Got approached to do a cool shoot for my longtime client, Cityvision, last month, focusing on the innovative efforts of Everett to combat the issue of homelessness.
By opening new shelters and affordable housing, and stopping the revolving doors of the criminal justice system, Everett is finally doing something productive on the matter.
The magazine’s art director had coordinated access to do the shoot on top of the Wall Street Building in downtown Everett. In my naivety I thought, ok, we’ll get to the highest floor, pop out a roof hatch, and be shooting in no time.
photo by matt mills mcknight
But when we got to the 10th floor, the PR person let us know we went on foot from there. We emerged on a sub level of the roof, surrounded by a 6-foot-tall parapet. I couldn’t understand why we would do the shoot there — you couldn’t see anything. Then he pointed to the ladder. Did I mention I hate heights?
My assistant, Matt Mills McKnight, and I worked out a plan to get the lighting gear up to the actual roof. We packed two heads into the beauty dish case, which I put onto my back. Matt carried my camera bag. Then we held on for dear life. The most impressive part though is that all three of our subjects were game to participate and climb too. What troupers! If nothing else, this job makes for some very interesting bar stories. Many thanks to City of Everett Lead Prosecutor Hil Kaman, Deputy City Attorney David Hall, and Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson.
I worked on a fun piece for KUOW 94.9 about an all-girls jazz ensemble hoping to compete in the prestigious Essentially Ellington competition in New York. They asked me to write a little bit about the experience:
This was my second time working with reporter Marcie Sillman. We arrived about 30 minutes before the girls were set to begin their regular weekly night practice at Washington Middle School.
In the moonlit parking lot, I loaded a cadre of stands and lights onto a dolly cart and rolled toward the school, the sweet scent of the Franz Bread Factory next door cascading by. We passed the gymnasium and basketball scrimmage and headed into the band room, where I met briefly with the group’s director, Kelly Barr-Clingan. I took her suggestion to set up in the back practice spaces where I could be out of the way while they did their thing.
KUOW Digital Director Jenna Montgomery was inspired by the idea of Kelly at the center of a Brady Bunch-style portrait, and I went to work setting up a mini portrait studio complete with electric blue backdrop. Marcie wandered off to interview Kelly and record the practice.
It was warm in there and I could hear the performers tuning their instruments as I took practice shots on myself to quickly test the settings. I made some final adjustments to the lights and went to the boy’s locker room to wipe my face.
The girls walked over in small groups, and sat down one by one. I told them they could do whatever they wanted to start. Then I asked them to play their instrument a bit, or to sing me something they knew.
With only about an hour to photograph each of the girls in the group, time was limited. I wanted to see their personalities. I wanted to see the passion.
You have to build trust pretty quickly. I do that by keeping things light and fun, being friendly, and acknowledging the sometimes awkwardness of the process. You do this for long enough and you know what fears to assuage.
As I sat on a piano bench across from them and clicked away for a minute or two, I was impressed to hear these amazing acoustic and acapella performances. It was a moving and beautiful experience and I wish all of these talented musicians best of luck in this competition and the years ahead.
One of my last and favorite shoots of 2015 was to photograph Korea’s first female astronaut, Soyeon Yi, for Cosmopolitan.com. Yi made headlines in 2008 as she conducted research for 10 days at the International Space Station. Today she volunteers at The Museum of Flight here in Seattle. Big thanks to Soyeon for her time, my assistant Kyu Han for wheeling lights around, and The Museum of Flight for their gracious accommodation!
One of my final assignments of 2015 was to photograph BioViva CEO Liz Parrish for OZY.com, which just published a five-part story on the biggest ideas of the future coming out of Silicon Valley. Parrish, 44, who heads a Seattle-based gene therapy research company, recently traveled to the country of Colombia to receive experimental stem cell transplants designed to reverse signs of aging — it was a controversial operation rebuked by some as unethical human experimentation. A colleague gave her only days to live several months ago, she said. Parrish said she believes that the issue of aging is too important for science to ignore.
I have only photographed a few people more than once for a portrait so the chance to point my camera toward the CEO of Amazon again for a few minutes made for a pretty surreal morning earlier this month. Jeff Bezos convincingly pretended to remember me as we worked through a few setups and I asked him if Donald Trump ever replied to his tweet offering a rocket ship ride (he hasn’t) and he let out of one of his trademark chuckles. He takes direction well and laughed at my dumb jokes. Perfect subject. Before I knew it, an assistant was calling time and he thanked me and walked out. One of those mornings that are way too early and over way too quickly. Photographed for Welt am Sonntag, a German newspaper http://welt.de Big thanks to my assistant @jovellephoto too for her help. This is one of my last tear sheets of the year and it was an awesome time.
I had an awesome two-day assignment from The Verge last month to photograph Microsoft Game Studio’s Kudo Tsunoda and Shannon Loftis for a story about the XBOX One and new directions for Microsoft. Editor Michael Zelenko asked me to also capture the feeling of working at Microsoft’s Studio C, located on the company’s sprawling Redmond, WA campus. On both days the weather was pretty bad, as it tends to be in November around these parts, but I actually thought it signaled a kind of classic Washington vibe in the exterior shots. The story is a great read so make sure to check it out. Happy Holidays!
The electronic music duo Odesza is embarking on their second world tour after playing one of their first shows in a small college town just three years ago — their meteoric rise is profiled in a cool cover story from Seattle Weekly that I got to shoot a few months ago but is out this week. Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills graduated from Western Washington University around the same time that I did, so we had a lot to chat about and it was a fun shoot to do in downtown Seattle. These guys were super nice and very generous with their time, and the photos turned out great. Give their music a listen — jam out — and enjoy the rest of your week!
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!
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.