Personal & professional musings
Soon after I started meeting families at the Cambodian temple on Argyle Street in Chicago (see part one of these blog posts), I would noticed groups of young men lurking in the back of the temple during events. They'd come in, meet some family obligation, but quickly leave to hang out on the corners of Argyle and Glenwood Avenue, about a block away. The photos here start...more
It's been 28 years since I decided to pursue photography as a career. In the spring of 1991 I returned from a trip to Thailand after spending 4 months teaching english and photographing in Cambodian refugee camps for the American Refugee Committee in my spare time. I had already spent a year in Thailand in 1988 studying the language and teaching english with the plan of becoming an academic, but 1991 was the point where I decided to change...more
I moved to France from Japan in 2003, just in time to start getting access to photograph Airbus's latest project, the giant A380 double decker aircraft. On my first trip down to Toulouse to see the first plane under final assembly, Airbus PR folks picked me up at the local train station, drove me to an outer fence and pointed to the airplane in a hanger about 200 meters away with the hanger doors open. Needless to say, I wasn't happy and...more
Things I won't do again: ride my motorcycle into a small Japanese town right after a nuclear accident. Luckily the Geiger counter gave me a clean bill of health. Tokai-mura, Japan. 1999. On assignment for Newsweek Magazine.
I still think about the people I photographed over the two days I was in Tokai. The years of fear...more
Watch the first of two episodes I was featured in for Arirang TV, Korea's national TV network, in their "In Frame" series. The twelve-part series followed mainly Magnum photographers around the country and when I was asked to do two episodes I agreed on one condition, I could work in the southern port city of Busan where my wife was born and later adopted. I spent an amazing and exhausting week there just after the end of the summer tourist...more
After 25 years of working as a documentary photographer one skill I've learned is to enter a space to work quietly and effectively, making people I'm photographing comfortable with my presence. Skills that work really well when I get asked to create what I call "corporate documentary" images, photographs of real employees at work, created with minimal impact to the work day that allow companies to show their staff in the best and most natural...more
One of my favorite stories to work on over the years was on Yashiro Island, a tiny goldfish shaped island in Japan’s southern Seto Sea, south of Hiroshima. The island was one of the last places in Japan to get regular electricity in the 1970s, and the eastern half of the island, Towa district, has the distinction of being "Japan’s oldest town" with the highest average aged population in a nation...more
I often get asked what’s the hardest story I’ve ever had to photograph. In 2008, I traveled with New York Times correspondent Bill Yardley to Chewelah, Washington to interview Jeffrey Schrock, 39 at the time, and a devout Mennonite. Mr Schrock and his wife had lost all five of their children in a car accident when a truck driven by Clifford Helm crossed a median on U.S. 395 and drove into oncoming lanes, hitting the Shrock family's truck. Mr....more
A few years back The New York Times asked that I follow the cast and producers of HBO’s “Game of Thrones" around for a couple of days while they were on a tour to promote the new season of the show. Apparently I’m one of the few people who hadn’t seen it (and still haven’t, I don’t have cable!) so I knew little about the show and even less about the actors. This probably helped because unlike the thousands of screaming fans who showed up...more
The first time I saw Kyoto I didn’t realize I’d seen it. Staring out of the hermetically sealed windows of the Nozomi Super Express bullet train, there was no end to the miles of factories and sterile, cookie-cutter housing projects that sprawl from Tokyo to Osaka, via Kyoto. Occasionally I spotted a rice field or the roof tops of small Buddhist and Shinto temples. At nearly 200 mph they could just be glimpsed through the webs of power lines,...more
After spending a day earlier this summer photographing the interior of Amazon's new bio-Spheres here in Seattle I finally started shooting some exterior work for landscape architects Site Workshop. Working from dawn 'til dusk I tried to capture all the shifts in light and activity that happen around...more
I realize drones are all the rage these days but I’ll admit a serious prejudice against using them for aerial still photography. I call it the ‘big picture’, the ability to use a full resolution DSLR Nikon camera with high quality lenses that can cover both wide & tight views, adjusting to the aesthetic quality of the image (ie. the "artist's" interpretation). Just try doing that with a drone.
