Some highlights from the projects of 2016
Starting a little series of how I created certain photo with some back story.
I was in India on assignment working for Abbott creating imagery that illustrated their social responsibility efforts in India. I was photographing, clinics, people, milk collection, farmers, farming, and landscapes. I had free reign to photograph whatever I wanted, but the images had to tell the stories that the client wanted to highlight. There was no specific shot list just concepts.
- Milk collection in rural areas
- A local NGO's efforts on locating and helping women with gestational diabetes
- Women's healthcare in rural India
- A local NGO that provided access to clean water
- Medicine distribution in rural India
Its not a very long list but its very daunting when you consider the process that the images have to go through before they are selected. The photographs have to feel serendipitous, show the best of India and its people, show that you are in India, simple uncluttered backgrounds, and be able to use the images in different ways. For example social media, in print, horizontal, vertical, on a cover, leave space for copy, and the list goes on. So its a lot to think about when you are deciding on an image to take, framing shots, and clicking that shutter. Plus there is no client going through this process with you and sharing in the struggles to create the images. Its my problem, and my problem alone.
In these series of photos. I was hanging around a clinic hoping to create some images of women at the clinic. The day I am there was a super slow day. The story of my life. I am either too early or too late. There were only two patients and the photos were not ideal. So I waited, and I waited hoping some other women would show up. Also it was getting later in the morning and once the light gets too high its really harsh. Not great light for images of people. Then these three girls appeared through the gate, one of them was coming to the clinic to meet with her mother.
They stopped in front of the wall to wait. I approached them and started a conversation through my interpreter. I asked if I can photograph them. They said yes, but they were very shy and would not look at the camera. I decided that I would need to separate them, and I figured my best chance was with the girl in purple. I said that I wanted to photograph them separately, but I started with the girl in purple. Just in case they decided to quit on me.
At first she wanted to be photographed with her friends and was calling them over, but I reassured her that it will be quick and I will photograph her friends after her.
This is where we started giving me a not so friendly face plus the light was a little hard. I wanted her to turn into the light a bit so her eyes would light up. Also her friend's shadow was in the shot so I had to move her away a bit.
After I got her friend to move, I was able to focus on my subject. She was shy in the sense that she wasn't able to look at the camera and smile at the same time. So I spoke to her friend and asked a question about the girl in purple. I think I asked if she was always this shy. She replied and this caused my subject to turn towards her and smile. She sort of smiled, she was trying her best not to smile. I shot about 30 frames of everyone including the final shot, and the whole encounter was probably 5 minutes.
Waiting for that "perfect moment" would make these projects go on for weeks and no guaranty of success. So I have to step in and control what I can by being selective, have a clear vision, and influencing what is going on in the image so I capture the best out of people in the time I have.
I think this image turned out great. She made me work for it a bit. The light was beautiful, as well as all the colors. Yes, it doesn't obviously feel like it was shot in India, but with the elements taken together it still gives that sense.
Canon 5D MarkIII, Canon 24-105 f4L lens
10 years ago I was asked to go to Afghanistan for a Abbott a commercial client. They wanted to document the work an NGO (Afghan Institute of Learning) that they supported was doing in Afghanistan. I was excited and honestly very worried. I had never been in an active war zone. Although it can be argued that growing up in NYC in the 70's qualifies as a war zone. Particularly in the neighborhoods I lived in. Needless to say my wife was not to happy. I was a father with two young children and the chances of something happening to you are high. Not to mention there were other issues. Number one being that this was my first job for them. Also it was more like documentary photography which was a departure from what my work at that time which was commercial portraits with lighting etc. So lots of things to consider. Of course I said yes! I never turn down an opportunity to be challenged and of course travel.
I started doing the research I needed to make the trip happen. Visas, travel, local customs, on the ground conditions, and connecting with the in country organization that I was going to work with. Luckily I had great support from my clients, and I already had lots of travel experience to lean on. It is one of the defining moments in my career as an artist and a person. It has led me to all sorts of new opportunities and people. All I had to do what take a leap into the unknown.
This project helped with my perspective of how I see the world and photograph it. Thoughts I live by in my day to day.
