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.

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.

03 March, 2019

Looking back and looking forward

Time flies… It's hard for me to believe but it's been about 11 years since I started this blog. A lot has changed, and yet, the goal has always remained the same: to share the stories I see in the world with people who want to hear those stories.

I just announced the start of a new project, that will hopefully build on a lot of the work that I've put into the blog. The blog will continue, make no mistake. But this new project should help me to bring new life to the stories that I wrote years ago, and also to pull together thematic threads that have sometimes spanned many of those years.

Thanks for joining me on this journey so far, and I'm excited about what the future may hold. As always, if you have thoughts, questions, comments — whatever it might be — I'd love to hear them.

28 February, 2019

Doc Diaries: Tunnel Vision (part 3)

Clouds

The miracle of flight is, in many ways, actually a miracle of fluid dynamics. And even though you can't see the wind through an airplane window, I feel like clouds can give you a little bit of a glimpse into that world. They help to expose the otherwise-invisible workings of the world around us.

So, for instance, a running turbofan creates a region of low-pressure air ahead of it, which can cause interesting flow phenomena when interacting with nearby surfaces. Those streamlines are usually invisible, but in the right conditions on a damp taxiway, a vortex appears (as in the bottom-right of the picture). That vortex is always there, of course. But it's the cloud of condensation that makes it visible, and that reinforces the wonder of modern aircraft.

31 January, 2019

Doc Diaries: Tunnel Vision (part 2)

I mentioned before that I love the experience of just sitting on an airplane, and watching the world through a window. Regardless of which plane I'm on, or where I sit, my view out of the window always has the same basic framework: there's a wing that's always there. And everything else changes.

I also mentioned that one purpose of photography, for me, is to find ways to express my curiosity about the world, and to share some of the details that delight me when I look around.

Out of an airplane window, I'm often surprised at how quickly the view can change, even as the framework stays the same. But just as often, what's surprising is how the details of the view can be so consistent, even as we move through the environment at hundreds of miles per hour.