Saturday, June 24, 2006

Grammys 2005 and dreams really do come true

I once saw an interview with director David Lynch and I remember him saying that he pursues what he loves and the money follows. Well I've pretty much lived my life like that - pursuing what I love and as far as the money - I can't say that I've gotten rich being a photographer - but I'm comfortable and I'm thankful for that. I can say that my profession has led to some of my dreams coming true.

Last year one such dream did come true - I went to the Grammys. Now anybody can buy a ticket and go to the grammys - but I was invited to the luncheon where that year's lifetime achievement recipients were being honored. How I got to go is kind of a long story, but the short version is that I had gotten to know legendary blues musician Pinetop Perkins and his manager Pat Morgan. I met Pat and Pinetop a few years back when I was interviewing and photographing Pinetop as part of a personal project that I was doing on the Delta Bluesmen

Back in 2003 I spent a memorable day with Pinetop at Hopsens Plantation in Clarksdale, MS. Pinetop worked at Hopsen's back in the 1940's and in fact that's where he met and taught Ike Turner how to play the piano. But's that's another story. The "documentary angels" were by my side that day, because I captured some priceless moments with Pinetop both on video tape and on digital stills. But I digress to give you a bit of background.

Fast forward to 2005 when I got a call from a producer at the grammys who was putting together short bio videos on the award recipients. He contacted me because he knew that I had good material on Pinetop. I was interested in a quid pro quo arrangement - usage of my footage in exchange for an invitation to the luncheon for myself and my husband. He agreed. So in February 2005 Tom and I flew out to LA. We arrived at LAX during the onslaught of a deluge of rain - got in our car and made our way to the old Biltmore Hotel in downtown LA. What should have been a 40 minute drive - lasted about two hours. We finally arrived at the hotel and my nasty mood changed as soon as I saw my friend Pat waiting in the drive up. We had a quick bite and talked about the next day's event. In addition to attending the luncheon - I had also made arrangements to shoot interviews with Ike Turner, Kim Wilson and Paul Oscher. But again that's another story.

Grammy day arrived and Tom and I were excited beyond belief. The luncheon was held in the grand ballroom of the old Biltmore - that's the room where the first Academy Awards ceremony had been held. The hall that leads to the ballroom is lined with wonderful old photos of past events. Looking at those historic photos and soaking up that history was a treat in itself. I had been told that "cameras" weren't allowed inside the ballroom - but that didn't stop me from making a last minute purchase of a throw away camera at the hotel gift store - which I cleverly concealed in my pocketbook. I wasn't trying to sneak off photos to the tabloids - I just wanted some snapshots of Tom and I at the grammys.

We arrived at the door of the grand ballroom and were given our table number. Imagine our excitement when we found out that we had been seated at the front row of tables along with the honorees! There we were sitting next to Pinetop Perkins, Ike Turner, Elvin Bishop, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and a host of other legends in the music business. I'm not the sort of person who gets starstruck near celebrities - however I've always had great admiration for musicians and their talents. To me the gift of music is one of life's greatest gifts. It's the universal language and can transend all emotions. It can energize, pacify, excite, enrage and sooth our souls - sometimes all in the same song. And I am in awe of the talents of musicians that have the ability to perform this magic.

The afternoon was a blur of excitement and emotions as each honoree came to the stage to receive their award. It's a day I will never forget. And I have a few "snapshots" to help me remember. The pictures are certainly not "portfolio" material and far from being technically perfect but they were taken with the purest of heart - to remember and preserve the moment. To me - that's what photography is all about.

So I share those "moments" with you below.

Jerry Lee, Gail and Pinetop Perkins (left)

Ike Turner, Gail and Pinetop Perkins (top)

Pinetop Perkins, Gail and Elvin Bishop (left)

Sam the Sham with Tom (right)

Gail and Jimmy Page (left)

That day in February one of my dreams did come true. I still hold onto other dreams - I won't
tell you what they are right now. But I'll let you know when they come true.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Photographer Shootout in Las Vegas

About two years ago I joined SATW - Society of American Travel Writers. The organization also has a small segment of its membership who are photographers. I've been shooting for travel publications for the last 30 years, so I figured it was about time I joined.

Last fall I attended their annual convention in Las Vegas. I had just spent a week in Las Vegas and I have to admit I wasn't that keen to go
back right away - because the city is such an intense experience. Don't get me wrong - I happen to love urban environments and I live about 35 miles from New York City - but Las Vegas is something else. It's like a shot of adrenalin to all your senses. However, as a photographer - it's like a visual fantasyland.

Part of these conventions are various pre and post trips to nearby destinations and one of the pre activities scheduled for that year was a "photographer shootout". Basically, a contingency of photographers had 24 hours to shoot the city. Kind of like the Amazing Race of photography. We were given a list of contacts for various hotels, shows, museums etc. that had previously given their consent for photography of their properties. However, we needed to call ahead and slot a time. Keep in mind - 18 other competitors were given the same list. Places included hotels, restuarants, shopping malls, museums, shows, rides, parks, fashion shows, clubs and of course anything else that you came upon in that 24 hour period. Photographers could shoot film or digital and could submit only 10 shots for their final portfolio.

