Where’s the disconnect, America?

Edit: For clarification: This was shot at a local, small, business. The owner is a great guy and passionate about his work. He supports and gives back to the community he is part of. He recently had to close his café, not because of a lack of business, but, in fact, the opposite. He drew too much business to run the café by himself, but could not find anyone willing to work at it with him. Local newspaper ads, craigslist, help wanted signs… he made an effort to employ. More effort than I think people are willing to put into finding work, but apparently less effort than they are willing to put in complaining about the lack of it.

I support OWS and the movement. I believe wholeheartedly that there has been great injustice perpetrated upon the American public, but there is such an imbalance here it’s ridiculous.

If people are going to stand on boxes and yell about the evils of corporations and the lack of jobs, yet small businesses like this are going out of business because they cannot find help, what is the solution?

The Eyes Of Disarray: Pt.2

Brooklyn Sunset
Brooklyn Sunset

So, where were we? I’m more of a “spur of the moment” or “stream of consciousness” writer, so there’s a lot to keep track of in recap style posts. When I first started writing this (Pt. 1), I was on my way to Syracuse, NY from Santa Cruz, CA to visit a dear friend. It was going to be some quiet time to get some work done, relax, and get organized a bit. I’m picking this post back up at Pt. 2, sitting 17 stories above Atlantic Center in Brooklyn, NY, after a snowstorm caused power outages that are preventing me from heading to Boston, MA sitting in a Starbucks in Atlantic Center in Brooklyn, NY. I’ve been talking to people about heading to LA. Work may be taking me back to Seattle. I have some plans for this upcoming New Year… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley

Monument Valley, Utah

This was an unexpected side strip. It was 10:30AM, I had just finished breakfast, and I was getting ready to settle in and knock out some writing and photography work. I had a lot to get done, a lot in my notorious backlog, and was looking forward to a down day after the drive from Yermo, CA to Holbrook, AZ. I had just opened my laptop when I got a cuff on the arm followed by “Grab your gear, you’re already holding us up.” I had no idea what was going on and that frustrated me a bit. I don’t hold people up, I don’t waste time. Anyway. I wasn’t even in clean clothes, but I figured we couldn’t be going too far. I grabbed my basic photo gear; my 10-22mm, 28mm, 50mm, 70-200mm (I knew Barry would have his 24-70mm and 14mm fisheye, among others), tripod, remote trigger, etc. I suppose at any point I could have asked where we were going, but by this point frustration had begun to creep in and I started not to really care.

If you’ve never driven to Monument Valley, UT from Holbrook, AZ, it’s about a three and half hour drive across the desert and wastelands. Now, that’s totally fine under normal circumstances, but these weren’t quite. As far as I knew, we had no supplies (I’ve been stuck in the desert before with no water. It is not fun.) and no plans to get any. That is an easily fixable situation though, so long as there are places to stop along the way (there were). What was not fixable, was being in the confines of a pickup truck cab (the truck is actually really comfortable) with no escape from the endless onslaught of cigarette smoke. If you’ve read the first part of this story, you know my stance on the whole thing. No need to rehash it here. I probably breathed in more carbon monoxide than oxygen on that ride. I didn’t do much to alleviate my mood. Luckily though, I was about to get a chance to purge that with more fresh air than any person could ever breathe.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley

Now, as I’ve said before, I’m not really a landscape guy. I can appreciate the majesty of nature, beautiful sweeping vistas, the glory of nature, etc. but there have been very few times in my life when I’ve been truly awestruck by the beauty of nature. One was the first time I drove clear across the state of Texas. I didn’t understand the meaning of “Big Sky Country” until that moment. Another was much more recent, but it’s the fishtail end of this story, so remember these few sentences, I’m going to reference them later. Anyway, we got to Monument Valley and were immediately met with a view of “The Mittens”. If you’ve ever seen the classic John Wayne western, Stagecoach, then you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, and were born around the same time I was, then you’d probably recognize the view from Airwolf (although in the show it was called “Valley of the Gods”), since that’s where Hawke and Dom’s secret base was.

Random Aside: Airwolf.

Anyway. The view didn’t really blow me away but then again, I’m not big on the average views of things. I don’t like taking photos of things anyone else can take a photograph of (this is why I like photographing people), static things. I prefer to find a different view, a different perspective, if possible. Fortunately this is exactly what Barry had in mind. Twenty minutes later I would find myself in the back of an off-road rigged Jeep Wrangler, firm grip in the “oh shit” handles, bouncing across the valley floor.