- I want my photos to be beautiful
- I want to show the best of humanity
- I portray people with dignity
This photo is one I took while I was at a clinic outside of Kabul with the most amazing Afghani woman. Dr. Sakena Yacoobi. She is a force of nature and I am lucky to have spent some time with her. Normally women in Afghanistan cover themselves from head to toe in Burkas. Behind walls they can a little more relaxed with that. Although if a man is around they normally stay covered up. So being basically an alien from another planet in a place like Afghanistan some of those rules don't apply to me. She was sitting waiting her turn to see the doctor, and we stopped to talk to her. Well I spoke through Sakena. She had pulled her burka over her head in a relaxed way, but covered her face a bit with her hand so I could really see her fully. I would ask questions like what she was doing there, how was she feeling, about her family etc. As we spoke I set up my Speed Graphic 4x5 camera, and started taking some photos. I really wanted to see her smile, but she would not drop her hand, and was very serious. As we spoke I took a few shots I tried a few words in Farsi the local language and she found that very amusing, she smiled behind her hand, and I clicked the shutter. Then she had put her hand down and had graced me with a beautiful smile. Wow what a privilege!! These are the moments I live for. I ended up only taking a few photos of her and the photo stars were in alignment that I had captured what I was looking for. It wasn't used by the client but it was more for me anyway.
- 1960's era Speed Graphic view camera
- 150 mm Schneider lens
- Type 55 Polaroid film (sadly, extinct now killed by the digital revolution)
Back in 2007 I went to Afghanistan on assignment. I was excited and nervous for many reasons. My personal safety was highest on my mind along with all the other reasons, doing something worthy, not disappointing my clients, not mess up, in other words lots of pressure on myself by the worlds toughest critic of my work....me. I was not there to capture conflict imagery, but documenting some programs of nurse training run by the Afghan Institute of Learning, and when I had a chance something where I got a glimpse of the soul of someone. No superficial images of destruction or people beat down from the conflict. So I had to get in there, get to know people, accomplish my goals, all in a very short time frame.Being the crazy idealist that I am, along with my digital gear I dragged along a 1960's era 4x5 speed graphic and polaroid type 55 film. Super low tech, slow, and some of the best photos I took were with that camera.I met Aziza at a women's clinic she was waiting to see the doctor. We got to talking a bit (through an interpreter of course) and we connected. These are the only 2 frames I shot. You have to wait for the right moment, and create images one at a time. I liked the first one where she was being a little shy with her smile.
The best part of what I do as a photographer? Getting to know people that I would probably never, ever encounter if it wasn't for being a photographer. Meeting people from different cultures and spending some time with them, eating with them, drinking tea with them really keeps things in perspective for me, and I find immensely enjoyable. I am lucky. Here I am getting to know and sharing a bit of tea with Abhimand a bit before I photograph him earlier this year on an assignment for Abbott. He was on his way to deliver milk from his cows to the milk receiving center in Shirdi, India about five hours east of Mumbai.
"Smile!" but look at me.
When on assignment I am sent with specific requirements on what ideas the images are supposed to convey, as well as look and feel. "Oh, and make sure there is room for type! but not sure of exactly where it will go." So as random as it feels sometimes, I get mandates like "go photograph pregnant women in India with gestational diabetes." One of the most important aspects is authenticity. Keeping the images "real" is probably the biggest challenge. Its much easier when things are planned and working with models. You can control the look and the feel of the images that way. Although that can have its pitfalls when it comes to looking authentic. Working with real people it can be hit or miss, of course being a professional it is expected that there is more hit than miss. You can tell people stand there and look this way, and that way, but how do you convey an idea you want them to express in their faces and body language? This becomes particularly problematic with cultural and language barriers. Many times I show up at a persons home in a rural area of another country that is off the grid like an alien from another planet that just got off a spaceship. Although my visit is usually pre-arranged. Most people have no clue about, why am I there, what I am doing, why am doing it, why is it important, and what is the point of it all. Not to mention I am probably the first foreigner that they have ever seen up close let alone interacted with, and a man no less which can be an issue in very conservative countries. Also I want to take lots of photos over here, over there, doing this, doing that....I get 20 minutes tops before people start getting tired of the whole thing. Plus they have work to do!