I’m not totally against drones,...more
Work from earlier this year with Herrera, a local environmental consulting firm. Nothing more fun that being invited to photograph at the county garbage dump! The images here were taken at the King County waste site with team members from Herrera helping the county protect the local environment. Not paid actors, real employees, at work; the kind of photo shoot...more
I got to enjoy every 3 year old kid's dream of playing with life-size Tonka toys this month, visiting another of Summit Materials quarries this time their largest one in British Columbia Canada, just north of my home base in Seattle. Sadly I could only photograph the machines, not drive them!more
Final selects from an awesome shoot with Alaska Air Cargo, shooting their new 737 cargo conversions in Anchorage, AK. Pretty much a dream photo shoot since I've been a plane nerd since I was a kid, plus it was a great team to work with. Now I only have to convince them to return in the dead of winter to shoot the planes and cargo being loaded!more
Extreme because it was 110F outside when I photographed Dr. Aidan Brooks this week on the Hanford Nuclear reservation next to one of the 4km long tubes that contain the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO.
The laser in the tubes can detect a change of less than a ten-thousandth the charge diameter of a proton, equivalent to measuring the distance from Earth to Proxima Centauri (24.94 trillion miles from earth)...more
Images from an unpublished story I photographed in Shanghai in April, 2004. Sometimes it happens, I’ll run across an interesting story, spend a few days shooting it, then get tied up with other work and shelve it. 14 years later you rediscover it and see something interesting in the work. The photoessay was on the Xujiahui Cathedral (or St. Ignatius Cathedral) built in 1851 in Shanghai where in the 1960s during China's Cultural Revolution,...more
In the spring of 2002 I traveled to the North Korean border, near the Chinese city of Yanji, for Time Magazine to report on North Korean refugees fleeing the country across the Tumen River. Here, a young North Korean boy, smuggled into China by human traffickers, enjoys some sunlight on his first morning in China. The hills behind are North Korea. Most of the refugees I met were in terrible shape - malnourished, lice infested, many with...more
There is, apparently, a hashtag for gear porn photos. I've never been much of a gear-head, and have never done such an image myself, but I'm about to head up to Alaska for an industrial, corporate and aviation shoot with a lot of variables and a ton of unknowns. What gear should I take?
All of it.more
This photo was recently found in an old shoebox of mine. Taken in 1986 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, while a student at the University of Michigan and back before I knew I wanted to be a photographer or even how to be a photographer. But I know I liked Nikon glass! Using a Nikon FA and sporting some serious Duran Duran hair.more
Recent work for Summit Materials and Boxley. Shooting in Lynchburg, Virginia, documenting their operations from the mines to the roads. When ever I see their plants I can't help but imagine that pounding big rocks onto little rocks was probably one of the earliest businesses ever created!more
I just returned from a two-day scout for a client, in Alaska at Anchorage's Airport. One important lesson I learned, it's always best to get off the runway when a Boeing 747-400 cargo is approaching for a landing! This photo, though, was taken as we drove across the runway with permission from air traffic control. But still, move quickly in such situations!more
15 years ago my wife and I spent 3 months traveling through Southeast Asia, after living in Japan and Bangkok for over a decade. The Iraq War was underway when we arrived in Cambodia and combined with the SARS epidemic in Asia, the country had pretty much emptied of tourists leaving the temples of Angkor all but deserted. Th tourist interlude allowed me to explore the temples with my Nikon f/1.4 prime lenses - 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and an 85mm -...more
After watching the Amazon Spheres being built for nearly two years, I finally got access to photograph them, and the best kind of access - the sole photographer allowed in for 8 hours of shooting. Walking in, though, my first reaction was I wouldn't have enough time. The sheer scale of the project and the constantly shifting lighting created myriads of possible images. It was really overwhelming.
