BLUE ON BLEAU

Posted by – March 25, 2014

Morris Lapidus, architect of the Fontainebleau Hotel, the legendary icon located in the heart of Miami’s Millionaire’s Row, once famously quipped, “If you create a stage and it is grand, everyone will play their part.”

Play their parts they did. From the famous to the infamous — James Bond in Goldfinger, Sinatra in A Hole in the Head, The Sopranos, Elvis, Regis & Kelly — all were “in the house.” The Fontainebleau also had the dubious distinction of playing host to the infamous Black Tuna Gang and their burgeoning marijuana trade in the late 70’s.

I had the opportunity to shoot The Bleau Bar for a company that wanted to reflect the grander of the property in order to highlight it as a reward destination for its top performers. The photo was shot in a “camera raw” format that allows for maximum flexibility in post production and minimizes the need for auxiliary lighting.

By the way, the cast of characters in this particular venue at this particular time included Edras Elba (aka Stringer Bell, The Wire), Olympic record-holder, Michael Phelps, and myself.

TRINITY

Posted by – August 9, 2012

Among the things I love about my career in photography are the many places it’s taken me, like to the northern New Mexico desert, a land where the light is so magical it inspired the likes of Ansel Adams, and every local license plate proclaims, “Land of Enchantment.”

I was there taking this picture of international interns at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, 50 years to the day that the first nuclear weapon, nicknamed “The Gadget,” was detonated at nearby Trinity in the Jornada del Muerto desert, Spanish for “journey of death.”

Standing at the obelisk that commemorates the event — 50 years to the minute since July 16, 1945 — was spooky and sobering.  Believe me, the desert landscape set the scene for some deep reflection.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory facility was first created to house the Manhattan Project, code name for the project to weaponize the newly discovered theory known as “the nature of atoms.”  Upon witnessing the successful detonation of the device, the onsite head of the project, Robert Oppenheimer, quoted Bhagavad Gita, exclaiming: “I am  become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

But I think the potential consequences of that day were best summed up by Albert Einstein when he said, “I know not with what weapons WW III will be fought, but WW IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

STICK TO THY LAST

Posted by – January 25, 2012

According to legend, the old idiom, “Stick to your last,” originated with Apelles, a painter in Ancient Greece.  As the story goes, a shoemaker found fault with one of Apelles’ works, saying the shoe was incorrectly portrayed.  When Apelles rectified the mistake, the cobbler then pointed out an error in the leg, thus elliciting from Apelles this-now-infamous admonishment: “Shoemaker, do not go above your last.”

Usually, “sticking to what you do best” is sage advice, however every business has a life cycle — birth, growth and maturity — often followed by “death” in companies that fail to adapt to change.  Nothing epitomizes this more than the demise of Eastman Kodak.  “Big Yellow,” the once-revered photographic giant, has fallen into chapter 11 bankruptcy.  By the way, a “last” is by definition, rigid and inflexible.  Draw your own conclusions.

No person or company wants to be considered “over the hill,” but when you do come to a hill, you either go over it, around it or backwards, or you stop altogether.  Conquering a hill often involves substantial investments in time and financial resources; in fact, just moving forward requires continuing to learn and grow.  Some people and some companies just don’t have that in them, and Darwin’s theory eventually rules the day.

Awhile back, I originally created the accompanying image for Texas Boot Co.  It was intended to epitomize and glorify hand-made craftsmanship.  I shot it on the large-format color transparency film, Kodak EPP.  I later “re-purposed” it with advanced contemporary techniques, employing a hi-res drum scan, multiple layers of textures and Photoshop CS 5.

Ever onward, over the next hill.

THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS

Posted by – November 21, 2011

Danny Oceans would feel right at home under the ceiling of the Bellagio Hotel on the Vegas Strip, the subject of this image, inadvertently shot as a jpeg, with very little post-exposure tweaking.

“The house always wins,” Danny would say in the casino-caper film, Ocean’s Eleven.  Danny (first played by Frank Sinatra, then by George Clooney in a more-recent remake) insisted the only way to beat the house was to cheat the house, or more to the point, to steal from it.  And who could argue with Danny in a city of sin built by the Mafia and paid for by gambling?

