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.
I began with portraits of Mike down by the stern, the rudder helping give scale. He was immediately enthusiastic, and pretended not to mind when I asked him to have a rusty seat.
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.
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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This spring has kept me hopping and shooting a lot of new editorial and commercial assignments. I can’t share them all yet, but one came in late last month (for the first time ever via LinkedIn) to photograph Bill Gates being interviewed for a large Italian newspaper called La Stampa. The paper is launching a new series about global issues and the wide-ranging interview covered a lot of ground. I was allowed to shoot the first and last five minutes of the interview, for which La Stampa Editor-in-Chief Mario Calabresi flew in from Turin. It was a little surreal to be inside Bill’s office at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and hear him speaking about everything from who his heroes are to what lies ahead for the newspaper industry. I did my best to be low-key and inconspicuous as I moved around and tried out different angles. Bill never acknowledged me, but I suspect he is very used to this kind of thing. At one point I was trying to line up a shot from his profile side and almost sat down in his chair — I caught myself and thought better of it. It was one of those crazy days planned for a week and all over in a matter of minutes, I am just happy to see it ran in print today.
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In April, I did a shoot about the turnaround at Brooks Running company for Footwear News, a Condé Nast trade publication dealing with the footwear industry. The story is about how after 100 years in business, Brooks CEO Jim Weber has managed to overhaul the company from the brink of bankruptcy into a company that sold a half billion dollars in products last year. It was no easy feat. It required dumping entire product lines, launching new ones, and hiring executives from visionary brands to come work in new divisions at Brooks. Over what became a very long day, I photographed Brooks CEO Jim Weber, as well as Shane Downey, head of the new heritage line, Pete Humphrey and Eric Rohr in the Brooks Running testing lab in the Eastlake neighborhood, and several other employees for a lookback quote section about their experiences and memories at Brooks. The magazine cover story published last month and I am excited to share the tear sheets! It’s always a sweet assignment when I get the chance to photograph and meet people who do interesting work in interesting places.
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I had a fun assignment a few months ago that was recently published. I traveled a few hours south to the Peninsula area town of Shelton, Washington to photograph Mayor Gary Cronce. I wanted to capture his connection to the town, where he also runs a jewelry business, and so my assistant and I roamed with minimal equipment and just walked around. I loved the bright colors of some walls along a back alley and was struck by the visual starkness of some of the area’s scenic landmarks, like the train parked on Main Street.
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A week ago, a deadly mudslide ripped through a small-town of Oso, Washington, resulting in the tragic deaths of at least 21 people. Officials believe 30 residents are still missing, down from a high of 120 people just a few days ago. Life in this part of Washington state has come to a screeching halt. The after effects of the mudslide — flooding of the Stillaguamish River, dozens of homes destroyed, access to surrounding cities cut off — continues to affect daily life. I had to see what it was like on the ground in Darrington, one of the areas closest to the mudslide. Many people in Darrington live and work around where the slide occurred, and if they didn’t have homes there, they know people who do – or in some cases, did. I was impressed by the way the communities have supported one another. I will be returning soon to keep working and exploring and seeing what I can do to tell the stories of the people here.
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For the March issue of Northwest Leaf I got the opportunity to photograph Martin Nickerson, the owner of Northern Cross Collective, Bellingham, Washington’s longest-running medical marijuana dispensary — open since 2011. I’ve photographed him a bunch over the years for various stories. This time around, it’s because the Washington state Department of Revenue contends that Nickerson owes more than $50,000 in unpaid taxes related to the sale of marijuana. “This is medicine, you can’t tax medicine,” Nickerson told Northwest Leaf in February, during a tour of one of several marijuana grows under his control.
Before working on the inside grow room portraits, I was drawn to the stormy weather and open fields surrounding Martin’s property. The wind was whipping and cold, but the light and color of the sky was so striking. I quickly threw a light on a stand and convinced Wes, the editor, to hold on.
“I know accounting may sound boring,” Harkley said, “But a business can’t operate and serve patients unless it’s making money to pay the operating bills… I realized that I could use my accounting skills to help these businesses succeed. If they succeed here in Washington, then it’s a model for the rest of the country and it’s also another “chink in the armor” of the drug war. I think that’s what has got me really excited, because I can do what I love and at the same time I can actually help some really interesting entrepreneurs. You can’t serve patients or recreational customers efficiently unless you’re following all the guidelines, so give me all your boring stuff and I’ll do it so you can focus on more important things.”