A lifelong resident of the Lisbon area of Portugal, Pedro Portela has never been lacking gorgeous photographic opportunities. The small nation of Portugal is famous for breathtaking beaches, rolling farmland, and even ancient Roman temples. It’s against these backdrops Portela shoots both film and digital portraits. He also has been turned around on his initial impressions of wedding photographers, and now counts himself among professionals using medium format film to capture weddings.
Here’s something we never expected. Our endless surfing has revealed to us The Blog of Mark: An American Peyote Scribble. In a recent post titled NEX-VG10 Mamiya 80mm f/2.8, Mark goes into detail about what happened when he mated his Mamiya 80mm glass from his Mamiya M645 medium format body.
An interesting experiment and blog post. Thanks, Mark!
Markus Klinko was three years old when he started playing the piano. With a father as a symphony musician, it was almost inevitable. By the time he was seven or eight, his dream was to become a concert soloist. After trying classical guitar and electric guitar, he became a harpist at twelve or thirteen. A native of Switzerland, eventually, he moved to Paris and made his dream come true by signing a recording contract with EMI Virgin Classics in 1990.
In 1994, Klinko developed a malady in his hand, which prevented him from playing from one day to the next. This traumatizing experience remained undiagnosed and forced a premature end to his classical music career. He seized the opportunity to attempt something totally different. “Out of the blue, I decided I want to be a fashion photographer,” he recalls. “I had no logical reason to believe I could because I’d never even owned a camera. I had never even taken any pictures whatsoever—not even for family pictures, or a hobby—nothing at all. I had no clue.”
Klinko credits the hours he spent as a subject in front of the camera during his music career as prepping him for what the environment in a professional photography studio was like. Aware he needed to educate himself, Klinko purchased an introductory book by Ansel Adams, and began studying. Coming from a classical music background, he applied himself with his usual classical practice of ten hours a day. “Of course, 16 years later, I realize that’s not at all how you become a better photographer,” he says. “By just doing it a lot, that’s not how you become a great photographer, but at that time, that’s what I was used to. I was very, very eager.”
After devouring the Adams book, his father gave him an old 35mm camera. Klinko bought a store mannequin. “I decided this would be a very good way to practice lighting and experiment with film,” he says. After working with this set-up for awhile, he became unsatisfied, and felt it was time to raise the bar on himself. “I abruptly decided I needed to buy all the equipment anybody could possibly ever use immediately,” he remembers. “I sold several harps, which are expensive instruments; a harp costs up to $40,000. I sold a couple of them right away, and I went to Foto Care in New York, and I bought pretty much half the store and beyond.”
With the selling of his harps, Klinko purchased 35mm and medium format cameras. He also bought a wide assortment of lighting equipment. “I had the mannequin, and I had all this new stuff, and I applied this 10‑hour‑a‑day philosophy,” he says. “I started photographing the mannequin systematically with every different light, from every different angle, with every different type of film at the time that was available. All day long, ten hours a day.”
At the end of each day, Klinko would rush to the labs in New York City’s photo district, most of which are gone now. He would have the film rush-developed, and waited for it. “It would always be the photos of the same mannequin. Those people thought I was crazy,” he laughs. His energy and craziness paid off. Klinko asked the lab chief for advice on pushing the film, or other techniques to help him achieve his vision. Within two weeks, he felt he had the technical basis for what he was trying to achieve photographically.
With some connections at modeling agencies, Klinko approached them without a portfolio, but armed with his classical CDs. Amazingly, they sent him a few models who needed more material for their portfolios. “I met Indrani as one of the first girls who needed a test shot because she had just changed her haircut,” he remembers. “Again, within the very first days of going to modeling agencies, Wilhelmina Models sent Indrani over and she never left!”
Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri went for dinner with Klinko, and they fell in love. The couple soon formed a partnership which lasts to this day. At the time, she had ten years of modeling experience and had taken many travel and nature photographs herself, which she still loves to do. They went to Miami for four months that winter, and Klinko did test shots, with Indrani helping. A local magazine gave him his first assignment, and they were on their way.
Relocating to Paris, Klinko got an agent, and an avalanche of magazine work came in from both Paris and London. They fortunately met a small company of digital retouchers—a rarity in 1995. The company sponsored Klinko and Indrani, trading retouching for their book if the couple would later bring their paying work back to the company. The opportunity also gave Indrani the chance to become familiar with the possibilities of computer retouching.
After Paris, they opened their own retouching house in New York in 1996 with the help of a French company called Cyborg Imaging. This operated for a few years, servicing other photographers and corporate clients. When they realized they were shooting for the same clients as some of the photographers who were coming to them for retouching, they decided the conflict of interest was too great. They merged Cyborg Imaging into Markus Klinko Photography, and only worked on the images they shot themselves.
The experience proved positive, and the couple learned much from working as photographers and as postproduction specialists. “It gave us a lot of encouragement too, because we saw the raw film that came in from those people who were famous, so we knew that we could definitely compete,” Klinko says. “That’s basically how it all got started, and from there on it’s obviously always an up and down, struggling enterprise to become well known in the industry, but we had a lot of lucky breaks. In early 2000′s, David Bowie and Iman really championed our work by giving us major assignments. David Bowie hired us for his album cover for Heathen, and Iman hired us for her book cover, I am Iman.”
During this period, they shot repeatedly for The London Sunday Times, British GQ, and many interview-based magazines. In the early 2000s, the recording industry took notice, and began liking their work. Album covers followed. In 2003, they shot one of their most recognizable images for Beyonce’s Dangerously in Love, which directly led to campaigns for L’Oreal Paris.
The mid-2000s were fruitful for Klinko and Indrani. Simultaneously both they and Bravo began developing an idea of a reality television show based on photographers. “A lot of people when they saw us work on sets would tell us, ‘Oh my god! You guys are like a working reality show,’ because we’re sometimes quite comical because we discuss everything a lot and we argue a lot,” Klinko explains. “It’s creative arguments. ‘Should it be blue, or should it be red, or should it be from the left, or should it be from the right?’ Everything gets discussed and gets negotiated.”