So whats a photographer to do? Sit down and have tea, share a moment, get to know each other a bit, and do more than hope for the best.
Stories, from the road: "My father is a barber, my grandfather was a barber, I want something else. Although I am very talented. Abbott has given me an opportunity to be something else."
"Want a haircut?"
I was in Brazil last year on assignment for Abbott Global Citizenship report. This particular report is for Abbott Brazil specifically using photos I took while in Brazil it also includes photography I did in China, Haiti, as well as the USA. Here are a few selected pages from the report. If you want to see more of what Abbott Brazil does in corporate citizenship click here. Also check out the main Abbott citizenship site here.
It's all about the eyes, smiling and unafraid of the camera.
I didn't know what to expect when I showed up one frigid morning in Galway, Ireland. What I knew is that I was photographing a dance. Its always hard to predict what going to happen when working on scant information. At least I wouldn't have the communication issues I face in places that don't speak English or Spanish or something close. Although I always muddle through with limited charm and wit. It was great fun and I also made a small video for the client and the NGO. So here is a plug for them, a good organization that helps many people.
Use it or lose it! Arthritis Ireland an, organization for arthritis sufferers in Ireland organizes dances to get people suffering from arthritis up from the couch and on to the dance floor.The goal being to get them exercising which helps keep them limber. This is one couples story on living with arthritis
Much of of my time is spent photographing people working, playing, laughing, vogueing, etc, but I never have any photos of me doing those things. For example in my house there is a wall full of family photos I am in one maybe two of them. Why? because I am usually the one doing the photographing. So in my recent travels I handed a camera to my client........Many thanks Roopal! I really need a personal paparazzi.
This is a photo of me photographing a mother and daughter in front of a temple near Lonavala, India. The little girl was really personable and pretty in pink. What a beautiful family.
I had such grand blogging plans for my travels....I didn't do much of it unfortunately. I did post some to Facebook when I was sitting still. The demands of moving non stop through different cities, and countries with spotty internet, and crazy data roaming fees forced those ideas on to the back burner. Instead I really focused on the reason I was there; the job at hand. Just a few more domestic trips then I will be done. I will post some stories when I catch up.
Here is a shot in Chandigarh, India at a celebration. They sure know how to throw a party in India.
View 2011 Abbott GCR in a larger mapIndian visa (ready to be picked up), China visa in process, update photo gear (check), get a haircut (check), updating maps on GPS, relax (check, well half check) the list goes on...Starting to plan some travel for a project that is fast approaching, way too fast. The map shows general locations because many things have not been nailed down yet, also there will be different cities and towns in each area as I speed travel around the world. I think this years travel will be back to back in some parts so no stop overs in NYC to do laundry, replace broken gear, download drives, drop off film to develop (yes film, B+W), see my wife and kids, deal with business stuff, or take a break. I will be on the road from the end of January till mid March. So I have to be extra prepared for anything this time around. I will be in places where anything would be impossible to replace.
I have been thinking a lot on trying some new things, and change my approach to keep things fresh. It's really easy to follow a formula, and sometimes things can get stale. We can't let that happen, can we. Trying to stay true to what you do, and evolve is tough.
I can't wait to get started, and experience the unexpected.
Recently in NYC there was a kickoff party for the BSR (business for social responsibility) conference in NYC. It was a very well attended event by many people in the corporate responsibility field. My client Abbott was one of the sponsors of the event. The best part of the event (at least for me) is that photos I took of various Abbott Fund projects in different parts of the world these last few years were being projected, and printed on banners. It served as a great reminder to everyone at the event that there are people in the world that need support, and we need to do what we can to help. It is good to know that my work is used to bring awareness, and perhaps stir action to do good in this world. The different organizations highlighted were, the Afghan Institute of Learning in Afghanistan, Vivir con dia Diabeties in Bolivia, Ankor childrens hospital in Cambodia, and the Gao Diem nutrician program in Vietnam. All very worthy programs which I have seen, and experienced personally. Each name is hotlinked check them out, and donate if you can.
