I got a call last Saturday from the The Sun, a British newspaper, to photograph portraits of Mykayla Comstock and her family out in Pendleton, OR. The client needed the pictures shot Sunday and turned around on a very short deadline by Sunday night, and I had to make the five-hour drive to get there. So I packed up my Escape with my backdrops and portable studio lighting and hit the road. Although I live in Seattle, the paper thought I would be a good choice given my experience in photographing marijuana related stories and subjects.
I was grateful to be able to tell the story of such an inspiring little girl. Twice a day, Mykayla, 8, receives homemade capsules containing a Cannabis oil extract prepared by her mother, Erin Purchase, 25, and her partner, Brandon Krenzler. As a result, the blood cell counts devastated by acute t-cell lymphoblastic leukemia have returned to normal levels — and Mykayla is happily growing stronger and healthier every day. And she isn’t languishing in a hospital. After a year of the Cannabis treatments, Mykayla’s cancer has not returned, and she will be considered in remission in another year. The family received tremendous national scrutiny after their story was first written about in The Oregonian. The debate over whether parents should give their children Cannabis remains fiery, but for this family, nothing else has worked as well. (more…)
Just after midnight, Washington legalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use for those over 21 under Initiative 502, which took effect Thursday, Dec. 6. 2012. A public celebration hailed as Legalization Day in Washington State attracted about a hundred people to toke up at Seattle Center’s International Fountain Thursday evening, after a similar event at 12:01 a.m. near the Space Needle. Public smoking is still against the law, and marijuana remains counter to federal law. Colorado passed a similar measure.
All photos available for licensing at http://seattlephotographer.photoshelter.com/gallery/Washington-legalizes-marijuana-photos/G0000..eNFpzfHOc/C0000fzMTw_NAP.c
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I know it is a few days into 2012 but I wanted to share some of my favorite portraits from the past 12 months. Portraiture is something I really enjoy because it can be such an intimate experience — or, in contrast, something very fleeting. It’s a total dance photographers do with their subjects. We are trying to elucidate a story visually, and make a connection with people. We want that glimpse at soul. Sometimes it is a delicate thing to do — but I love it.
It’s always a thrill to set up my lights (or recognize great natural light and rock that instead!). You’re trying to turn an unknown environment into something storytelling.
I have been fortunate enough this year to work with some fantastic new clients, such as DataSphere, the New York Post, Cityvision Magazine, Financial Advisor Magazine, The U.S. Department of Energy and Northwest Leaf and Seattleite. My assignments represent a huge gamut of subject matter, but I love thinking on my feet and bringing my own photography style to whatever I shoot — that’s part of the wonderful challenge of working with clients.
And to that end, I wanted to share a little bit of the back story behind my favorite portraits this year:
DataSphere, a Bellevue-based internet advertising firm, hired me to make portraits for their website. The client wanted to showcase their fun, unique corporate culture, for recruiting and marketing purposes. Along with my faithful assistant Mark Malijan, I photographed more than a dozen setups in a day all across their expansive three-floor office. It was a rush but a lot of fun to take my style and apply it to the client’s needs. I don’t think I will ever get the chance to set up an employee shot like the guys at the arcade one again. It was such a blast and definitely stands out as a very memorable assignment, this year and in my career as well.
One of my most high-profile shoots of the year came completely out of nowhere: photographing Gennette Cordova for the cover of the New York Post, back in June.
The cover image – I guess I am okay with all the text all over it :)
My friend Stephen Brashear referred the job to me and over the course of a week, I managed to make contact with Gennette and make her picture. This was my first shoot for the Post and I was totally blown away to see it on the cover. I got an email from the picture editor at midnight the day it was to come out. “Berman cover” was the subject line, and I just about screamed. It was my first national cover.
Cordova, you’ll recall, was sent a lewd photo by former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY), in a scandal that became known as Weinergate. Ugh. Name aside, this was a really exciting shoot and to see the cover floating around national media sites like Gawker was another experience altogether. The Post hired me a few months later to cover Amanda Knox’s arrival in the U.S. — but more on that in my news photo of the year post coming up.
I have completed eight or nine assignments for Cityvision and it is just so rewarding to be working with them regularly. They run really interesting, informative pieces, that shine line on complicated issues in a relevant way. They do a great job, and my assignments have involved photographing politicians, mayors, and state senators, for stories discussing their governance work. It’s neat to meet people with power and try and make the same kind of connection I would with anyone else, to make a compelling portrait.