After almost two years of meetings with production companies and negotiations with Bravo, Double Exposure went into preproduction in early 2009. The show has featured celebrity guests such as Naomi Campbell, Lady Gaga, Lindsay Lohan, Dita Von Teese, and many others. “I consider it an unprecedented opportunity because such a show has never existed before,” Klinko says. “It’s a very raw look at the behind‑the‑scenes, with obviously a lot of unnecessary drama added, of course, for the needs of reality television, which is a little bit the regrettable part because we are actually far less dramatic than we come across on the show.” He feels reality producers edit to make the drama more pronounced.
Still, there is value to the audience regarding the art and practice of photography. Klinko says, regarding the actual photo shoots, “This has never been seen before—so much access to things usually very secretive and very unapproachable. I think that was a big success in terms of access and of letting the viewer really be part of what’s going on.”
Klinko claims the shoots captured for the show document some of their best photographic work, particularly the sessions with Dita Von Teese and Lady Gaga. Season One is now available on the iTunes Music Store.
All those hours of dedicated photographic study have paid off for Klinko, as he has become knowledgeable about the tools of his trade. “Mamiya has been my brand of choice for so many years,” he says. “Literally all of our work has been shot with Mamiya, I think we started using a 22 megapixel digital back, sometime around 2004.”
With six years of digital Mamiya shooting, the team shot film-based Mamiya before that. “I used Mamiya as my favorite brand,” Klinko says. “Even though I’ve experimented, I was quite fond of the Fuji camera, which was six by eight format. It doesn’t exist anymore, but I always came back to the RZ. Of course now I’m also very excited about the new 645DF with the Leaf shutter lenses. Of course that’s amazing. So, I think Mamiya really offers absolutely the best platform for the digital back.”
“The RZ is just the greatest camera ever built for the kind of work we do,” Klinko continues. “I think the combination of an RZ and the 645—it’s really the dream setup because you can shoot with either camera, really, in every situation. It’s very fluid and the quality is just unbelievable. I’m using both the RZ and the 645DF. I’m right now getting more and more excited about the 645DF and started using it a lot. We have a very busy month. We’re going to be shooting a very long list of major A‑list celebrities. I’m very excited with the new camera, and I will be putting it to very good use. Yeah, so it’s all the way Mamiya! There’s really is nothing else.”
Klinko is equally excited about the choices of lenses available. “I use whichever lens is needed at the time,” he explains. “I’m not limiting myself, but most of the time a normal or slightly wide lens is probably the most practical for fashion and celebrity photography. I don’t use very long lenses very often. Of course, I have them all, like the 500mm lens for the RZ, for instance. It’s a fabulous setup but it’s obviously not your everyday lens. Anything too extreme, like a fish‑eye or something, again, I always have it with me, but it’s not something you use every time you shoot. I’d say one particular lens that over the years has been a big favorite is definitely the 65mm lens for the RZ. I think that’s probably one of the best lenses ever built. The resolution of that lens is unbelievable. The new lenses, the 80mm and the 55mm and all that on the 645, they’re all extremely sharp and extremely great lenses. I take a whole range. It depends a little bit what you’re doing. Back in the film days, before digital, my favorite lens was the 140 macro for the Mamiya RZ. That was the lens I constantly used. With the different chip sizes and the format changes and stuff, due to that, I started using more of the 110 lens and the 65mm. Those are probably my two most used lenses on the RZ.”
After having a SoHo studio for eight years, Klinko and Indrani are happy to be shooting on location whenever possible. For the show, they have been shooting in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London, and India. “I look forward to the next chapter, which we have various offers we’re discussing,” says Klinko. “We’re definitely going to keep a television presence, there’s no question.”
Indrani recently finished writing a book, and she and Klinko are working on a retrospective book of their photographs. They are also branching out and directing, which is a new path for the team. A few months ago they released a high tech commercial for Marc Ecko featuring Lindsey Lohan.
Currently, Klinko sees their work moving away from posed and highly retouched to more spontaneous and less digitally altered. Although he gives clients what they ask for, when given the choice, they seem to be moving away from the polished iconic look evident in their early years.
Regarding subject matter, don’t try to pin down Klinko as a celebrity shooter. “We’re not just advertising, or fashion, or celebrities. We do it all,” he says. We go from very dark, edgy and challenging type of work to very commercial, very mainstream kind of stuff without any hesitation. One day we can shoot a soda can, and then the next day we could shoot an edgy, underground magazine from London. We love that and we don’t think one’s better than the other; we think they’re very different. We like to do portraiture, and we like to shoot normal people whether they’re CEOs, or writers, or cooks, or whatever they are. We’ve also started doing a lot of book covers, movie posters, and all sorts of new work. We actually photographed our own campaign for the Bravo show.”
Markus Klinko’s first life was as a classical harpist. He has transformed himself into a professional photographer sought by clients around the world. As a reality show star, we see him entering his third endeavor. Keep watching him, his partner Indrani, and the iconic images they create. There’s no telling what might be their next creative incarnation.
Vanity Fair’s Online Design Editor, Hamish Robertson, was featured on the Unplggd site, where he recounts his top ten tech gadgets. Among his favorites he cites the retro Mamiya 645 Super. Pictured with an old Nikon F, Robertson states, “They both feel serious, hand crafted, and indestructible.”
In high school, I was obsessed with Andy Summers, and how he changed the sonic landscape of popular music forever as a member of the Police. As a budding guitarist, I worked my way through every song in their catalog, and sought out every non-Police recording I could find of man who created a new vocabulary for six strings. As I pored over all available information regarding Mr. Summers, I came across Lynn Goldsmith’s first book on the Police. No stranger to photographing rock and roll artists, Goldsmith intimately chronicled the band from 1976 to 1983, often at times when tour support was minimal and tensions were at their maximum.
