Recent work, old work & professional musings
IJEN, Indonesia - November, 1998
In East Java, Indonesia, hundreds of miners face deadly smoke to mine sulphur, or “devil’s gold.”, found inside the still active Ijen Volcano. They risk respiratory illness and death to haul 200-pound loads of sulphur up the crater walls to sell. Throughout their workdays, the miners battle toxic fumes and it’s common for miners' shoulders to swell for the weight of their loads. Running down the sides...more
When your work gets immortalized in manga! Singapore based sneaker customization artist Bob Ng at No-Brainer*, recently turned one of my images from a 1999 bozosoku biker gang riot in Hiroshima into a manga. Needless to say, my 13 year old kid (and a manga fan) is impressed! read more about Bob's...more
Starting in 2022, I partnered with the retired actor and playwright Mark Jenkins - who drove from his home in Douglas, Wyoming to see Bob Dylan perform in Denver in February, 1964 - to explore the new Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa. Two Seattle-based artists and Dylan enthusiasts, separated by a generation, Mark and I are traveling throughout Oklahoma exploring how Dylan's art influenced the way we see the world and what the state says about...more
Ode to our neighborhood coffee shop, Herkimer Coffee shop on Greenwood Avenue here in Seattle. We’ve been taking the girls there since we moved to the neighborhood in 2008 - nothing like a hot chocolate and a sweet treat for them to allow me to take a few photos.
It's a lightstalkers dream too - large windows facing west on the top of a hill. The space...more
Boeing's last 747 jumbo jet took off today from Paine Field, next to the Everett plant where the first 747 rolled out in 1969. I've spent hundreds of hours flying around the world on them since I was a little kid. The last plane may be out the door but we'll get to see them in the air for many decades to come. Bon voyage!more
As Boeing prepares to roll out and deliver its final 747, a cargo version of the plane's final iteration, the 747-800, here's some images I've taken of its construction, delivery and first flight over the past decade. It will always be the most beautiful plane ever built, sleek and elegant, unlike its rather bloated rival the Airbus A380 which I also photographed being developed and built....more
My new bride after our honeymoon in New York, June 1997. Jennifer and I headed to the airport and our return flight to our home in Bangkok; a few months the later we moved to Tokyo. I've always loved this image but only recently got a decent scan of it, and love it more. My love, the light, the Twin Towers; our lives totally in limbo as we prepared to take the plunge and live in Japan.
Now it's two kids, a cat, mortgage, college 529s,...more
Proud to have joined Dorothy Chan on her podcast "Death in Cambodia". Dorothy created the podcast to interview her father and talk about his experiences under the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian genocide, exploring issues of trauma among Cambodian refugees in the US. It was in that context she wanted to talk about...more
Work from 2005 on e-waste in China, then a center for the global trade in toxic electronic waste, much of it arriving in the Chinese port city of Taizhou. 24 hours a day ships arrived in the city's harbor carrying cargo of waste, including millions of computer parts. These parts flowed out of the port in trucks into the city and hinterland where hundreds of tiny work shops broke down the parts, melting off the precious metals and using acids...more
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED November 1999. Photographs by Stuart Isett & text by Richard Lloyd Parry.
In the Seto Inland Sea, a miniature ocean of warm currents in Japan's south-west, is an island called Oshima which might have come out of Odysseus's adventures or Gulliver's travels. Its name means simply "Big Island", although from end to end it is...more
The streets of Nanjie village, a model communist village in the central province of Henan, are usually deserted as villagers are not allowed to own cars making the village feel more like Pyongyang, than your typical modern Chinese town. It collectivised its agricultural production and industry in the mid 1980s - when the rest of the country was doing the opposite, introducing market reforms put forward by former leader Deng Xiaoping....more
A two part photo essay on elephants and their owners who were forced in the 1990s to move to Bangkok to beg for donations and food from Thais to survive. The project was photographed from 1996 to 1999, working with a group mahouts I met living in an encampment off Phetchaburi Road. Thailand banned so-call urban elephants a few years after I worked on this project, published in several european publications and a Japanese magazine.
