstacles in the course of my day (people, cafe tables, MANY roots and holes, etc) I am not troubled by that. It is part of living in a vibrant city.

I think this initiative is a way to push back the homeless under the guise of concern for the wheelchair users, and to that I say no thank you. My path is obstructed FAR more often by your "permitted" cafe tables (which spill out almost to the curb sometimes and are combined with padlocked bicycles and sandwich board advertisements to make an impassable mess) than by any homeless folks or panhandlers.

If you allow cafes to block my path if they get a permit, will you also allow a permit for a homeless person to sit in the shade and hold a sign. If it's raining, would he need a permit to huddle against the wall to keep his sleeping bag dry? Would that permit be administratively and financially accessible to a person with that functional and financial capacity?

I do not want my city to be a tourist/shopper monoculture. I do not want you behaving in unjust ways in my name. If a homeless man is in my way, I am fine asking him to move. I don't need your new initiative to shove him into the river for me.

I have recently been working on a series of photographs based on a conversation I had with a panhandler during which he described the experience. "The worst part is that nobody looks you in the eye. Even when they give you something they won't look at you. It's like I'm a hole in the sidewalk." This is a sample shot but the whole series can be seen here.

In the spirit of support for my brothers and sisters on the street, I am offering for sale the series of photographs for $300. I will also sell individual prints for $50. All proceeds will be donated to the Sisters of the Road to support their advocacy on behalf of the homeless.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

F-11 Group

Several months ago I was invited to join a small private organization of photographers called f-eleven. As part of that group I was lucky enough to be included in their most recent publication, a book of images by 20 or so of the group members. To my amazement, my image of the Butoh dancers was selected to be on the cover! I cannot thank Wolf and the other members of F-11 enough for their warm embrace, and I invite all my friends to check out this beautiful book. (I say that with all humility. I am just a very small part of it. I am in awe of these towering talents.)

The official release is April 2.

We have decided to dedicate the proceeds to autism research.
You can find details about the release here

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Butoh Dancers

Last summer I was up doing my camera stroll at the Alberta Street art walk and as evening faded to dusk I started following the crew of Butoh dancers as they twirled and froze, wending their way through the crowd of happy miscreants and chubby art shoppers. I was stalking a shot like a poacher, but the light was fading fast. Finally after about a half an hour I made one image. That image has taken on a life. It was accepted to be in the juried show at the New Space Gallery during the month of February of this year, at which point the image demanded that I have her printed on decent paper and framed by someone with a decent level of skill. I took her to Blue Moon in North Portland and they printed her on some of my old stock of Agfa MCC 118 fibre paper. It is a lovely, soft paper, about the tone of old ivory. After she hung in the gallery for the month, I was able to locate the dancers, members of the Headwaters group, and contacted their director, Mizu Desierto, and donated the framed print to the dance troupe. We hope to collaborate in a future project involving dance and photography; I would like for the image to have some sisters.

March 27, 2010. Moment Zero.

greetings. I am picking this up in mid-stream. I am already a photographer, I have already passed by most of my thoughts like curiosities along a stretch of forgotten highway. Perhaps new thoughts will come to me. If they do, I will put them in a box and deposit them here, for whatever reason. It seems that is what we do nowadays. As I acrue new photographs I will drop them here as well.

Please contribute.