The images were taken for...more
Late last month I got an urgent call from a client asking that I fly quickly across the country to photograph some huge sand and granite operations in South Carolina for Summit Materials, one of the largest and fastest growing construction materials companies in the country. I had less than 24 hours to plan for the trip, book flights, rent a car and plan on...more
No, I'm not a product or table top photographer, unless you need your products shot in context, being used by real life folks, in natural settings. That was what Stanley tools asked me to do for their Proto line of professional tools, working with an awesome team of Alaska Airline's engine mechanics at Seatac Airport. The shoot also let me introduce LED lights into my work, which are great fun to work with in tight situations where you need...more
After 2 1/2 hours flying in a two-seater R22 helicopter, with one door off, in the train and cold, shooting a US Navy destroyer in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, north of Seattle, I was ready for a beer. We left Seattle in the rain hoping that the weather and light would be better as we flew north. luckily the gods cooperated on this one otherwise I'd be out there again next week!
The return trip included a brief layover in Sequim to...more
I often feel isolated living in Seattle. Stuck up in the far northwest of the country, it's not the center of anything. Living in Tokyo, Bangkok, and Paris before moving here, we had a constant stream of friends coming through town. Not so much in Seattle. An extraction city built on the water's edge, surrounded by mountains, it's taken nearly decade to actually begin to appreciate our isolation, captured well, I think, in this image I took...more
Images from a recent shoot in San Diego for Portland-based design firm Walker Macy. I studied photography in Chicago where you learned very quickly about the marriage of photography and architecture, so I love shooting for architecture and design magazines & firms. I'm not hired as an classical architectural photographer though, but asked to use my documentary skills that show spaces being activated and reanimated through design. I go to...more
My first assignment in Seattle was at Microsoft, assigned about two days after we moved here, by The New York Times. I suspect, one day, my last assignment will be there too. This time I went back to document how the company is redesigning office spaces in order to compete with Amazon and other local tech companies, for millennial talent. Apparently they need places to walk their dogs and cannot be further than 50 feet from a coffee shop....more
I have probably shot for 50 different newspapers over the years, including many overseas. It was a great honor this week to finally shoot an assignment for The Boston Globe; an honor because of the Globe's famous photo department and some of the incredible photographers and editors that have worked there over the years, including a friend Yunghi Kim. Story is on...more
When I tell clients I don't do product photography what I mean to say is I don’t shoot heavily stylized product photography. The kind of shoots that take an entire day setting up lights to shoot a single object. I respect photographers who have the patience for that, it's just not for me. Having said that, I do shoot products in their working environment, organic images of tools or food in the real world. What I lack in patience for an all...more
Yesterday, in a stunt about removing statues, a small group of alt-righters and Trump supporters decided to protest the infamous Lenin Statue standing in Fremont, Seattle, right near our home. The protestors failed to noticed a few big differences with the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, of course. 1. It's privately owned...more
I finally checked out one of my most unusual image usages - a photo of the opening of Cannabis City, Seattle's first legal marijuana store, used by the owner on a commemorative brass plaque outside the store in Seattle's SODO district.
I probably didn't charge enough but I'll be honest, but how often do you get an offer to turn an image into brass outside a pot shop?
The original photo of James Lathrop celebrating his store's...more
Watching my daughters playing I sometimes hear the Tom Wait's song "What's he building in there?" in my head. Here Phoebe was acting this out in the doll house my grandfather built in the 1930s for my mom. Refurbished in 2010 with all new wiring, floors and paint, the girls always building something in there. It's not a playhouse for the...more
Just got back from 4 days in Las Vegas. Like a lot of folks, I have a love/hate relationship with the city; it's America's "ID" manifested in many dubious ways. However, hidden among all the tricky-tack and neon, the city has some real gems. One is architect David Rockwell's 80-ft. tall "treehouse" restaurant, called Mastro's, at Las Vegas' City Center. Here a 8-frame image of the structure, stitched together in Adobe Lightroom, shot on a...more
What's my best selling image over my 25 year career? Exclusive photos of Burmese Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi I took on the day of her release? Nope. My exclusive portraits of then up-and-coming actor Joseph Gordan-Levitt, taken during a one minute shoot in a Seattle hotel? Nope. Exclusive access I’ve had with various legendary CEOs in Seattle? Nope.