Bangkok, Thailand - June, 1995
Bangkok’s ‘body snatchers’ are not found in a science fiction novel or horror movie. Cruising Bangkok’s streets in their distinctive white pickup trucks, the young volunteers of the Por Tek Teung Foundation are, in fact, the city’s first line of defense against the death and mayhem that terrorize the capital’s streets. In a city notorious for its traffic jams and inadequate infrastructure, the body...more
On every photographer's bucket list should be covering a good protest in Paris - mace, clowns, late night coq au vin, airborne cobblestones, washing teargas out of your eyes in fountains at Notre Dame at 1am. Watching them unfold again this month after President Macron's government rammed through retirement age changes, sent me archive digging for the riots that rocked the city in 2006 when the government attempted, and failed, to change...more
Another question I always get asked as a photographer of a certain age (say, over 50) is whether I miss film. The answer is no, nope, never. I feel no nostalgia, no sentimentality, nothing. I realize that film is becoming cool again, and I say, go for it kids, but I used it for 25 years, mainly shooting slide film with an exposure latitude of about 1/2 stop, maximum. What does that mean? It means shooting in terrible, contrasty light, like...more
My friend, and awesome photo YouTuber Dan Milnor, often teases me as the last “Nikon man”. Seems I’m a dying breed but I didn't stick with Nikon because I’m a gear fetishist; as I often joke, it’s simply because I know where the buttons are.
I bought my first Nikon in 1982 at age 16, an FM2, after working in Kingston Market in London for...more
Photographs by Stuart Isett. Words by By Dave Seminara
Kurt Cobain felt bored and old. Teenage angst had paid off well, as the line in the Nirvana song “Serve the Servants” put it, but the fame that came with being the frontman of the seminal grunge band that brought punk to the mainstream was taking a toll. Cobain was considered by many to be the voice of his generation, but he was also battling depression and addiction, diseases that...more
Photographs by Stuart Isett. Text by Ron Gluckman. November, 1996
Way out in the wild sulu sea, where robberies and kidnappings are commonplace and the law of sea pirates is the only rule, tribes of aquatic gypsies live their entire lives at sea, touching land only to die.
AS THE SUN SINKS ON THE HORIZON, a wave of anxiety spreads among the...more
Folks always ask me what was my favorite place to visit and photograph, a question I’ve never been able to answer. If they ever asked me where the least favorite place I visited and photographed was, however, I have an easy answer: Mount Diwata, in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The "golden mountain," is one of the largest sources of gold in the Philippines and possibly the world, but was nicknamed "Diwalwal" in the local Cebuano...more
If yankii describes a broad category of disaffected Japanese teens who dye their hair, rock retro American styles and act unruly, the bōsōzoku subset are the tough ones. These motorcycle gangs—known for their traffic-snarling group rides and petty crime—have been around since the 1950s but came to prominence in the ’80s and ’90s, especially in southern Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture. Bōsōzoku are also prime recruits for more...more
Feeling the Top Gun vibe this week! Photos from a shoot on the USS Kitty Hawk, as it prepared for deployment to Afghanistan in November, 2001. I was flown out to the Japan-based carrier for a two day assignment for The New York Times as part of its coverage of the aftermath of 9/11. To this day I'm impressed with the men and women who worked on the flight deck, keeping me safe, all while launching F-14s and F-18s. Yet the pilots get all the...more
My now 12 year old daughter always loved to say, "you never know!" when we asked her as a little kid if she'd be coming to our bed that night. Turns out, it's also a handy expression for photo assignments that you accept begrudgingly, mainly to keep a client happy. This assignment was on car salesmen during the...more
Mining the archive and coming up with a mining story; a 2008 story shot for The New York Times on the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska. The proposal to build the mine is controversial and 14 years later, still ongoing. The mine contains large deposits of copper, gold, and molybdenum and is in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska,...more
Maybe it was a 1990s thing, but I knew photographers who were quite literally crop-nazis, especially in the end days of film and darkrooms. Slicing off so much as a hair of your frame in the darkroom was a photographic sin. Anyone who worked as a documentary photography in the late 1980s and and 1990s was exposed to this - the more you...more
Every photographer's dream assignment is the road-trip photoessay. They're lying if they say otherwise. Hop in a car, hit the road with a camera (and "your" writer), a beat up copy of Kerouac's "On the Road" (confession: I've never read) and search out the small town America of your imagination. I've only done a few such shoots, mostly in Asia, but in 2008 I hit the road with New York Times writer, and a neighbor here in Seattle, Bill...more
Links below to watch both of the episodes I was featured in for Arirang TV's "In Frame" series. The twelve-part series on Korea's national TV network followed mostly Magnum photographers around the country but when I was asked to do two episodes I agreed on one condition, I could photograph in...more
Sometimes you get home, upload your images, and see an image that means you nailed the shoot. One such image below, the kind of image that goes straight into my portfolio. Photo is from a shoot for Crowley Marine who needed both beauty and working shots of their new tug the Athena. Shot with a Mavic drone near Tacoma, WA, I had about a minute over the vessel before high winds forced me to bring the drone home. Nailed it!more
Someone recently asked me how we used to get our film processed and out from war zones in places like Cambodia, and get it to New York or Paris for a deadline. I had to explain, we didn't process the film; back then Time Magazine had their own in-house photolab and all we had to did was get the film to them. That, of course, was often harder than finding an E6 lab in the Cambodian jungle.