Although I almost drooled over Andy Summer’s now-iconic battered Telecaster, it was clear from the first page Goldsmith’s photos were more than something your eyes would skim over in the pages of a music magazine. Years have passed. Fender has issued a limited reproduction of Summer’s famous guitar, and Goldsmith released an updated version of her book on the Police. The photos still hold up. Even as a teenager I understood there was a depth to them. They were not just photographs of another band cavorting or looking hero-like. It was something more artistic, particularly in the composition of those black and white images, and the moodiness of the color ones, compelling me to look beyond what an average teenage fan sees in musicians. Like the guitar music which brought me to Goldsmith’s work, I was witnessing art I hadn’t expected.
None of this should’ve been suprising to me then, or to Goldsmith’s new audience now. By the time that first Police book was released in 1983, she had been working with musicians for a considerable period. In 1971 the Michigan native was employed at Elektra Records, and became the youngest member inducted into the Director’s Guild of America. The following year, she directed In Concert for ABC Television. Soon she “was tired of doing shows the way they wanted me to do them,” she recalls. “I suggested we do a documentary section to the show.” She partnered with Flint, Michigan’s Grand Funk Railroad for a documentary on In Concert, and eventually became their co-manager.
Andy Cavaliere had been their road manager, and knew the touring business, and Goldsmith knew creative marketing. It proved a perfect pairing, and Grand Funk Railroad soon had their first number one hit. With her marketing savvy, Goldsmith began constructing photo shoots for the band. Her creativity proved valuable, and soon she was providing magazines around the world with her photos. “I decided what I really loved doing was making pictures, because I didn’t have to have all the elements one needs when you’re a director, and I could just go out and do things on my own,” she says. Soon she realized she didn’t need Grand Funk, either. Photography had trumped the job she created for herself.
Goldsmith began photographing whatever she could, and sold her work to a broader range of magazines. Business snowballed, and she started a photo agency. Specializing in photos of entertainers, LGI represented over 300 photographers before being sold to Corbis in 1997. “None of all of this was conscious,” she explains. “It was just my energy and being passionate and enthusiastic about everything that I did, which also included seeing the work in print. So, I think we all have to follow our bliss. Sometimes it’s easier when you’re younger, because you just don’t think of things as a risk.” Goldsmith sold LGI because she missed what she loved most: taking photos.
The list of musicians and celebrities Goldsmith has chronicled is legendary, and there are perhaps a only a handful of other professional photographers who can boast such a long and substantial career with subjects in the limelight. She’s shot over a hundred album covers we grew up with, and has been in almost every major magazine you can think of, from covers to inside features. From the Beatles to the Beastie Boys, Goldsmith has had them in front of her lenses.
If forced to apply just one word to Lynn Goldsmith it would be “identity.” Never afraid of reinventing herself, Goldsmith has even been a recording artist for Island Records under her Will Powers persona. Released in 1983, Dancing for Mental Health was produced by Todd Rundgren and featured the single “Kissing With Confidence,” which peaked at Number 17 in the UK Singles Chart and featured Carly Simon on lead vocal. Also contributing to the album was Nile Rogers, Steve Winwood, and Sting, among others.
Her most recent and ongoing experiment with identity is a game-changer for Goldsmith, and may very well eclipse the large body of rock and roll photography she is known for. Entitled The Looking Glass, a series of 50 self-portrait images influenced by shopping, fashion and identity, has been under construction for ten years. By taking advantage of digital technology, Goldsmith has done something wholly original in the history of photography.
The United States is a country founded on trade. The Dutch came here to make guilders from beaver pelt commerce. With a long and documented history of fashion trends imported first from Europe, and later, other parts of the world, not to mention original American fashions, we are a nation concerned with how we look. None of this national history has been lost on Goldsmith. She addresses it directly with The Looking Glass. What American woman in the last hundred years has not been influenced by the latest fashions being hawked from behind the plate glass windows of a boutique or department store?
This intrinsic American drive of commerce and fashion and identity perception is with us today. In the 50 photos which comprise The Looking Glass book, Goldsmith and crew have created distinct and elaborate sets, all of which are based on the starting point of a display window with mannequins. Some, like “Strung Out,” can easily be imagined installed in the window of Saks Fifth Avenue. Others, like “Ringmaster,” or “Tea Cup Dream,” are as elaborate as a dreamscape sequence from any Hollywood blockbuster. Photographing the scenes in whole and in part, she uses mannequins as placeholders for herself, later inserting her face on them, transforming her identity time after time, often appearing up to five times in the same image.
“There’s no such thing as fixed identity,” explains Goldsmith. “That’s why I keep changing form. That’s why even in my career as a photographer, people like to identify me as a rock and roll photographer, but I have a much wider body of work. If anything, I’d say I’m more a portrait photographer than I am a landscape photographer.”
It’s clear the early decades she spent amassing a body of work featuring musicians and celebrities has directly paid off with the triumph of this series. “The Looking Glass is really a reflection of all of that,” Goldsmith tells me. “In the early days when women started making records, I wanted to make them look their best. When it was with the guys, like with Grand Funk, I redressed people and sometimes I would have other people cut their hair or do things, but when it came to women, no one was paying for hair or makeup or styling, so I had to learn how to do hair and makeup. That’s why in The Looking Glass series, part of what I do is the hair and makeup on myself before I enter the bodies of these mannequins, as well as play other characters. Some of those characters in The Looking Glass are characters who have appeared before in my Will Powers videos and performances. So, it’s all connected because the work I’ve always done has been about either making an individual physically look like what they thought they always wanted to look like, or I made them look more like what I thought their music or whatever they were about, or what their fans wanted to see them look like. Every photographer can make someone look like they’re a completely different person just by the way they approach that photo shoot. The Looking Glass series starts out really as self‑portraits and ends up being not about me but really a question as to what it is to be human.”
