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Self Portraits, and why…

Some of it might be/probably is/ok definitely is a kind of narcissism. But many of my “self images” are made to solve practical concerns: how does light from a new modifier actually look on a human shape? Is it positioned correctly for the person who will be under its influence in just a few minutes?

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I also make composites, just to terrify my friends. When testing lighting for a group, I’ll place myself where each person might be and then construct a single image in which I appear as many times as I can sensibly include. Ha.

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Some of my self portraits are a sort of anti-narcissism (there’s a concept for you) that is borne out of a personal discontentment, and some of it comes from the usual rush of ego or self satisfaction found in some small success or a larger pleasure on one plane or another. In the moment, I try not to self-analyze.

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Usually I make these self images within a confluence of opportunity and willingness: I’m in some sort of emotional  flux and the light is right, or I’ve created light for some other purpose now finished, or I’m a stand in for the next client, or I have new gear that I need to familiarize myself with and I’m the one person who’s always available for that.  But it’s never when I’m concentrating on something/one else (I was going to say rarely, but I’ll risk “never”). It’s usually an after thought, after a job and I’m alone, or when I’ve hit a personal wall, and nothing seems to be going right, or I just did something well.

It is some kind of therapy, and whatever I’m feeling in that moment, the act of photographing myself usually helps to mitigate a somewhat ungoverned mood. If I’m feeling too confident, it’s a reminder of my flaws and frailties. When I’m down, it shows me the folly and counter-productivity of self-pity.

I started making self portraits long before I became a photographer for hire. The first images I made of myself were after a particularly bad break up… in which I found myself behaving in non-productive ways.
To initiate some introspection, I started photographing myself in those darkest moments… and through those revelations was able to turn away from that depressing and self-destructive behavior. I still indulge in this sort of reverse photo-therapy, as my friends can attest (“Don’t you ever smile?”).

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I also practice self imaging in an attempt to avoid a pitfall common to Men Of A Certain Age… when the interior-imagined self image seems to be stuck in the same nostalgic era as their music selections (AeroSmith… really? Flock of Seagulls? Pullease.)… eternally 24-36 years old. Right.

About 20 years ago, I photographed a beautiful man of about 63 years. A truly gorgeous man with a giant waving shock of white hair that matched Bernstein and Avedon. He was a survivor of many trials… with the tattoo to show as evidence.

I was using Polaroid 665 film in a Mamiya RB67, and when I showed him the first image he said “Oh Tom… do you know what? I am an old man.” I immediately and mercilessly replied, “Oh Gene, do you know what? You’re the only person who doesn’t know that.” And in that pivotal moment I decided that unlike my friend, I would not be blindsided by the inevitable, that I would photographically track my body’s aging as it occurred, and be cognizant of that steady companionship.

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A few days ago an old friend showed me some of the first self portraits I had ever made. Despite my attempts to stay in touch with myself, I still was shocked to  realize not how old I am now, but how young I was when I first took up the camera. The flaw in my plan was in not staying in that Tralfamadorian model of time… to be both 35 and 62 in the same moment. Now.

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Recent changes mean I’ll need more of that awareness. I need a dose of insight. But don’t look for that work in my Facebook profile album.  Be glad.

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Tis the Season (sigh) for some low key capitalism (yay!)

Christmas time is here by golly, disapproval would be folly, deck the halls with hunks of holly, fill the cup and don’t say “when!”…

In the spirit of a childhood musical hero (hit that link for the best ever music to shop by), I present this blatantly capitalistic effort.

All images in my Etsy store are (for a special, limited time offer!) available with the holiday greeting of your choice inscribed in the margin (by the artist’s own hand, no less!)… and there is no extra charge not to so inscribe. You’re welcome.

Herewith are some examples for you to consider (in the words of the modern electronic component manual) before you begin.

I thank you… t

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What is it about “dog”?

Wendy

Wendy

There’s all that standard and understood stuff about food and shelter, obedience and companionship.
Books are filled with instruction on how to get it, and how great it is when you have it…

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But once all those things have been studied, adopted and imposed, there seems to be
something more important and perhaps unknowable between humans and a dog.

TWMeyer-20130822-8969It’s a connection that is symbiotic, dynamic and mysterious.

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I feel more attuned to life with a somewhat unruly animal in the house.

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TWMeyer-20110919-8802I take on some of her wildness

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while she accepts some of my domesticity.

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Hunting a Rat in the LariopeShe’s caught five squirrels while walking on a leash…

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and does not know how to share a bed.

Working fast and light in a small factory

I have been photographing for this client for so many years, they are now way into the good friend category.This winter they asked me to start making some portraits of a documentary nature, featuring their production staff and customer service.