Along with its legendary fountain, the Bellagio ceiling has served as a backdrop for numerous feature films looking for iconic Vegas opulence.  It’s famous for being adorned with intensely colored blown glass created by the renowned artist, Dale Chihuly, and valued at over $2 million.  Chihuly is a Fulbright Scholar and RISD graduate who honed his craft in Venice and has since become a wildly successful entrepreneur.  Those of you from the St. Louis area may remember the recent exhibit of his work at the Missouri Botanical Gardens or the instillation in the atrium of the St. Louis Art Museum.  One thing you can bet on: you can’t afford art like this by playing a losing hand, but the house can afford it, because “the house always wins.”

LET THERE BE LIGHT

Posted by – October 14, 2011

This “portrait of light” was taken at of the Saint Louis Central Library.  It was originally shot on large-format transparency film and received no digital embellishment.  The enchanting “play of light” occurred naturally and was particularly enhanced by sunlight reflecting from a church across the street.

The Central Library was built around 1912 and is an excellent example of the stalwart work of renowned architect, Case Gilbert, who also designed the Art Museum and other installations for the 1904 World’s Fair.  Gilbert’s Central Library is one of hundreds funded by Andrew Carnegie, renowned philanthropist and funder of over 70% of the library communities throughout America.

As you may know, Carnegie was an entrepreneur who made his fortune in the steel industry.  Ironically, particularly with respect to this photograph, Carnegie inscribed the motto “Let There Be Light” on the first library he ever built, in his hometown of Dunfemline, Scotland.  Although Carnegie’s libraries were constructed in a variety of styles, they all had two unifying characteristics: a staircase symbolizing the elevation one gains through learning and a lamppost conveying enlightenment.

OLD DOME, NEW TRICK

Posted by – September 13, 2011

The ceiling of the rotunda of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis has hovered over events that shaped history since the Italian-Renaissance dome (modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican) was renovated in 1864.

It was in this very building in 1846 that the slave, Dred Scott, sued for his and his wife’s freedom on the grounds that they had previously lived in free states.  Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case in 1857 and ruled against Scott.  The decision polarized the nation and moved history one step closer to the first shots of the American Civil War.

I photographed the rotunda’s ceiling using a relatively new digital technique called High Dynamic Range (HDR) that combines a range of exposures of identically framed images (think Ansel Adams, only in color), so the resulting composite image more accurately represents all the tonal ranges the human eye can see at one time.  The technique is especially useful for photographing high-contrast, static subjects such as architectural interiors.

The Old Courthouse was standing long before digital manipulation even became possible and will endure way beyond the latest cover of Communication Arts.

A LEGEND NEVER DIES

Posted by – August 16, 2011

When an automobile accident left Max Starkloff a quadriplegic at age 21, his family sent him to a rural nursing home where he quickly concluded, “This is no way to spend a life.”  He then began to conceptualize the idea that a disabled person could live independently.

This is my portrait of Max.  I worked with him when I had the opportunity to collaborate with a group of creatives to promote Paraquad, the organization Max founded.  Among its many successes, Paraquad helped push passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

Max was a relentless crusader and tenacious watchdog for the disabled.  He met with three standing US presidents in an effort to promote barrier-free access to businesses and homes.  Max’s tireless efforts helped St. Louis become the first city in the country to install lifts on city buses.  Due in part to his efforts, St. Louis also built wheelchair-accessible sidewalks, improved general accessibility and provided parking for the disabled.  Max also helped promote assistive technologies and employment opportunities that help people with disabilities fully participate in society.

Max’s immortal soul left his broken body on December 27, 2010.  He was known for what he could do — not what he couldn’t do — but he never wanted to be considered a hero.  So I’ll just say he was an extraordinarily ordinary person whose accomplishments will live forever.

YOU’LL LOVE THE VIEW FROM HERE

Posted by – August 1, 2011

Motor from Miami down “Avenue A1A,” gateway to the Florida Keys, home to the famous and infamous, pirates and poets, and discover the beautiful bracelet of keys Ponce de Leon first stumbled upon, still dangling in the ocean, barely 90 miles from Cuba.

