Opposing sides of the urban density debate | Roger Valdez and John Fox for Seattle Weekly | Seattle editorial photographer
Seattle is debating how to approach the issues of urban density and housing development and, reasonably, everyone has something to say. I was tasked with photographing two advocates on opposing sides for the Nov. 10 Seattle Weekly cover story. A interesting and thorough article by Casey Jaywork explains the topic much better than I can. And check out the cool illustrations by Art Director Jose Trujillo for the piece! Big thanks to Roger Valdez and John Fox for being generous with their time!
Back in May I had a cover shoot from Seattle Weekly to photograph Gravity Pay CEO Dan Price at the payment processing company’s headquarters in Ballard. The story was held until now to be included in the Best Of Issue. When I photographed him, Price’s decision to offer a starting salary of $70,000 per year to all of his employees was met by an immediate deluge of international attention. He cut his own multimillion-dollar pay to be able to finance the move. Of course not everyone was happy with the announcement, but the business is seeing an increase in sales and Price says he stands by the principles of making such a transition: for all his employees to have an actual livable wage in the Northwest. Price was humble, present, and generous with his time, and had no problem posing for a few shots with the coffee cup prop we brought in. I gave it to him after the shoot! Assisting by Ian Bates.
Seattle Weekly’s art director Jose Trujillo commissioned me for an awesome piece in the paper’s Best Of Issue that would send up the idea of The Wimps, which won Best Punk Band, as this exclusive, uptight group barely making room in their day for the story. As luck would have it, Matt, Rachel and Dave are actually nice people and were game for the idea: Jose wanted to have the band enjoying a spa day somewhere kind of dirty — could it be in an alleyway? I scouted a few hours looking for the right sketchy/usable spot. I checked out parking lots and back streets in Capitol Hill, SoDo, Georgetown, Pioneer Square, the ID and Ballard. With hours to the call time I managed to spot a perfectly questionable, graffiti-covered sidewalk with an absurd amount of garbage strewn about. I did a slow roll. There were boxes of beer upturned, bottles everywhere, and someone had gotten ahold of some chalk. I liked the spot immediately and wondered who would litter like that, then parked the car and waited for the team to assemble. Under some nice intense sunlight and with the help of Seattle stylist Tristan Weholt who sourced and staged everything else (and made a plate of guitar-shaped tea sandwiches and refreshing fruit-infused water to boot), plus the help of good friend Matt McKnight assisting, we got to work transforming this SoDo backlot into our makeshift alley spa.
Back in March I got a surprising phone call. It was about 6 in the evening on a Monday and a producer at North6 was searching for a photographer to shoot for a Google project. Where? A remote Alaskan town. When? That weekend. I half expected a radio DJ to burst out laughing on the other end. But the assignment was to photograph an aerial tour guide in Talkeetna, a few hours north of Anchorage, as part of Google’s state-by-state Economic Impact Report highlighting how small businesses use Google services. I hoped for a chance to fly around Denali, but alas, that shoot became impossible due to scheduling. But I stayed in touch with the client and fortunately there were opportunities to take on assignments for the project in far more familiar places.
I photographed Portland Meat Collective Founder Camas Davis in Oregon, then Sip & Ship Owner Diana Naramore in Seattle, and flew to Boise, Idaho, to photograph Tsheets.com Founder Matt Rissell on a quick there-and-back trip April 1st.
Backed into the southwest corner of a large, unassuming dry dock in Port Townsend, Washington is a vessel with plenty of history. Maybe you’ve heard of John Steinbeck’s book The Sea of Cortez? This is the boat that took him and his team on their epic, problem-laden-but-ultimately-successful tour of the Gulf of California, then in its prime 75 years ago.
Today, the boat has new ownership under John Gregg, a geologist who spent $1 mil to call it his, and will likely have to spend a similar amount to fully restore it. Still, he’s dedicated to getting the boat ship-shape. Other people have tried before yet failed to do so, starting and stopping the restoration process for one reason or another – often financial, sometimes personal. There’s much more to this story, well-told in a fascinating piece by Patrick Hutchison.
