Hairway to Steven

I made a couple of these images while we were in San Fransisco at SFMOMA.  The staircase itself, with the light beam that cuts through the staircase is divine.  For the others I camped out and waited for the right person to walk down or up and I tried to get the exact moment I was after.  It’s what we in the business call a “Fishing expedition” and it works just like it sounds.  There’s another version of this picture that I tend to prefer–I even posted it in my [Muse]ums series but I keep coming back to this image.   I’m drawn to it partially because of the aesthetic but mainly because of it’s origin story which happens to be how I found the staircase to begin with.  

The astute and well read among you may know that I have a son named Elliot who has a very, very short attention span combined with a love for exploring and little concern for consequences.  He’s also not terribly interested in fine art unlike his old man but he is, after all, only fifteen so one can hardly blame him.  We were finally at SFMOMA for the first time since this particular trip to the bay area was predicated by the fact that I would get a chance to finally to visit a museum that has constantly seemed to allude me on every trip I’ve even made to San Fransisco.  AM was excited, the girls placated me (after researching the location and finding the cafe’s pastry menu) but Elliot was determined to be miserable. 

Within a half hour he was disappearing into other galleries without saying anything searching for an exit.  He pulled the same trick at least three or four times on the first floor and then equally many on the second.  We would be looking at a few paintings or a photographs and then he just wasn’t there.  When he wasn’t disappearing he would find the closest bench where you could sit and examine the art, and proceed to take a nap.  Sometimes he would combine the two.  First running away, then finding a bench.  There’s photographic evidence I swear.  

On one of his later elopements, I couldn’t seem to find him anywhere in any of the galleries on that particular floor so I ran out into the hall.  I saw the entry way to a staircase that I hadn’t seen earlier and darted inside.  

It was heavenly.  I’ve never seen light play like that in a stairwell before, with the beam slicing through the staircase and then bouncing around all of that geometric perfection.  I was awestruck.  And of course there, climbing this stairway to heaven was my son.  His long sweaty surfer hair flopping around as he took the steps, one at a time, in a last ditch effort to escape insufferable boredom brought at the hands of his family and of the unholy fine art of SFMOMA. 

Hairway to Steven shot on my Leica M7 on Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed a stop at the Icon.    

White House

Museums must be my favorite hunting grounds for photography.  The stark white walls contrasted against beautiful fine art while patrons wander around, experiencing that art in their own headspace.  They bend their heads, twist their bodies, gesture with their arms, soaking it all up.

Sometimes I get caught up in it all as well.  I forget why I’m there and the time passes and I snap out of it and I haven’t made a single image.  On this particular day I had totally spaced as I walked around the graphical form of a house, split into a “V” in the center.  I remember that I was backing up to take it all in when someone bumped into me from behind.  I turned around to apologize when I saw that it wasn’t a patron at all.  One of the guards (who make sure that idiots like me don’t bump into large sculptures standing near a wall while they’re backing up and not paying attention to what they’re doing) had held up his hand to stop me from backing up any further.  

I apologized profusely and wandered back towards the house that I had just been looking at, a little embarrassed but glad I didn’t knock anything over with my camera bag.  The guard circled back around the house and settled with his back against the opposite wall.  He was definitely giving me the “I’m watching you” kind of look so I strafed a little to get out of his line-of-sight.  Instantly sensing an image, I shuffled slightly more to the left to completely bifurcate the suspicious guard and made the image above.  

White House, shot on film on a film camera, and push-proceed +1 by film lab



I’ve been out in Palmdale and Lancaster shooting for work and I haven’t had a chance to post for a couple days.  I’ve missed it actually.  There’s something therapeutic about trying to write a few words every day about the real work you make in your life–the passions you have for creating things that don’t sell anything other than your own point of view.  Alas I work in advertising, so don’t tell anyone how I really feel.  It’ll be our secret–yours and mine dear reader.  

While I was on set I had the chance to meet a handful of other people who are passionate about photography.  That’s not so terribly uncommon though.  People who feel passionately about the arts seem to be drawn to commercial ends of their creative disciplines in order to make ends meet.  We all have to eat but as we progress in our careers, moving further and further from the clarity of vision we thought we had when we started out on our journeys, we find ourselves trying to trace an ever dissipating and near unintelligible trail of breadcrumbs back to our own source– trying to remember why we got involved in these industries in the first place.  Meeting other like-minded folks helps us to remember.  

The people I met on this shoot wanted to talk film when they saw my camera bag.  They wanted to look through the viewfinders of my rangefinders.  They wanted to talk about that perfect Nikon FM they had when they were younger and how it was the perfect camera.  About how nothing ever felt as nice as that one did.  The people I met talked about missing that feeling of anticipation when waiting for their prints and how nothing has the same feeling as opening that white envelop and flipping through matte prints with white boarders, holding at the corners and that sticky feeling when your thumb pushes the print up into your other fingers so you can maneuver it to the back of the stack and see what’s next.  

But for all of that love of the old days, lurking just beneath the surface of all that nostalgia, then  breaking the surface, slowly at first, was the argument of progress.  Technology has evolved now.  The pros outweigh the cons and it isn’t worth the hassle anymore.  It takes to long and then I have to scan and it’s to expensive.  Do they still press black and white or do you have to mail it in?  You can still buy Velvia?  People talk about how they converted now and they can’t really go back like digital is the one-way counter-sinking bolt of the image making universe.  

I always kind of laugh to myself when people say things like that.  My pursuit for a medium that emoted the qualities I was drawn to when started my journey, BEGAN with ones and zeros.  As I leaned and shaped my vision my tools technologically devolved to silver halide and a plastic base.  When I finally dropped digital and the false securities of checking a screen, and shooting 300 shots instead of one or two that actually matter and the constant need to buy newer better sensors and the million different lightroom presets.  All those “options” allowed me to never commit to any aspect of my process of creating an image.  Spray the scene with frames, shoot raw, try a few hundred different looks.  Shoot 50MP and crop.  That’s not the decisive moment.  

When I stripped away all of the shit I had unintentionally bolted, screwed and welded on to my passion–when I left all that dead-weight behind, that’s when I finally felt like I had truly arrived.  

Arrival, shot on film on a film camera, and push-proceed +1 by film lab

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