When I press Goldsmith for more details about the origin of this series I discover nothing less than her own identity was at stake. “It came about as I think most things do—out of pain and suffering. I really felt I needed to do something outside of celebrity portraiture and I didn’t have a clear idea anymore of who I was. I felt very lost and wondered where I was going, wondered ‘what am I going to do?’”
Taking solace from something of her childhood, Goldsmith went to Macy’s in New York City, with its famous wooden escalator. Triggering a Proustian flashback, she recalled the Detroit department store J.L. Hudson’s wooden escalator she rode as a child, which she always liked. While in Macy’s, she watched customers picking up clothing. “I would think, ‘No, no. Don’t get that! That’s not for you!,’” she recalls. “I figured out that if I know what people shouldn’t be wearing, or think I know, then I must have some sense of who I am.”
This realization got her exploring what shopping means. “Shopping is such an important pastime, particularly in our culture, because it makes people feel in some way that they know who they are,” Goldsmith says. “I started looking at the store windows to see what really brought people into the stores. In doing that, I realized when people see the mannequins in the windows—many of whom don’t have heads—they’re set to imagine what could be there. That body could be their body. There’s something that’s driving them.”
Soon she was photographing store windows late at night for reference. “I would sit down with an image and think about some kind of fictional narrative that would explore the things that influenced me as a little kid, just like the escalator,” she says. Recalling myths and fairy tales of childhood, she explored how they influence our identity. She also thought about what would happen if they were reinterpreted. What would a black or Latina Red Riding Hood be like, for instance?
When I ask Goldsmith about the color and saturation of The Looking Glass, she’s quick to reflect on the nature of digital imagery. “The reason it’s kind of hyper‑color is because I do want it to appear real, but obviously it’s not real. That will enhance the question of what’s imagined and what’s true. That’s really in part what the digital world is about, and in the digital world—and that’s why I chose all my tools to be digital—nothing really exists until you manifest a print. So, was there ever really a photograph? Photographs, when we look at them, we think they are a single image. And they are, but are they? Some of my photographs are made up of over 50 images, and because the Photoshop work is what it is, hopefully when one looks at it, they only see one image. The mind will then ask me, ‘Well, what was there and what wasn’t there?’ And I’m not going to tell you,” she concludes with a smile.
Much time was spent on mentally exploring the narrative of each photo in this series. “There are things I learned about myself from every photograph, and about other people and about being human,” says Goldsmith. The other large time-expenditure was her Photoshop processing.
The compositing of each image was a gradual process, which grew organically as the narrative unfolded itself to Goldsmith. “It’s really different with each image,” she says. “For example, ‘Teacup Dreams’ took me a year, but that’s because I would stand back and look at it—not unlike what a painter does—and I kept saying, ‘Something’s bothering me. Something’s bothering me.’ Then I would go, ‘Oh! I forgot to light the candles!’”
Fashion remained central to the project, and never strayed from Goldsmith’s mind. “As I went through time, in terms of the clothing, I kind of went through a 1930s, ’40s period. Then we get into the 1950s, ’60s. Clothing starts getting cleaner and simpler as we move forward into modern times.”
Clothing wasn’t the only thing which got cleaner and simpler during the ten years Goldsmith worked on The Looking Glass. Shooting Mamiya cameras during the length of the project, she started with a Mamiya 645 and transitioned to the DM40 before eventually using the new Mamiya DM33. “I knew I was going to be making my images hopefully 60 x 90 or even bigger, minimum 60 x 40. You have to have a really large file to be able to do all the things I wanted to do with it. Mamiya was the way to go.”
The lighting she used during the project was Profoto. “That’s the best gear in the whole world. I don’t think there’s any lighting that’s better than Profoto. But, to me that’s obvious. Don’t you know that?” I’m being teased by Lynn Goldsmith. I ask her how she triggers her lights. “I couldn’t live without PocketWizards. Are you kidding? That is true. Do you know anyone who doesn’t use PocketWizards?” Lynn Goldsmith is still teasing me. I love this job.
I ask about tripods. Goldsmith quickly replies she uses an Induro. I suggest it’s probably one of the carbon fiber models. “Oh, yes—it is. It’s got to be, because I need lightweight,” she says. “It’s the CT114. I love it.”
With the creative part of The Looking Glass finished, Goldsmith now turns her attention to the release of the photos in book form, and an accompanying gallery tour of the images. Details on both aspects of this stunning series of images are available on The Looking Glass site.
It’s been almost thirty years since I sat for hours alone in my parents’ home with a guitar and Lynn Goldsmith’s well-composed images in my lap. I still drool over Andy Summers’ iconic, battered Telecaster, and I still sit alone with a guitar, but soon I’ll have a new series of images from Lynn Goldsmith’s lenses to transport me to another place. It will involve not an iconic rock band, but will explore identity, sense of self, and one of the reasons the United States exists. This time the experience will be richer, more vivid, and timeless.
With Texas roots going back to the early 1800′s, it might be a bit difficult to quickly find other photographers with a bigger stake in the state. Now living in Austin, Jay B. Sauceda grew up in southeast Houston, and went to the University of Texas. He’s all about the Lone Star State, and loves having it in his viewfinders.
Studying political science, Sauceda took one photography class at UT. The professor was Dennis Darling, a photojournalist. Darling was able to bring Harry Benson to campus for a lecture. Benson discussed becoming close friends with John Lennon and what he witnessed in the Ambassador Hotel the night Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Intrigued by the prospect of witnessing and documenting critical events, Sauceda attention shifted. “I thought that was fascinating and it kind of sparked my interest in photography,” he recalls.
After graduating with a degree in political science, he remained in the capital. Initially engaged in political work, he quickly saw running campaigns wasn’t for him. He switched gears and started assisting for photographer Casey Dunn. He became friendly with a small cadre of photographers whom he claims have more technical training on different types of cameras. These friends helped guide Sauceda, and got him shooting medium format.