This slide was shot on assignment for Time...more
After a week of scanning in some old family photos I finally figured out why I may have become a photographer. The four scanned images below were all shot by my mom in 1966 using a medium format camera and slide film. These color photos of my older brother Chris could have been taken yesterday - the tones, colors and detail are stunning. All they needed was a proper scan and some TLC in Lightroom and Photoshop to come to life, which I did...more
Recent work for Preservation Magazine, published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, on the Urban Grace church in downtown Tacoma, Washington. The history of the congregation that would become Urban Grace dates back 140 years and the church traces its lineage to the First Baptist Church (1883), founded on Pacific Avenue in what was then known as New Tacoma in the Washington Territory.
I had to go back to the church three...more
"A rather unsatisfactory term's work, and I fear not 'O' level material". B.T.G.
This was my school report for "Art" in the summer of 1980 at King's College School in London. "O" levels are standardized exams in British secondary schools and apparently a life in the arts was not in my future. When I suggested to my art teacher that I enjoyed photography, I remember his retort:
"Photography isn't an art, Isett".
I've never been much of a gear head (for the love of god, don't ask me why I've always used Nikon!) but I'm also smart enough to see the writing on the wall. The DLSR camera was always a stopgap between the worlds of film and full digital, so I finally made the leap to mirrorless cameras with new Nikon Z7ii.
Amazing cameras so far, however you're still not allowed to say, "Hey Stuart, your cameras take great pictures". No better way to...more
Yet another return to Amazon's growing campus in Seattle's South Lake Union and Denny Triangle neighborhoods to photograph Site Workshop's landscaping and plantings. The last time I was in the area was right after Amazon closed its offices because of COVID in March, 2020, and returning was a chance to see both people slowly returning plus the explosion of...more
Selects from a recent shoot working with Seattle-based Blackwing Creative for McGee Air Services, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines that operates all the ground crews at Seatac airport servicing their fleet of planes. Besides doing a complete website redesign, the images are also needed for recruitment, as travel starts to pick up in 2021. Being a regular...more
The Tiny Toones break dancing troupe was founded by Tuy Sobil, a.k.a. "KK", a 44 yr old Cambodian-American and former gang member from Long Beach, California who was deported from the United States in 2004. Working out of the Toul Tom Pong neighborhood in Phnom Penh, the Tiny Toone's house runs a drop-in center and community center for at-risk youth and street...more
Thinking about my old friend A.K. Kimoto who died 11 years ago this March from unexpected, natural causes at the age of 32. A young and talented photographer, with a heart of gold, AK impacted every life he touched and is dearly missed. After his death The New York Times published his work on opium addiction in Afghanistan, a...more
គ្រួសារ - KROUSAR - FAMILY
"As a young graduate student in photography in the early 1990s, Stuart Isett found himself on the corners of Argyle and Glenwood streets in Chicago, photographing Cambodian refugees who had settled on the city’s north side near his apartment. Isett entered a world which would define his practice, spending much of the next 25 years working in South East Asia, often returning to work on issues affecting the...more
So I went to the Washington Post's website today to see it open with a 25 year old photograph I took in Yangon, Myanmar (Rangoon, Burma) of Aung San Suu Kyi while on assignment for the Associated Press. Part of a story about the coup in Myanmar this week and Suu Kyi's failures as a leader.