The owner was unavailable for a portrait, but his manager for the project is Mike York, a longtime Seattleite who spends most of the week working slowly but surely to coordinate getting this boat back to order. I got the call last Friday from Seattle Weekly to head up to meet Mike the next day. Port Townsend is a ferry ride and an hour and a half of driving, but I’m not complaining. It was nice to check out of town for the morning and cruise through the countryside. Eventually I arrived at the dry dock. I knew what the boat looked like from Google but it wasn’t jumping out at me. I asked around. Did anyone know the John Steinbeck boat? A few workers threw back sympathetic but unhelpful stares. I had one more area to check out and there it was, nestled between cargo containers, a forklift and a set of hand built wooden stairs reaching to deck height.
This, was the Western Flyer.
Afterward, Mike asked if I wanted to climb aboard for a peek inside. That just required scaling the stairs and then a narrow ladder. With my c-stand and studio light. Oh well. Every day is arm day when you’re a lighting photographer I guess. It was worth it anyway to see what is best described as a Titanic-esque scene. Just wall-to-wall barnacles capped off by grime and rust-covered artifacts from previous owners and occupants.
Space was at a premium. I hunched into the corner with my wide angle to try and show what sinking and years of decay will do to a place. The wall left a fine coat of white dust down my back. Cest la vie. Normally I am assigned to photograph people or preparing meticulous staged product photography, and I enjoy this work, yet getting the chance to document something in disrepair, so completely varnished, just lost in a time capsule, made for one of the most fascinating shoots yet of 2015.
I had a great assignment from Seattle Weekly earlier this month to photograph Cary Moon, an activist and urban designer who opposes continued development of the Bertha tunnel project. For those not living in Seattle, the waterfront highway a.k.a the Highway 99 Viaduct, is being torn down and replaced with a tunnel. The project has been plagued with problems and delays, some technical, some bureaucratic — all expensive. Check out the story for a much more thorough peek into why this divisive issue matters so much. We battled the wind on top of Pier 86 in downtown for a view of the skyline and then moved to under the viaduct for another view of the city.
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It’s not every day that you get to see and hear a piece of history. Make that pieces. I got an assignment last week from KUOW to photograph Charles Corey, the 30-year-old caretaker of the Harry Partch instruments collection at the University of Washington School of Music. In a fun story by Marcie Sillman you can actually hear the renowned, intricate instruments. Partch created the instruments between the 1940s and 1970s, and they are based on the Just Intonation scale, not anything like what we are used to hearing from traditional instruments. You can find some really intense theatrical productions of Partch’s arrangements on Youtube too that help put his life’s work in context. He wasn’t just a composer and musician, he was also a playwright and auteur.
My first assignment for Seattle Weekly was this cover shoot for a sensitive story about Alison Holcomb and Gregg Holcomb’s unique histories. Alison was the writer and public face of Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 here in Washington. Her husband Gregg is the owner of the Capitol Hill bar Witness. Her story as a drug law reformer and activist for criminal sentencing reform intertwine with her husband’s tragic reality. His father was murdered. He is alone among his siblings in calling for rehabilitation for the murderer, and not a life sentence. There is so much more to this powerful story by Nina Shapiro, please give it a read.
I had a great opportunity earlier this Fall to shoot a story on Seattle’s coffee and chocolate culture for a Dutch travel/coffee/chocolate magazine called Koffietcacao. Over two long days, I had a blast exploring some of the city’s favorite shops, while also gathering images that spoke to the lifestyle in our city and captured a few scenic sights along the way. My mind raced after each day, it was impossible not to sample coffee at nearly every place I went. Have you ever had six cups of coffee in a day? I did it for….journalism. All in all, the publication ran my photos across six pages and even gave me a doubletruck opener! What more can a photographer ask for than a great assignment and great play?
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You know those color wheels, the ones with samples of every conceivable hue from Pantone? I got the chance last month to photograph Pantone Executive Director Leatrice Eiseman. She’s a color expert. American Way Magazine is the in-flight publication from American Airlines and they interviewed Lee for their monthly In-Brief column. My assistant and I hopped on a ferry over to Bainbridge Island to meet Lee at her beautiful home nestled in the woods. Her walls are covered with art and past interviews in prestigious magazines and books. We set up a white seamless and lights in her upstairs office, trying to not disturb the two designers working a few feet away at their iMacs. For the published shot, I asked her to hold a copy of Pantone’s new book about the role of color in fashion over the years. It’s not every day that I get to photograph people whose work has such an influence in my own personal field!
Thanks for looking,