Initially interested in learning by seeing what others were doing on Flickr, Sauceda was guided by his friends. “There’s a lot of bad information out there on some of those Web sites,” he says. Talented friends like Dunn, Adam Vorhees and Matt Rainwaters “gave me a lot of good advice,” he recalls.
With his assisting days behind him, Sauceda’s paying jobs are primarily commercial work, with some additional editorial assignments. He keeps very active with personal work because he’s generally hired to shoot portraiture and environmental scenes. Always working with eyes open, Sauceda tends to be able to squeeze in personal work before or after a paying assignment is done.
With Austin being the music mecca it is, it’s no surprise many of Sauceda’s subjects are musicians of name. He met Doyle Bramhall II, and through him, guitar slinger Charlie Sexton and Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble’s drummer, the incredible Chris Layton. The three comprise the Arc Angels, a band which released their first album in 1992.
Although his portrait work is identifiably his, Sauceda’s product photography and food photography ranks among the best you’ve seen in any magazine. As opposed to working with portraiture subjects, Sauceda finds the technical challenges and tweaking he can do when photographing products as one of the main draws to that type of work. “With product photography, it’s just kind of crazy to me how much goes into it to make something look as good as it does. It’s fun, and I really love doing it. For me it’s kind of a change of pace. I like shooting people, but it’s also nice to just dim the lights in the studio, and work with product. You’re not really with dealing with anybody; you’re just working by yourself. You get to be a lot more meticulous than you do when you’re shooting people, for the most part.”
As a fifth generation Texan, the Lone Star State is never far from his heart or his work. Sauceda is currently working on a book of Texas furniture from 1850-1875 for the University of Texas. While traveling the state to document furniture, Sauceda began an unrelated series of photos on hand-painted building signage. Painted primarily on brickwalled buildings, these relics from past eras of advertising hawk everything from Big Red soda to Star Biscuits. Found on county roads and small state highways off the Interstate, Sauceda sees this project as a labor of love. “I really like Texas culture and Americana,” he says. “Finding a lot of these little brands and things like that on the sides of buildings has been kind of fun for me.”
In a stroke of good timing, Sauceda finds this type of work becoming popular now. When showing his book, these images draw many positive comments. “Most of the designers that I’m showing my work to end up being really interested in that series, mainly because it’s typographically pretty interesting to them from a design standpoint,” he says. “I like it because it’s general interest. Even if you’re not a designer it’s just interesting because you don’t really see that kind of hand painted work done anymore.”
The majority of photography Sauceda creates these days is done with his Mamiya 645ADF II. Half his current online portfolio was shot with a ZD Back, and the other half with a Phase One back. Sharing a studio with two other photographers, “Pretty much all our stuff at our studio is Mamiya-friendly,” he says. One exception is a friend who shoots a Canon 5D Mark II. “It’s kind of a running joke at the studio,” explains Sauceda. “When we shoot anything with the Mark II, we have to ask him, ‘Hey man, is this sharp for a Canon? Because it’s not sharp for a medium format or a large format lenses.’ We rag on him about shooting with 35mm stuff.”
Sauceda shoots his Mamiya with just two lenses, the 80mm and the 55-110mm zoom. He prefers the 80mm, which came with the system. “And it’s tack-sharp,” he adds quickly. “You always end up with these kit lenses that came with the camera, and this is the first kit lens I’ve ever been really impressed with. I shoot with that if I don’t need to do a lot of zooming, and then I shoot with the 55 to 110, but the 80 my workhorse. I shoot pretty much everything with it. Most the time, if I just want the camera to be a little smaller, and I know I don’t need a lot of range and focal length, I’ll shoot with that 80mm. I can focus a little bit closer with it. I’ve never even really needed any other lenses.”
Believing in shooting what feels most comfortable, Sauceda will be sticking with medium format. “I’ll get into little discussions with some of the guys here in Austin who shoot 35mm. They think I’m crazy for shooting medium format, and all that sort of stuff. They’re like, ‘Oh, how do you shoot with that?’ and ‘You don’t have a high enough ISO to shoot with this and that, blah, blah.’ To me, I just need a system that can mimic what it was like to shoot on film, because that’s how I learned. I don’t really need ISO 3200 or 6400. I don’t need a nightvision camera. I just try to keep my systems really simple. It just makes it easier. I’m not going to lose track of stuff. The less stuff I have, the less that can go wrong in my opinion. I’ve never been too much of a gear guy. I like the system I have, and I feel really comfortable with it. I’ll sell it to people if they’re asking me what the merits are on it. But, for me, I like my because it’s simple and it’s durable as heck.”
Sauceda also applies this minimalistic ethos to his lighting. “I try not to go too crazy with my light setup,” he explains. “If I’m doing something outside, I’m not the type of person that would want to overpower the sun. Because generally the sun already knows what it’s doing and it does a good enough job making everything look great. I’m just there to try to help make it look a little bit better. For outdoor work, it’s pretty simple: just fill with softboxes and that kind of thing, and scrims and stuff to cut light. For the most part, I just do a lot of clamshell lighting where I just do a key light and some fill. I work with one softbox, and I’ll generally just key everything up with one softbox—just kind of fill everything in with a huge umbrella. I’ve been going through a hard light phase recently where I’ve been shooting everything without light modifiers, and then just fill in the light with a softbox or something. I light people really hard because I like the shadows really, really gritty. Then I fill it in, so I don’t make everybody look really unflattering. I’m generally a little bit more reserved when it comes to lighting.”
Sharing gear with his studiomates Adam Voorhes and Casey Dunn is common for Sauceda. “We float equipment back and forth. The Profoto D1′s have been pretty incredible. I’ve used them on location a couple times. The assistant was super-psyched because he didn’t have to do anything because we had the little remote control for it. Being able to manually adjust the light settings and stuff like that was really nice, with me not having to move anywhere, and my assistant just having to set everything up.” The group also has a Sekonic light meter at the studio.
