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.

28 April, 2019

Doc Diaries: Aesthetics and Storytelling at the Stanford Invitational (part 2)

I mentioned in part 1 that it's important to take some time before the meet to make guiding decisions about the general shape of the coverage. As a documentary photographer, I always feel a sense of duality between my aesthetic decisions and my storytelling decisions — they're almost inseparably intertwined. And as much as I love to make beautiful images, my actual aspiration is to make images whose aesthetics support the meaning that they're trying to convey. For track and field, beauty is often, but not always, the tool of choice.

31 March, 2019

Doc Diaries: Covering the 2019 Stanford Invitational (part 1)

One thing I love about photography is that beauty can emerge from the harshest conditions. I shot the two-day Stanford Invitational track meet this past weekend, and to be honest, I felt like I was hanging on for dear life. But even in depths of that struggle, I still managed to put together some of my best work.

This is a story in two parts. This first part will talk about the logistical considerations and decisions that helped me to survive the weekend. The second part will go into the aesthetic decisions that helped me to rise above the struggle.

There's a saying that the goal of an endurance race is to survive long enough that you can be there for the moments of the race that really matter. Something similar is true about endurance photography. You have to put yourself in the position to do great work, and then you have to actually make those pictures when the time comes.