My best selling image, one that gets licensed at least once a month, even a decade...more
A lull in commissioned work has let me add to my aircraft collage, tentatively titled "Underbelly". Only problem is now I've photographed too many of the same types of plane and need more variety. Seattle's Boeing Field often provides that but the city's official airport, SEATAC, is an endless stream of 737s most days. Maybe a road trip is needed.more
Some aerial shoots go smoother than others and I now know my limit for a single ride out over Seattle with Take-san, by favorite pilot in his R22 out of Classic Helicopter. My limit is apparently 2-3 subjects, not 6. When you reach out to clients and say you'll be in the air and whether they need anything, remember your Dramamine limit! Mine is apparently 3 head-spinning shoots. The first was easy though, the new Washington State 144 car...more
I took this photograph below in late January, 1996, while covering the last days of the Cambodian Civil War on assignment for Newsweek Magazine. It’s another of my favorites, and also luckiest photographs, just scanned in on an Imacon scanner. I was standing on the side of Route 57, the main road from the Northwestern provincial capital of Battambang to Pailin, a Khmer Rouge stronghold to the south, when the tank appeared out of the bushes...more
Just spent another morning between assignments hanging out in the back streets around Seatac Airport, this time photographing incoming aircraft with my new Nikon D810 and it's monster files. Flying used to mean adventure, and as a kid, risk, but as I’ve gotten older the adventures have been tempered and flying is, well, just so safe. The thrill is gone. This recent series is shot from straight under and the dirtier the plane the better. The...more
Last autumn I spent a day James Lindley, 34, a former Marine and undertaker who today volunteers his time to provide proper military funerals for homeless and indigent veterans. Article by Michael Phillips:
"Each year, some 250 people die in King County without money or family, some after years in nursing...more
One of the benefits of having a (then) girlfriend when you’re a student photographer is having a model to call on for studio lighting classes! Not that Jennifer (now my wife) enjoyed the experience. Like most of us, she’s always been self-conscious, but I can say she is still the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen and a stunning model for me to learn lighting with. A real inspiration.more
Some work at the Agri Beef processing plant in Toppenish, Washington. The plant is considered a model in the industry with high safety standards, a biogas plant that converts animal waste into electricity, the tracking of meat from farm to table and a unionized labor force that process high end, organic and grass fed beef from across the Pacific Northwest. That doesn't mean it's a good place for the faint of heart, but for this meat eater, it...more
Some of my latest work for Microsoft, photographing the work done by their Redmond based IT team for the 'Gears of War' gaming team based in nearby Vancouver, B.C. Shooting tech is hard, very hard. The first thing that you see is rows and rows of people sitting at their desks, staring at the computers. With a little patience & creativity, though, you can capture some interesting moments but the most important trick is making sure your...more
It took just under two years of work, from the keel laying ceremony with Nate Hardy of the San Francisco Fire Department, to launching that city's new fireboat, built here in Seattle by my client, Vigor. The hardest part of photographing the construction of the new boat? The final beauty shots of her during sea trials in Elliot Bay just off of downtown Seattle. Luckily the weather gods cooperated as did the boat's powerful water canons - when...more
After years of dull, poorly lit portraits that often look like mugshots, it seems companies are finally wising up and seeking out more imaginative, personal and intimate types portraits of their staff. One thing doing years of editorial portraits for clients like Fortune Magazine and BusinessWeek has taught me, is the ability to work with subjects quickly, help them relax and get images that capture their personality. Sometimes I call them...more
On assignment in the small Eastern Oregon town of Redmond last week. As the sun set, hordes of people - homeless, bikers, rednecks, families with strollers, skateboarders, street punks, a couple in a BMW - all arrived in the town’s small park to play Pokemon Go.