Sauceda sees himself pushing his commercial work as the future unfolds. He likes shooting lifestyle and environmental photography. Shooting people is where his passion rests. As far as location, he won’t be leaving Texas, or even Austin any time soon. “Obviously, New York is like the Mecca of photography,” he says. “There’s no lofty expectations Austin is overnight, going to become some sort of photographic hub. What we’ve been trying to do over the last few months—and really the last couple of years—is just show people in other cities that you don’t necessarily have to go to New York or Los Angeles to find that caliber of photography. We’ve been working to raise the caliber, and not just shoot everything, but just shoot some high level stuff to put Austin on the map as a creative hub. Don’t get me wrong, I like New York and I like L.A., but in my book Austin wins out against all of them.”
Brimming with Texas pride, this native points out the sheer economics of operating costs in Texas versus more traditional commercial photography centers in the United States. Even when location travel is factored in, the cost of Austin overhead is so much more reasonable than in other cities, it makes Sauceda and his fellow shooters competitive with other pros around the nation. “Plus, we like being able to go swim in May and hit the pool and that kind of stuff until November,” he says, laughing.
Bronx-born, California-raised, Ian Sitren has been around gyms his whole life. Moving to Southern California at the age of two, Sitren’s father took him often. After doing some weight lifting of his own when twelve years old, Sitren became inmpressed with the photography he found in bodybuilding magazines. As an adult working as a full-time photographer, he married his interests and carved out a spot for himself as a top bodybuilding shooter.
As his career progressed, Sitren won the confidence of many photo editors and commercial clients. Whereas he previously gave them what he thought they wanted, he now delivers what he thinks best, shooting to both express himself and complete the assignment to his exacting standards.
Regarding locations, Sitren shoots where the assignments lead him. Although the majority of his work is done in gyms and bodybuilding shows held in auditoriums, he shoots in more interesting locations when he can. “I will typically try to think up something more interesting and adventuresome than just shooting in the gym, which can get very tiresome,” he explains. “For the average person, going in and shooting in a gym would seem pretty exciting, but when you do it over and over and over again, there’s only so much you can do with it.”
Other clients such as Bodybuilding.com have given Sitren even more freedom. For that publication, he writes, shoots, and puts together the Iron Man Magazine BodySpace Physique of the Month column. With a half-million readers and site members, he chooses whom to feature and how to shoot them. He also writes a brief article on each body builder and how they transformed themselves. “It’s a huge amount of freedom,” he says. “I send them, typically, 12 to 24 photos from a shoot. They’ll run three to six.”
Originally a film shooter, Sitren was slow to embrace digital technology. “I was quite happy shooting film. Still am,” he says. “I still shoot quite a bit of film. It depends on the project. I don’t limit myself. When I think about a project, or when I’m doing a project, if I get up and I say, ‘Boy, in my mind’s eye I see that in medium format Tri-X,’ then it’s going to be in medium format Tri-X.”
“If I see the shot as really sharp, high-resolution digital, then it’s going to be really sharp, high-resolution digital. If I see that as: ‘Whoops, that’s due tomorrow,’ then it’s digital,” he laughs. “It also depends on budgets. Budgets aren’t the same as what they were just three years ago. I don’t quite have the latitude on some projects in shooting film now because it’s too expensive.”
Sitren was witness to an industry-wide trend as the Great Recession continued to drag on and deepen. Magazines cut back as their advertising fell away. Paper-based publications literally got thinner. Ad budgets got smaller. Manufacturers re-ran ads and repurposed photos. Some publications went from monthlies to quarterlies. Some ceased to exist. This survival strategy gave them large backlogs of materials for future issues. Photo assignments disappeared.
Adapting to these changing budgetary landscapes, Sitren adjusted what he was spending on shoots, and got more out of single shoots than he previously did. When shooting film, he was more judicious to get the maximum out of the expense of film and processing. “I’ve been through recessions before, but nothing like this,” he says.
Conversely, this has slowly brought about a pendulum-swing in the opposite direction. “The upside is typically in a recession, the bodybuilding and fitness world does very well,” he explains. “People who would otherwise be running out and spending money at the bar every night, and spending money doing this, that, and the other, all of a sudden internalize things and do things more important and better for themselves than they used to. They start going to the gym. They start paying attention to health. They start paying attention to things that they weren’t doing before. So, they’ll run out to the magazine stands, and they’ll buy a $6 magazine, whereas before they wouldn’t have even bothered. $6 for a magazine is actually fairly inexpensive entertainment. Your $30 gym membership, well, gosh, it’s a pretty big social network you can have very inexpensively.”
The economy isn’t the only thing changing for Sitren. He’s been experimenting with various Mamiya medium format digital gear. “I was probably the first person ever to be published with the Mamiya ZD Back,” he says of an assignment he did for Bodybuilding and Fitness World magazines. He also used it for a Palm Springs feature in Private Clubs, a large country club magazine, and a feature in Iron Man magazine. “I got a cover and a big feature in a couple trade magazines using the ZD Back, and that’s pretty much when it first came out. For the pricepoint, it was a pretty good buy.”
Sitren is also using the Mamiya DM33. “I was really impressed with it,” he says. “What amazed me especially was the dumbfounding color that came right out of the camera. The tremendous sharpness, the color, everything was so damn perfect, and part of it’s got to be the vast improvement of the D‑series lenses, as compared to the primary lenses I used on the 645AFD II. I was just astounded of what came into, and what came out of the camera. I had to do nothing to them. I had to do nothing, just no retouching. It was perfect.”
Feeling the medium format quality gives him an edge when presenting to his clients. “When I opened up those DM33 files, I about fell out of my chair,” he recalls. I was amazed. They were heads-up better than the Aptus 65 files, heads up better than the Phase P45 files. No question. I’ve shot a lot of stuff and the DM33 just blew me away. I was dumbfounded. I was pretty impressed with the Mamiya anyway with the prior lenses and everything, but this just blew me away.”