What was strangest for me...more
In June, 2005 I worked on a self-funded project taking portraits of Chinese tourists and Beijing residents near the outer walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Using a Rollieflex 2 1/4 camera and Kodak Tri-X film, I wanted to shoot portraits of all the people who came to the palace for sightseeing or to relax near the massive palace complex. I worked with a translator, gathering names and asking where people traveled from but by the third...more
By the early 1990s over 150,000 Cambodian refugees had fled their country and settled in the United States, where many struggle in poverty to rebuild their shattered lives after 25 years of war and genocide; a war the United States has direct responsibility for starting. Many young Cambodians in America fall prey, though, to the world of guns and violence their families thought they’d left behind in Cambodia.
Starting in the...more
Boeing announced today that they will end 787 Dreamliner production in Washington State and will be moving all manufacturing to South Carolina, where a second line already exists. It's a a huge economic hit to the region, especially as Boeing's massive building in Everett will soon also lose 747 production when that ends in 2022. I was able to document the 787 Dreamliner's early development, test flights and delivery for various clients...more
Advice to young photographers? Always be moving, always be working. This is especially true when no work is coming in and you're struggling, because you never know what you might hit upon.
Here, an edit of images taken while wandering the streets of Beijing in the spring of 2000 with my Contax G2, doing some street photography. One of the last images of the day eventually made a book cover a few years later, Kerry Brown's "Struggling...more
I'm happy to announce I've finally overcome by resistance to using drones in my photography. I've been photographing from helicopters for years and always love getting up high with my Nikons and using some beautiful glass (lenses) to capture high resolution images. I was hesitant to use drones for stills for years because the quality just wasn't there but this summer I started seeing some still photography work from drones that helped me...more
It's no better time to remember the importance for photographers to look for small, local businesses to shoot for and not always be chasing the big name clients. It's always great to find a local business that is willing to invest in high quality work and recognizes how important that investment is to their business. The old adage holds true - you have to spend money to make money. This photo shoot was for...more
No nicer place to be in a newspaper than page one, above the fold. In Tuesday's Washington Post for a piece on vaccine trials for COVID-19 here in Seattle.
Ian Haydon (photographed here in Seattle) writing about the trials and errors of being injected with a covid-19 vaccine. You can read the full article...more
I’ve always been the kind of photographer who loves to take on any challenge, photographing many genres and styles of work. If I were a musician I could never stick to one style, I’d always be experimenting; bluegrass one day, heavy metal the next. My only consistent standard is to make images that are natural and authentic. My latest shoot for...more
My images used in Par Pacific's annual report. The images taken just as the lockdown on Washington State was starting, leaving essential services (such as refineries) open. Lots of elbow handshakes and hand washing but it feels like the images are from another time! I'm looking forward to getting back to a somewhat new normal.more
"The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" - From 'To a Mouse' by Robert Burns
The new norm is, in some ways, just like an old norm for me since I was based in Japan and traveling in Asia during the 2003 SARS epidemic. However, it's pretty clear that in terms of scale and destruction, COVID-19 will be far worse than SARS and far worse for our industry, photography, so often based on travel and social interactions. I was joking...more
I'll admit, when I first heard the expression "hero shot" about 10 years ago, I didn't know what it meant. Mainly because I only started shifting more towards commercial photographer in the past decade after nearly 20 years doing editorial work. While the term was unfamiliar, the idea is pretty straight forward: make a good image. This was especially true back in the days of print when I worked regularly for The New York Times (see...more
The photograph below was taken at Boeing Field airport yesterday, testing a new 200-500mm Nikon lens, at full 500mm zoom. It's a bit of a beast of a lens but combined with a Nikon D850 camera, took this beautiful image of one of the last Boeing 727s in service departing for Kansas City. Old plane meet new lens! It'll be a great lens for industrial work where I can't get close, plus my kids' soccer matches! I got lucky with the light and...more
One of the few benefits of my all-boys British schooling is the ability to talk cricket with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Of course, once I got him started at a shoot earlier this month, I couldn't get him to stop!