I’m not sure if I’m appalled by this game or not, but after a month of terrible news in the US, maybe folks getting away from their TVs and Facebook and wandering around and...more
I just came back from an assignment in New York, with a quote from a friend stuck in my head. Over dinner, talking about our kids, my old New York Times colleague and mentor, Howard French said, "Our children consume us". Two days after getting back, with that quote in my head, I shot this image (on my new Fuji X100T camera) of my daughter Phoebe and wife Jennifer getting ready for school in the...more
Long before the iPhone panorama swipe mode came along, there were actual panorama cameras that mechanically scanned across the view, capturing the image on a wide format negative. It's hard to image the technical skills needed to operate such a camera and process the negatives, but imagine doing it with a few hundred rowdy English public school boys, myself included. The threat of detention was the tool used to keep order during these photo...more
Ten years ago this month I was maced at work for the first time. It always sounds strange thinking about getting sprayed by police with mace but what was stranger was after the image here was published, the French police spraying me sent a charming letter, apologizing for hitting me and asking for a copy of the photograph. C'est la vie of a photojournalist!more
Something I learned this week: fighting the wind, cold and a spinning head are needed to photograph a fast moving pilot boat from a helicopter. One of the things I love about my work is I learn something new every assignment. I've done numerous aerial photo assignments of ferries and ships for local shipbuilder Vigor Industrial, but shooting a slow, lumbering ferry in Seattle’s Elliot Bay, I...more
Another amazing day at the Vigor Industrial shipyards here in Seattle. After nearly two months of rain, the sun finally shone, creating some wonderfully epic light to document the company's work on the USGCG Healy, the nation's largest icebreaker. The U.S. Coast Guard currently has only three polar icebreakers: two heavy (the Polar Sea and the Polar Star) and one medium (the Healy), so there's a serious push by state and local officials for...more
Even when I try to take a break from being a photographer, I can’t. The image above was caught while on a camping trip with my daughter Zoe in Mount Rainier National Park. I only brought my little old Fuji X10 but when I saw the light at Shadow Lake I knew it was back to “work”.more
Earlier this month I got a tour of Shell Oil’s controversial Polar Pioneer, an exploratory oil drilling platform berthed at the Port of Seattle before heading to the Arctic to search for potential oil reserves. The rig was met by protests when it arrived and departed Seattle and helped coin a whole new word – “kayaktivists” – for the protestors who met the rig in their kayaks. If Shell plans on bringing these rigs back to Seattle, judging by...more
Twenty three years ago I took a photograph of two young girls in an alley in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Wendy Om (age 3 at the time) and her sister Olivia (age 5) where sisters to Ricky, an 18 year old member of a local street gang called the Loco Boyz who were, like Wendy and Olivia, Cambodian refugees who had survived the Khmer Rouge genocide. Ricky was party of an extensive...more
I just returned from a 3 day assignment in Las Vegas, doing a travel story for a Spanish language magazine. It’s been 22 years since I was last in the neon-lit, desert town with a camera, working on a story with Gino Siang, a young Cambodian refugee and gang member who I spent nearly two years photographing as part of a story on the Cambodian diaspora. One of my favorite images was taken as we passed the famed Flamingo Casino on the Strip, in...more
I first realized I could use my camera to protect myself from unpleasant realities while working on a story in Cambodia on land mines. Photographing in the Battambang Hospital I was confronted with the daily toll of war as people – young and old – flowed into the emergency rooms with horrific injuries caused by land mine explosions...more
I finished my first plane spotting collage, working from the images I wrote about earlier. I have no idea where this will go, right now I’m envisioning wallpapering my office with a giant mural and letting my head spin. I guess I’m trying to bring the thrill back to flying, something I find very pedestrian these days. Some people complain about how...more