Defying conventional wisdom, Sitren is able to achieve film-like qualities with medium format digital shooting. Of his outdoor session with Raechelle Chase he explains, “I did the ever popular high‑definition look to photos. The files out of the DM33 were so sharp and had such definition. The gravel in the ground was plainly visible. It was dumbfounding. But, at the opposite end of the spectrum, when I wanted to slow the shutter down and make it have that film, not-quite-in-focus-movement-look to it, it worked really well for that too. I like doing that. With the DM33, it was so easy to emulate a lot of types of shooting I used to do on film. Still do on film, actually.”
With his own photography, Sitren continues to attempt to stand out, even if his subject matter remains the same. “I try to do things differently. I try to make sure that my stuff does not look like the next thing in a magazine. One of the big tests for me was taking the camera into the gym. Even if you’re lighting it, you’ve got a whole different set of parameters you’re working within. I also have a tendency to shoot kind of odd lightings. I’ll put the light behind somebody, or I’ll flood them with light and give it that hazy look. The DM33 was much more responsive to really odd lighting than I had expected. I was able to focus without resorting to go to manual most of the time, which is a big time saver. Especially, when I shoot people in the gym, I actually make them work out. They’re not posing, for the most part.”
Sitren feels it’s critical his bodybuilding subjects are fully engaged. “I’m pushing them through a workout because I want it to look like they’re actually working out. I want the muscles to be flexed and to be working as they would in a workout. The only way to do that is to use real weight and real people doing real things. The camera needs to be fairly responsive to that. It has to be able to shoot fast enough, and preferably autofocus fast enough.”
When asked about his lighting, Sitren quickly says, “I exclusively use Profoto. Ninety‑nine percent of the time it’s an Acute 2400R. I’ll use one or two heads. I’ll use a strip softbox and a head, or maybe just a head, or sometimes two silver umbrellas. A couple of PocketWizards and my Sekonic L‑358 meter and I’m good to go.”
With his chosen gear, Sitren is able to quickly set-up and get the shots he’s looking for. “It’s easy,” he declares. “I can store everything in the trunk of my car. I have one assistant. He gets everything out of the car, has it all set up within 15 to 20 minutes.”
This summer Sitren will be wrapping up a photo book entitled Muscle Beach Today, spanning his work with bodybuilders. His blog on Bodybuilding.com has pulled in hundreds of thousands of viewers, and shows no sign of running out of content. Other areas he’s been experimenting with include flattening colors, desaturating, and changing overall color themes. Client response has been positive. “I like doing it,” he says. “It’s fun. It’s something you would have done in film. In film you burn and dodge and cross process and different things, but you gotta start out with really good files.”
Ian Sitren has found his niche. He and his lifework are textbook examples of utlilizing a deep personal interest to create art and earn a living from it. Whether you spend time in a gym, or not, and whether you can appreciate the staggering array of muscles bodybuilders strive for, Sitren’s work and the career he’s built are testaments to a photographer beating odds to become and stay successful, despite economic downturns, fluctuating public interest, and advancing technology. That’s an impressive display of strength and art.
From growing up in the Ann Arbor-area of Michigan to shooting exotic locations throughout the southwestern United States, Jim Shoemaker is no stranger to reinventing himself and his destiny. After obtaining a degree in Graphic Design from Siena Heights University, he worked as a designer, riding out several recessions. In 2000′s dot-com collapse and recession, he moved to California to reboot his career.
Known primarily as a landscape photographer, Shoemaker explains his preferred subject matter by what interested him as a child. “I’ve been an outdoor person since I was a kid growing up in Michigan,” he recalls. “It’s not like there was a lot to do. We were in a rural area, and I spent a lot of time roaming around the woods. I always enjoyed being outdoors.” Inspired by Ansel Adams and other iconic landscape shooters, he was drawn to that type of photography. “Even before I was really into photography,” he says, “I would look at Adams’ work and there was just something so powerful about it, something that moved me, and I responded to, even though at the time I wasn’t making any connections I should be doing this myself.”
Primarily self-taught, Shoemaker developed his technique by doing, observing and learning. “Trial and error” is how he describes he obtained his technical ability. “I read a lot. I have quite a library of photography books. I read everything I can get my hands on and spend a lot of time researching online. I shoot both thirty-five millimeter and medium format. The best thing to do is just pack up the gear and head out into the field, shoot, come back, look at the results, go back and just keep repeating the process until I find what I’m looking for.”
What he had been looking for subject-wise turned out to be the desert. “When I was growing up in Michigan, I would see photographs of places throughout the southwest,” he remembers. “It was always fascinating to me but at the time I never even imagined I would see them let alone live out in these areas. There’s something about the desert I connect with. Maybe it’s that I’m living forty miles outside of Los Angeles and I deal with the traffic and crowds all the time. When I can escape to Death Valley, or I get out into the Sonoran Desert or something, it’s just the solitude. Maybe that’s what I was always looking for when I was in Michigan. Maybe it’s why I would head out into the woods and spend my days out there. I enjoyed being away. I guess it’s cathartic for me.”
In Shoemaker’s viewfinder, solitude is reflected as being a peaceful antidote to the crowds of Los Angeles. Rhyolite, Nevada and other ghost towns have proven to be fertile settings for this photographer’s accomplished and moving portraits. “I’ve always been fascinated with remote places, which is probably where I get my love of being in the deserts and mountains,” he says. “I like abandoned places—places that used to be such centers of activity, and now there’s just nothing there. There’s nobody living there. They’re just empty and forgotten. I don’t know exactly how I got an attraction to that, but there is definitely an interest in watching the process of things breaking down, I suppose. Among the things I’ve discovered over the years of shooting ghost towns are things breaking down gain more character to me than the things that are new and intact.”
