My colleague Matt Mills McKnight and I collaborated on a series of portraits of attendees at a Dia de Los Muertos event hosted by El Centro De La Raza in Seattle. We loaded in and taped up a black roll of paper in a nook of the jam-packed hallway and set up a few lights to enhance the spooky vibe. Matt found many great people to stop by the makeshift studio in the short time we had there. I focused on the beautiful makeup and I am grateful to everyone for welcoming us in.
It was a solemn but deeply moving experience to photograph this assignment for GX Magazine, the official publication of the National Guard, last month. Washington state National Guard Private First Class Jeffrey Freshour served for 10 days in the Oso area after a devastating and deadly mudslide destroyed a neighborhood in the foothills of the North Cascades region on March 22, 2014. A staggering 43 people were killed in the slide and recovery efforts lasted for weeks. The hardest part of serving there, Freshour said, was when his unit had to leave.
The London Daily Telegraph commissioned me to photograph Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at one of the company’s offices down in the burgeoning technology hub of South Lake Union. Talk about a dream shoot! Originally I was only going to have 30 minutes to set up but after a flurry of emails I was very fortunate to be able to get everything dialed in well in advance of the shoot with my assistant, Dan Bassett. I really had no idea what to expect, but once Jeff walked in, he was great to work with, totally affable and easy to direct. I ended up having about as much time as originally granted, which when it comes to a CEO shoot, rarely happens. We moved between four setups in the 14-minute shoot and, when it was all over, Jeff shook my hand and thanked me. “You’re a master of efficiency,” he said.
Had a blast setting up a mini-studio inside the crowded and buzzing atmosphere of the Seattle Tattoo Expo for one of my oldest clients, The Seattle P-I. Photographer Joshua Trujillo gave me complete freedom on the direction of the work and I decided to go for a high-key, intimate vibe with the portraits.
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.
Last month I had a great shoot with a Seattle painter by the name of Adream for a Q & A story in Northwest Leaf. Adream de Valdivia has been painting since he was a little kid and draws inspiration from his heritage, mathematical patterns and religious symbols. He has been commissioned to create large-scale murals through the Vulcan Foundation and is becoming well-known for his intricate, psychedelic artwork. Adream was very generous with his time, and as the Capitol Hill Block Party blared into his 3rd-floor studio just a block away, we talked about our paths to creativity and traded stories about the challenges of making it as a freelance artist around here. Check out more of his beautiful artwork at Adream Studios and on Instagram @Adream3000
Oregon legalized the use and possession of recreational marijuana officially on July 1st and I was running around Portland most of that week on assignment for Oregon Leaf. After seeing a tweet mentioning I would be in town, Eugene Reznik at American Photo Magazine reached out about me taking over their @AmericanPhotoMag account while documenting this historic news. They have shared the work of a lot of very talented people (seriously go follow them) so it was a nice way to start my day. I said I was in, he offered a few suggestions and then just set me loose. No pressure. I shared a handful of photos from a couple of the different recreational pot events in Portland where locals got some of their first opportunities to try, buy and smoke marijuana legally. Hopefully we gained a couple of followers? Big thanks to Eugene for the chance to get these images out to a wider audience and to write a bit about covering marijuana right now in the Northwest amid these changing times.
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.
Madrona Venture Group’s Matt McIlwain for OZY | Seattle editorial photographer | Bellevue photographer
Downtown skyscraper shoots are the best.
Matt McIlwain is a managing director at Madrona Venture Group, the leading venture firm in Seattle with over $1 billion in assets —many of the data-hungry tech variety. Their 34th-floor office overlooks the bustling waterfront and a downtown cityscape in flux. Photos by Daniel Berman for Ozy.
The story and photos were also picked up by USAToday.com!