The weather has played a huge part in my recent travels unfortunately not for the better. I was stuck in Shengyang, China (a small city near North Korea, although they did have a Prada, Gucci, and Burberry boutiques just to name a few) when on my way to Singapore because of snow, getting around Chicago was a nightmare with all the snow and the cold. I almost slid my rental car into another car in Odense, Denmark. Luckily whatever I did kept me from hitting the car, but got myself stuck in a snow bank instead. A woman who was jogging passed by me, volunteered to help push my car out of the snow bank as a result of the slide. Did I mention Danes are amazing?
So why should flying from Copenhagen via Frankfurt be any different? I was supposed to fly to Sao Paulo and make a connection to Rio de Janiero. That was not to be....My flight from Frankfurt was late by an hour then the connecting airlines computers were having issues so they couldn't get me on another flight. I traveled by taxi to the domestic airport to try to get another flight no luck. Ugh...a rare defeat for me. I usually mange to overcome those issues somehow. Anyway Rio was rescheduled and I stayed in Sao Paulo to work on other parts of the project. I photographed doctors, patients, battery recycling, regular people, kids, babies, and triplets...the triplets were a challenge.
I was last in Sao Paulo 10 years ago, and it was really great to be there again. Its a busy metropolis of 10,886,517 in the city and 19,616,060 in the greater metropolitan area of people with things to do.
Thanks to everyone in Sao Paulo who made my short time there interesting and special.
Observations in Sao Paulo in February: Hot!, beautiful people, clean for such a large city, bad traffic, crazy afternoon rains, great food, Brazilian Portuguese sounds beautiful, great music, friendly people, great vibe, Bohemia beer, and those Capirinas that somehow taste better there.
Flying into Sao Paulo. This is the edge of the city. Look how it ends so abruptly an>
Thunder storm out my window at the Sheraton Sao Paulo Brooklin. During the storm the power went out in the hotel for about an hour.
The drive to Copenhagen should take about 2 hours from Odense. My drive took almost double that due to snow, and because of the totally wrong tires on my fab Volvo rental car. So after a nerve wracking drive I slip and slide into Copenhagen. I went to Copenhagen to catch my flight to my next stop Brazil, see a friend, and some speed touristing (something I am getting very good at.) Too bad the weather was not too hospitable. It was cold, wet, snowy, and 8 inches of snow on the ground. It was beautiful with the snow and all, but wet feet are not conducive to walking around for too long. I bet its beautiful in the summer time though.
Observations: cold, snow, wet, (it is winter time after all), great architecture, pedestrian friendly, canals, great people, great hotel Royal SAS hotel.
This is what was expecting me as I approached Aarlborg airport.
Farsøe is a small town in the Jutland region of Denmark. It was cold, snowy, and small. As a matter fact there was no hotel in town. I had to stay at a nearby town called Aars for that. I was photographing a woman named Bente for the report I am working on. I photographed her at home as well as working at her job as a bartender. The bar was a local place with a working class clientele. I got to meet some interesting people. That's the best part of projects like this I get to meet and interact with people from all walks of life. People like Thomas and Anders in the last photo. Thomas works in a lumber yard, and Anders is a fish farmer. He raises trout I believe. We were immediate friends. Most of the poeple at the bar were regular customers, and Bente told them that a NY photographer was coming to photograph her. They were excited by that I hope I didn't disappoint. I did keep the NY'er attitude dialed down a bit. Thomas and Anders kept offering to by me a drink. They found it incomprehensible that I would be in a bar and not drinking. I took them up on their offer once I was done. SKOL! That's cheers in Danish.
Observations: cold, snow, ice, lonely, really nice people, good food as a matter of fact great food even in the middle or no where, great landscapes.
I am a little behind on the blog. Lots of moving around these days.
I was in Geneva, Switzerland to photograph Shing Chen who is leading a team of researchers who are looking for cures to neglected diseases such as sleeping sickness. He is very cool guy, and I had a great time spending a few hours with him. He was most entertaining, and gracious to have given me the time to photograph him. Particularly because the weather outside was not very hospitable.
observations: multi lingual people, super clean (of course), people wait for the light to change, organized, great architecture, great public transportation.