Remote locations of former mining towns and camps are Shoemaker’s main focus in recent years. He points to Swansea, California off Interstate 395 in the Lone Pine area, with it’s one stagecoach stop building as a perfect example of a structure with heightened character. Shooting the remains since 2008, he’s documented a dramatic degradation of its condition. The small town of Garlock, California in the Red Rock Canyon area has also fallen before Shoemaker’s lens. With just a handful of buildings left, he’s charted the decay of Garlock, and is not aware of anyone restoring or even maintaining this small ghost town. Cerro Gordo had an owner/caretaker who passed away about a year ago, and the future of its remaining structures is in doubt. Bodie, California is faring better. Protected as a California State Park, Bodie remains frozen in time by two caregivers who keep it in a state of “arrested decay.” They maintain and repair what is currently there, but do no improvements. Rhyolite, Nevada, mentioned earlier, is perhaps the most photographed of these ghost towns, with its iconic crumbling John S. Cook and Company Bank used in major Hollywood films since at least 1964, most recently in 2005′s The Island.
Rhyolite, although probably the most visited ghostown in the southwest, still holds a significant amount of allure for Shoemaker. “There’s something to the fact that at one point there was 8,000 people living there and within two or three years that population has decreased by a third, and then within ten years the place is empty. I can go back through archival photos online and see what this place looked like in its heyday and it’s really hard to make a connection to what I see now. There’s so little left, and it’s just amazing something that was so prominent and built to last…” he trails off. “It really draws me in that most of the towns following gold mines and gold fields were made out of wood. People built a simple wooden structure or simple stone structure or canvas structure, and when the gold ran out, they pulled up the stakes and were gone and the town went with it. But Rhyolite they built basically out of stone. They intended it to last but it didn’t.”
If Rhyolite holds the crown of ghost towns, the Cook Bank sits as its centerpiece jewel. “I’m fearful of the day when I drive into town and it’s not there,” Shoemaker says. “There’s a corner of that building that just has such great character, it gives character to the building, and I know it’s been slowly collapsing over the years. One day I am going to drive in and that corner is going to be gone. It’s going to have lost all of that great character that it had. I think, maybe, that’s why I photograph it every chance I get.” Shoemaker shoots Rhyolite at all times of the day and night. Daylight shots are challenging because of tourists milling about, which he doesn’t want to photograph.
When pressed for more about what draws him to photograph ghost towns of the southwest, Shoemaker is candid about the pull he feels. “It was this underlying feeling of needing to see this place for myself. I think that’s probably the thing I want to transmit through my own work: that I want people to look at it and say, ‘This is a place that I never really thought about before—maybe I didn’t even know about before—but I think I want to see this for myself.’”
In 2004 Shoemaker bought a Canon 10D and began shooting. Two years later he bought his first Mamiya, a 645AFD. He now shoots two of the same model. For backup, he uses a Leaf Aptus 17 digital back. A user of Photoshop since version 2.0, Shoemaker is no stranger to digital technology, and shoots no film.
Conversely, Shoemaker is careful about how much digital manipulation he executes in post-production. “When it comes to Photoshop, I try to limit it to the things that I would be doing in a wet darkroom if I was shooting film. Any education I have in photography came from reading books,” he says. Most of the books he’s read are by Ansel Adams. “If you’ve ever read any of his work, he is maniacal when it comes to getting it right in the camera. In his time, it was on film, but with a negative he wanted all the information he needed. That would give him the print he wanted, based on the vision he had when he looked at the scene. You get it in camera as close as you can to matching your vision.”
Shoemaker uses a Sekonic L-558 Dual Master spot meter to pick and choose the points in the subject he wants to read and meter for important tonal values. “That’s what I meter off of, and that’s how I judge the exposure,” he explains. “It’s both an incidental light meter and a spot meter, so it does a lot of work for me. And, of course, we’ve got the LCDs we can look at to check the histograms and see whether it’s in line with what I have in mind, exposure-wise. It’s like shooting with a Polaroid basically if I was doing film. I don’t want to spend so much time having to go back and readjust everything. I will shoot raw images in both formats. But, it’s just not that much fun to sit there and go through dozens and dozens of images and have to lower the values or raise the values or just make all kinds of global adjustments all over the thing when I could have done it in the camera in the first place.”
Heading out on photography excursions for three weeks at a time, Shoemaker knows what to bring and what not to bring. “I generally have my Canon 5D Mark II with me, and I’ll take my Mamiya 645, a spare Mamiya body, and sometimes I take a 20D backup body for my Canon. As far as lenses, I take a pretty limited selection for both formats. For my Mamiya I have a 35mm lens that I would probably consider my primary landscape lens, especially when I shoot with the least back because it has a crop factor. When I shoot film through it, it gives me a little more flexibility but I’ve got my 35mm. I’ve got a 55 to 110mm which is probably my next most used lens for the medium format. I’ve got a 105 to a 210mm which I don’t use a whole lot, but every now and then it comes in handy.”
Like his use of digital technology, Shoemaker is not stuck in ghost towns for his photographic subjects. The Bradbury Building and Chrysler Building are among the still-functional structures he’s photographed, not to mention meadows, natural rock arches and other settings which have fallen under the gaze of his cameras. “I have an interest in architecture,” he says. “That’s my problem: I have an interest in too many things. If I had to label myself, it would definitely be a landscape photographer, but there’s so many things that are interesting visually. There’s a lot of interesting things, and whatever catches my eye because of form, because of the texture, because of lighting, I think I’ll photograph it.”
The critical element for Shoemaker is feeling and instinct. “I don’t know that there’s a big difference in my mindset when I’m looking at a canyon, a landscape, a skyline, or architectural features, or rock formations,” he says. “I know what I have in mind. When I look at a subject, I kind of get a vision of what I’m looking for. And sometimes, whether it’s a landscape or a building, I can’t realize it on a camera. I just don’t find it on that particular day. It’s really frustrating, but that’s the way things go. Other times I know what I’m looking for. I find it, I frame it, I shoot it. It seems to be instinctual for me. It’s just a reaction to what I’m seeing.”