Here’s what I did a couple of days into the new year of 2012. This is their fabrication crew. They didn’t slow down a bit for me.

I was working two little lights with color correcting gels on them. Sometimes I had the D700 on a tripod, sometimes not… all were made with my old 28-70 2.8 Nikon. The ambient light was pretty typical overhead warehouse lighting, and some high and very yellow translucent panels the length of one wall, about 20 feet off the ground. You can see some of that in a few of these out takes. I like this gritty duotone treatment, but they will probably want color, which is why I use the color correction on the flashes to get them as close as I could to the vague, rambling Kelvin of the insanely mixed temperature light sources.  Plus the sun was in and out all afternoon, pushing EVs, color temperatures and the relative lighting ratios all over the place.

Before and while I worked, no one came in to clean up the shop, no suits from corporate appeared to affect attitude, no art director stopped production to rearrange the work space, no make up was applied.  I moved a few trash cans and a broom, mostly to remove an errant highlight and keep the compositions as I wanted them. I loved it, and worked alone (without an assistant) for about three hours.

Here’s a sample… my quick edit.

Shop Forman

performance art

springs, ready for assembly

at the lathe

the lathe that is older yet more precise than me

sanding the edges of a plywood armature

an anthropomorphic plywood form, glued and clamped, dries overnight in the empty warehouse

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drill press

my kind of color palette, in the high window's light, end of day

Why I always carry a camera (#2): form and light

magnolia pistel

shy pistel, May 16, 2011

There’s a passage in my favorite book by Annie Dillard, “Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek” in which she comments on how she sees differently when she walks with a camera.

I know this from my own walks. It’s as if a syntactical vision is imposed on the world by the nearness of the device and it’s familiar constraints. Juxtapositions that offer fluency or tension within these photo-mechanical confines often determine the route, duration and velocity of the trip.

The campus of Agnes Scott College is quite beautiful, as campuses go. It is meticulously maintained, all well-fed lawn with trimmed borders and neat pine straw beds around the trees and buildings. The paths are always free of debris  and the stately magnolias groves that populate the campus were both grand and floral at that time of year.

I’ve been walking the campus for over 20 years now, and I’ve seen some pretty spectacular flowers there. But on this particular evening, the light was soft and directional, and this one presented itself at just the right angle in just the right incoming light at just the right moment. It’s pistel was hidden from view; in another day, it would be browned, wilted and expired. But here it was at it’s prime, fully opened, and scented to heady perfection. I stood as tall as I could, and reaching the camera out, set the auto focus with my eye perhaps 10 inches from the finder.

Deferring to that moment, I have keep this image subdued, preferring to let it’s form have the leading voice. The minimum crop to 4×5 made sense to me… t

portrait of a working artist in a really small room

Christina Kober is an enterprising jeweler who understands the value of self promotion and is working it from many angles. She asked me to make portraits of her at work.

Her studio is small, but quite efficiently laid out and easy for one person to use. Adding a photographer (even a thin one) and a light stand with a diffusing modifier (even a small one) quickly shrinks it to the point where everything is a bumping hazard. And some of her stuff, you don’t want to bump.

Christina Kober: Window light for main, strobe for back light

Christina Kober: Window light for main, strobe for back light

In the above image, a window is the main light on camera right. I used a favorite old 30 inch Westcott Halo for a back light. Unfortunately, the 30 inch Halo is now out of production and there’s nothing that replaces it. I love it because it’s small, provides a directional yet soft and shape revealing light, works really well with speedlights and it’s convex front diffusion panel can be placed very close to a subject. I prefer the enclosed construction of the Halo because it doesn’t create the contrast lowering spill that is a problem when a comparable shoot-through umbrella is used in a small room.The Halo kept the wall behind her a deeper blue, in contrast with the warm window light on her skin, hair and scarf.

Christina Kober: Bounced main light and daylight rim

Christina Kober: Bounced main light and daylight rim

This image shows the intensity of Christina’s concentration when she’s working with the torch on a very small piece. I wanted to light her from my left, where there was only room for an undiffused, small and flamable light source, all of which were just not good ideas.  I dodged those issues by putting my Lumedyne on a stand above and behind her (to the right), with a 5 degree grid on it. That light was pointed over her head toward the closed white blinds on the window to my left so that it bounced from those blinds onto her face as a softer light, while the window light from across the room created an edge lighting on her right hand and the tools she was using. Grids do collimate the light somewhat, but not as tightly as a snoot or fresnel head would. This grid is held on with velcro… not exactly a light tight seal so maybe some of that rim light was leakage from the grid.  I’ve learned to exploit such weaknesses  idiosyncracies in my archaic vintage equipment… t