Here, photographed for Fortune Magazine in a meeting with the company's leadership team.more
Need a complete overhaul of your website with a mix of location industrial images, office life and headshots? I can do that. Lots of clients these days need to update their webpages - old HTML 2 & 3 websites (some still running Flash!) needing to be upgraded to HTML 5 sites, that work on desktops, laptops and phones, with images that scale to a screen's size. Many clients mention one main reason for the update - the search for new, young...more
Climbing down into yet another construction hole! This time for Seattle builders WG Clark, photographing work on a new condominium going up in South Lake Union. Always lucky when you get a sunny day in Seattle to do a construction shoot. Also, another day to be reminded that immigrants make this country great.more
Recent work for one of my favorite clients, urban landscape architects Site Workshop. The firm has worked on extensive projects on the growing Amazon campus which I have shot in the past, including their now famous Spheres. Last week, though, it was a small public park right across the street from Amazon's campus, called Triangle Park which opened just a week before but is already...more
Images for a recent shoot for Buhler, a large German engineering firm who helped build one of largest malting plants in the USA in Pocatello, Idaho, making malt for large and small American beer makers. It was one of the few times I preferred being outside in 90°F degree than inside the kiln at 150°F! This was a fast paced shoot, all done in one day, covering the 3 main processes of making malt plus other images of the plant. It was also not...more
Images from a photo shoot for Seattle-based ship builders Vigor last week. A gorgeous Wednesday morning out over Puget Sound shooting one of their coast guard response boats. The boats can hit a top speed of close to 42 knots, nearly 50 mph. Shot by helicopter, piloted by the steady hand of Jay Barton from Helicopters Northwest. Try doing this from a drone!more
Sometimes you need Photoshop to make an interesting image, or in this case a mix of Adobe's Lightroom and Photoshop. When I saw the Apollo 11 capsule on display at Seattle's Museum of Flight this week, I knew right away how the image could be 'fixed'. If I shot this for a newspaper I would have to call it an illustration but as I shot this purely for myself, no need. When people ask if I miss working with film, I sometimes laugh, because film...more
AUGUST, 1999 - Lamalera, Indonesia is one of the last places on earth where traditional whale hunts exist. The men of the village take to the sea in 12-metre-long wood boats powered by oars and reed sails, carrying bamboo harpoons fashioned with locally made steel tips. The villagers also hunt other marine life, with pilot whales, manta rays and...more
So after a month or so of editing, throwing out books, creating new books, throwing those out again, I finally settled on using Blurb's magazine format to create portfolios. I love the size and quality (and price!) and they let me break down my work by the same portfolios I have here on my website, letting me send them off to clients depending on their needs. Some clients get all 5, some just one, some a few. Thanks again to Daniel Milnor at...more
Seattle-based landscape architects, Site Workshop, asked me to return to Block 19, Amazon's headquarters in Seattle, where they completed both exterior and interior landscaping and plantings for the project. I spent a few days out there a year ago so was a little skeptical about going back, but it's pretty amazing how much has changed as people flock to the area & nearby buildings are being completed. It still makes my head spin walking...more
What's the old Picasso saying, "good artists borrow, great artists steal”? My fellow photographer, and very serious aviation buff Francis Zera, has an excellent Instagram feed of plane photos running three across. I decided to go 3 across, and 3 down today, for the latest incarnation of the Queen of the Skies, the Boeing 747-8more
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
Aerial photography from both helicopters and drone. While I always prefer to use helicopters for aerial photography, drones are far more useful in certain spaces and are much better for low altitude, more detailed work. But if you want get high and wide, with higher quality digital files shot through beautiful Nikon lenses, you have to use a helicopter. Many clients don’t realize how cheap they are, hourly rates start at about $250 for a R22...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
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
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
Soon after I started meeting families at the Cambodian temple on Argyle Street in Chicago (see part one of these blog posts), I would notice 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 Street and Glenwood Avenue, about a block away. The photos here...more
It's been 28 years since I decided to pursue photography as a career. In the spring of 1990 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 1990 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
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 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
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
In 2003 I spent 3 months traveling through Southeast Asia with my wife Jennifer, 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. The tourist interlude allowed me to explore the temples with my Nikon f/1.4 prime lenses - 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and an...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
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
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
Historian Sean Wilentz, in his book Bob Dylan in America, described Dylan’s 1966 performance in Paris, where he hung a giant U.S flag on the stage for the concert, eliciting outrage from the French audience:
"....waiting for the second half of the show, when the curtain parts, and there they see to their horror, attached to the backdrop, the emblem of everything they are coming to hate, the emblem of napalm and Coca-Cola and...more