Proceed with due trepidation through Key Largo and continue south across Seven Mile Bridge (guess how long it is).  Take your time; soak in the scenery, but don’t dawdle too long; you’re traveling the haunts of such nefarious characters as Edward G. Robinson, Bogie and Bacall.  If you should see a bale of ganja washed up on the beach, don’t be tempted.  The original owner, his AK-47 and his twin pit bulls might not be far behind.  The Keys are always a series of contradictions.

Your destination is the same as it once was for literary giants like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams — Key West, where drinking is compulsory, fighting and running-with-the-bulls-type acts of bravado are optional and “chilling out” is de rigueur.

When you finally run out of land, stand on the dock at Mallory Square at day’s end, wander among its daily cadre of performing characters such as jugglers, mimes, musicians and fire-eaters.  Reverently observe the sunset celebration as the ocean slowly swallows Ol’ Sol.  Catcalls, wolf whistles and thunderous applause are all proper sunset decorum in the Conch Republic.

Now stroll down DuVal Street in the cooling twilight to Sloppy Joe’s, Margaritaville, or about a hundred other bars and restaurants and enjoy a well-deserved beverage with your new best friends.  Say hi to Captain Tony.  You may even qualify as an honorary Parrot Head.  And when you finally have to leave, don’t worry; they’ll keep the fun going until you return.


BRIGHT IDEA

Posted by – July 18, 2011

This montage shot pays tribute to “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” Thomas Alva Edison, the third-most-prolific inventor in history. (Geek Alert: the montage was accomplished using five view cameras set up in the studio, moving the film holder from set to set, layering the exposures.  I also utilized in-camera-masking, gaff tape, gobos and incantations to the gods of benevolent serendipity.

Edison’s many inventions, such as the phonograph, the motion picture camera and, most notable to me, the incandescent light bulb, continue to influence life around the world.

Light is essential to how I make a living (“photography” actually means “writing with light”). It is my master and I am its willing servant. So I’m acutely aware that familiar tungsten light bulb is due to be phased out in the US by 2014, making way for more energy-efficient alternatives.  In addition to saving money the new “bulbs” are supposed to lower greenhouse gasses.

What was once considered to be a stroke of genius now seems destined for the scrap heap of history.  They tell me this is a good thing and it probably is, but have you ever tried to snuggle down with a good book in the glow of a florescent tube that resembles an ice cream cone?  The cyan transmission does drive the darkness away, but it seems to chase the romance out of the room, as well.

What would Edison think?  History gives us a clue: he would have re-invented the light bulb decades ago, using the same perseverance and ingenuity that enabled him to invent the light bulb in the first place.

Fear not the future.

A CAPITAL LOSS

Posted by – July 5, 2011

I grew up in Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Shawneetown, Illinois.  At the time, the legal drinking age in Illinois was 18, but the local watering holes had a very liberal interpretation of that statute.  We misspent more than a few nights of our youth there, contributing to the local economy at places like Hog Daddy’s Saloon, which at that time were about all the remaining commerce the dying town had.

Among our many misconceptions was that Shawneetown was the first sate capital.  Actually, it was home to the first bank charted in Illinois.  In addition to other dubious distinctions from its municipal past, the town had refused to buy the first bonds issued by the City of Chicago, stating, “No city located that far from a navigable river could survive.”  This picture is actually of the town’s second bank, considered to be a fine example of Greek revival architecture.

At one time, this US Government center for the Northwest Territory was an integral link to the new frontier.  Lewis and Clark may (or may not) have slept here.  It was one of only two towns chartered by the Federal Government, the other being Washington, D.C.

Today, the river that was once the town’s ally has become the town’s enemy.  The series of locks, dams, levees and floodwalls that made our rivers commercially viable have made small towns like Shawneetown susceptible to flooding.  Think Cairo, IL.  Many have simply closed their City Halls and called it quits.

When I went back to shoot this photo, I discovered that even Hog Daddy’s Saloon had closed.  These are hard times for small towns.