This was an interesting shoot because it all hinged on access to water — visually it would be tough to photograph a water story without it — but when I arrived, the fountain was turned off! A quick call from the Mayor’s PR staff to the control room staff for the arena helped get it turned on just in time. Remaining calm was key, and the mayor was a good sport about waiting for a bit to begin the shoot.
I also photographed more stories on water and on cities being inundated with public record’s requests.
My assignment was to photograph Saturna Capital’s Nick Kaiser for Financial Advisor Magazine. Saturna Capital has become renowned for their Amana Mutual Funds, which invests according to Islamamic law — and has done very well from their unassuming offices.
I worked with two Alien Bee 800s firing into a simple 40 inch umbrella and a bare 7″ reflector, plus some nice afternoon sunlight fill, to make most of the pictures.
Nick was really generous with his time and worked with me to make some pictures the client and I were happy with. More from this shoot in my recent post: Nick Kaiser for Financial Advisor Magazine.
I also did a shoot this year for Seattleite, an online cultura and lifestyle magazine that started in 2011. The assignment came courtesy a friend of mine, Erik Simkins, working as their photo editor at the time. My task was to photograph Jay Friedman for a story about his food lecture series, Sexy Food. He uses humor to make the connection between the things we eat and the stuff we enjoy. I wanted to make a portrait that captured that same fun quality. We shot inside of a beautiful old classroom on the University of Washington campus. No assistant for this one, like on most of my shoots, but atleast I got a workout dragging my lighting cases up three flights of stairs. No elevator. The new client was happy and I made some pictures I am happy with too, and that’s all you can ask for right?
I had an SB-800 firing into Photek Softlighter II up high and above him, with a bare sb800 firing for the rim-light in rear.
This is the one the mag ran online.
Sometimes the best assignments are the ones we take on for ourselves. It’s important to try out new ideas, test new techniques, and cover the events we want to cover — even if no one is footing the bill. Sometimes we are fortunate for a client to license personal work after the fact; but that’s not the goal. I do self-assignments to keep me sharp for when the phone rings. It keeps my portfolio current and lets me push new work out more than waiting for assignment work. It’s fulfilling and a big part of my personal goals for 2012.
The Emerald City Comicon was a self-assignment that ended up being licensed for SeattlePI.com. But before that happened, I bought my own ticket, rolled all my lighting gear through the concourses and hoped to heck nobody was going to ask me to leave. I set up in an empty corner of a well-trafficked area of the main room, and looked around for interesting people to photograph. There was no shortage. In contrast to most portrait shoots where I have between 5 and 50 minutes to photograph someone, I spent only a minute or two with most of these Comiconners. I think it kept them authentic. The hours I put into the shoot paid off because it was a great day.
I also went down to Occupy Seattle and made some simple portraits of some of the protestors. I wish I would have been able to go back down, but other assignments and work kept me away. Even so, the windy, blustery evening I spent down there was informative and useful. I made some pictures I am happy with and can at least say I photographed a little bit of a very important movement, in my own backyard.
I also did a lot of assignments for a Seattle-based publication called Northwest Leaf that deals with medical marijuana patients and the industry. It has been so eye-opening to have the access I do on these shoots, and it pays off, because I am making images that are not being made anywhere else. I am getting a grounds-eye view of this burgeoning movement, and I am excited to see where it takes me next year.
This was such a simple lighting setup. Just a single 45″ Photek Softlighter II off to my left, in close to the subject, on about 1/4 power. No fuss, no muss, just nice soft light that let more attention go to the stuff in his hands…
2011 has been a great learning experience. I really pushed myself, fell some times and grew stronger from those mistakes. It’s only a mistake if you can’t learn from it, I feel. I just want to keep driving towards my goals and keep learning and growing with my photo family, as my buddy Pittsburgh photographer Jared Wickerham said so aptly. 2011 has been a great year, a fulfilling year and probably one of my strongest years. You have to really want it in this business, and I think about that everyday. I am so blessed to be doing what I love and know the amazing people I do these days in Seattle and across the country. The kinship and community in photography is like none other!
Thanks for looking, and if you made it this far, thanks for joining me on this journey.