30 September, 2019

Sometimes Time Stands Still

Sometimes it seems like firefighters have three main speeds: urgent, slow-but-deliberate, and still-life.

While visiting the home of a friend, it was the slow but deliberate advance of two trucks, with lights flashing but sirens silent, that first attracted my attention. I stepped outside and looked down the street to see a world bathed in red, only a few blocks away. I started to walk.

31 July, 2019

When the Good Night Beckons

I've long felt a kind of distant, undeserved kinship with Renaud Lavillenie. We're within 5 months of the same age. We're both pole vaulters, and we both started over 20 years ago.

He's much better, obviously. But whenever someone's questioned me about the realities of pole vaulting at our age, I would point out Renaud as a canonical example of what's possible. "The world record holder is still competing, and we're the same age," I would retort. If he can keep going at his level, then I can keep going at mine.

30 June, 2019

Doc Diaries: Experiments in Motion

One of my main photographic goals is to tell the story of the motion that happens in the world. I often use a number of common techniques (such as panning), and those typically get me to a pretty reasonable result.

But sometimes, I want to shoot for unreasonable. Sometimes I want to try something that seems almost impossible, just to see if it could work out. Sometimes I want to see not just what motion does look like, but what motion could look like.

The opening image was the result of one such rumination. "How do you take a picture that focuses on the sense of drawing a bow across the strings?" I love what I came up with, but it turns out that the key wasn't to plan, or do lots of math, or to have any kind of a controlled setup. The key was to notice my friend playing her cello, and to just give it a shot. I tried to get the focus where it needed to be, the camera handled the exposure, and I hit the shutter when I felt like the moment was right.

I think one point here is that some experiments are really simple, if you're the right person to run that particular experiment. It often pays to just give something a shot without overcomplicating things.

31 May, 2019

Doc Diaries: On Reflection

There have been a great many photographers who loved being behind the camera, but who were hesitant to have their own pictures taken. For whatever reason, I have never been that way. And while talking to a friend recently, it occurred to me that looking back on my history of self-portraits, and the cameras that took them, might reveal something about how my style and perspective have changed over the years. None of these images is cropped; they are all complete frames.

I consider the real start of my photographic journey to be late 2002, when I was gifted a Sony DSC-P31 for Christmas. The settings were all auto, there was no usable zoom, and there were no real manual controls.

That was a generation before selfies, front-facing cameras, and articulating screens, and it took me a few months before I finally turned the lens on myself, and then a few more before I produced this shot. This was one of the first self-portraits that showed the seeds of how I would go on to capture myself in the 16 years since.

I think that during my earlier years, the self-portraits that I took were mainly incidental — I happened to be a convenient subject to experiment on — but I don't think I had any real documentary intent for them.