One of the challenges was just getting around the city. I soon found out that if I wanted to get anywhere in the afternoon and evening hours - I needed to stay off the Strip. Then of course the endless walks through hotels and casinos. For those of you who've been to Las Vegas - you know what I mean. Huge spaces packed with people at all hours. And everywhere you go it seems like one big party.

I ran into other photographers along the way, and you would think that we would all come back with the same images. Even though there were similarities in subject matter, oddly enough we all saw it through different eyes. So if you read my first blog "First Time", it proves the point that cameras don't take great pictures - people do. My favorite shots usually turn out to be the unexpected ones. I generally set out with a plan and hope that I get segwayed by something I didn't count on. I think they call that serendipity. The shot above of the semi silhouetted "bouncer" was one of those moments. I was rushing to get to a rooftop club that had a fabulous view of the Strip - when on the way, I spotted this guy. My gut and my experience told me to stop and capture the moment. Glad I did. One habit I have gotten into over the years has been to "look the other way". By that I mean, if I'm shooting a baseball game for instance - I know that many times the best shots are right behind me in the crowd.

Most of the shootout participants were men. At the end of the night, a lot of us ended up in a burlesque club. And we were all pretty much shooting the same exact show. When the final results were shown at the judging, I took note that most of the guys emphazised close up shots of the dancer as she made her way toward the photographers. I went for the interaction of the dancer and the sax player - I loved the moment. I wonder how many guys noticed the sax player.

So, I made it through the exhausting 24 hour period and then spent probably another 12 hours looking through hundreds of digital photos and culling them down to 10. That was the hard part - deciding which 10 images to submit. I took it down to about 20 and then solicited my partner Tom's input. He picked his 10 favorites and I went with it. Below are the other photos that I presented in my "portfolio".

By the way, I ended up taking top prize - "gold portfolio" in the competition. Some say it was beginners luck. A beginner with 30 years of experience.

The prize? A trip for two to Belgium.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

My First Time

There is a first time for everything and this is my first time at "blogging". First let me say that
I love "first time" experiences and lately I have been seeking them out. That's because the realm
of possibilities has exploded with the advances in technology.

A little background. I'm 54 years old and I have been a professional photographer for almost
30 years. I have shot for numerous publications - National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian,
Travel & Leisure, Endless Vacation, Islands as well as ad campaigns for tourism/hospitality
clients and annual reports for Fortune 500 companies. I love what I do because everyday
is different. I can't imagine having what people refer to as a "real job".

I get asked three questions on a consistent basis.

1. Does your camera take good pictures?

I must confess - that question is probably the most annoying question for me. Mostly
because I'm not a tool or gadget kind of person. I use the right tool for the job -
and the job is communicating and "telling the story". So, the tool is the means to the end.
If I'm in a good mood, I reply with a smile "yes". If it's been a long day - my reply is
a bit more sarcastic - "yes, my camera takes great pictures - I don't have to crawl out
of bed at the crack of dawn to capture that magical light - I just send my camera out
to take those good pictures.

2. Where is your favorite place in the world?

I actually like this question, but never really had ONE answer until I visited the
Isle of Man. Now I can say that this is my favorite place that I've been - because it drew
me in on levels I can't explain.

3. How did you get started?

To make a long story short - I was studying architecture at Syracuse University in
the late 60's and early 70's. I realized that I wanted to see first hand the man made
wonders of the world - so I decided to take a leave and do some traveling. What started
out as a 3 month trip to Europe - ended up as a year long backpacking odyssey around
the world - or almost around the world. When I returned to the States (because my
open ended airplane ticket was expiring) I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that
would enable me to travel, meet people and explore cultures. So, I decided to become
a photographer. Again, it was a means to an end. Not about the science but about
the journey. That was in 1973. I enrolled at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, CA
(one of 6 women at the time) met my future husband there and graduated 3 years
later. I was offered a job at Boeing (the token minority) turned it down and moved
to the NYC area to make my fame (not fortune) in magazines. If you know NYC
and were around in the mid-70's, you are probably thinking that I needed to have
my head examined. Leave southern California for NYC which was on the brink of
bankruptcy. But, I threw all caution to the wind and made the move.
After a brief stint at assisting a studio photographer, I went to see Jay Maisel, a legend
in the industry and a wonderfully blunt individual. He looked at my "studio" portfolio
and basically told me to my face that it was garbage. He asked me if this was what
I wanted to do. I replied no, but I was told that if you wanted to make a living in
photography - that was where it was at. Then I showed him my photos from my
backpacking journey. He loved them and asked me how old I was. I replied 25.
His retort was "you're 25 years old and you're already making compromises".
It was a turning point in my life.

Stay tuned.