Right Size
Right Size

This is where it all started to become worth the trip out there. The views from the valley floor, the far outlaying corners, the vast open expanses of nothingness; this was truly breathtaking. I’ve mentioned in the past that I love the desert. It’s clean to me. It’s dry and barren and simple. It burns away everything except the core of a being and even then, if you can’t adapt, it will burn that away too. I jumped out of the Jeep deep into the valley and just walked alone for a while. I explored by myself, able to see the valley how I wanted, able to experience the vast nothingness alone, and able to photograph what I wanted to. There is beauty, to me, in that kind of desolation. Being able to see into infinity in every direction and not see another living soul. I’m sure there is a metaphor in here for how I was feeling at the time (and, to a point, still do), but it doesn’t really matter. I didn’t really want to leave. I could have wandered into that desolation without any care for being found. Then I remembered that I’m still planning to visit Mt. Everest, so no disappearing into the wilds until that is off my list.

ANYWAY. It was a pretty amazing experience. I took a lot of deep breathes, did my best to purge my poor lungs, knowing that there was still the ride home ahead of me. That went about as well as the trip there, though I was in a slightly better mood. Back in Holbrook meant dinner and attempted sleep before pushing through to Albuquerque, NM the next morning.

And away...
And away...

And that concludes the side trips. Remember, I’m still on the road at this point. Living out of the same suitcase that carried me through Paris.

Albuquerque, NM

Albuquerque, NM. I’d been here plenty of times in the past, on tour, but nothing particularly memorable stuck out. We arrived on Thursday; Stephen would be arriving from Santa Cruz and meeting up with us on Friday. We took a look at the convention space, got parking settled for the RV, and finally got checked into a hotel, which was a simple luxury at this point (the last hotel I’d stayed in was all the way back in Seattle, the night before I left for Olympia, and it was terrible). I was able to unpack a little, air out my clothes, take a hot shower, and get caught up a little on photos, which by this point had been stacking up considerably. Apparently the place to eat in ABQ is Rudy’s BBQ, so that was the next stop (we would visit more than once on this trip, thus would begin the Banana Pudding Saga).

Not The Banana Pudding
Not Banana Pudding (P)

This would also begin my early morning Friday quest to get my new business cards from the USPS, who are probably the most infuriatingly inept organization run by actual nice people. The short story is that they decided to not deliver my cards to the hotel because… I dunno. It’s a hotel? That doesn’t make sense to me. All I know was that I was tracking the delivery status like Prince Humperdinck following a falcon on a cloudy day and one minute it was “Out for delivery” and the next it was “Undeliverable: Return to sender”. Not even an option to redeliver, I mean, seriously? I was 25 yards from the hotel front desk. By that time it was close to 5:00PM, which means I was SoL. I called, got run around, and decided that the best way to get my cards (which I needed for the show the next day) was to go to the post office first thing in the morning and try and intercept them before they got shipped back. This would lead to a 6 mile walk across Albuquerque, 2 different post offices, some incredibly helpful USPS personnel, and eventually getting my cards. They were printed by MOO.com and they are beautiful. Not how I was hoping to spend what would have otherwise my first morning to sleep late in weeks, but it had to be done. Mission: Complete.

Cards
Cards (P)

Rock The Ink 2011

My next goal for that Friday was to build as much of the Anatometal booth as possible before Stephen arrived. This was old hat for me and building a single booth was pretty low key compared to some of the elaborate events I’ve produced in the past. I had a basic grasp of the booth from the tear-down in Vegas, so I managed to get about 75% of the structures up before Stephen waltzed in (Hi Steve!).

Miss Rock The Ink 2011
Miss Rock The Ink 2011

The show itself was… a show. This was much more of an “everybody knows each other” style show than Las Vegas, more of a family and/or community feel. I was introduced to lots of great folks, all very “friends of the family” style. I became a sort of unofficial official photographer (something to note for later) which was interesting to me because I was still a sort of “outsider” in this whole thing. It was also interesting to observe because even though this event has happened for a few years now, it did not seem particularly well organized.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying that to be mean, it’s just an observation from someone (hint: me) who has professionally produced special events for a long time.

The people I talked to did mention some issues that had arisen just before the event started, like a major venue change, but there were some location independent aspects, like social media and photography coordination, that could have been handled better than they were. It’s not the fault of any single person, but general production planning and event execution. On the upside of that is it’s easy for me to see where those gaps are and with a little planning assistance, the next show can be off the charts. So yeah, shot a lot of photos, met a lot of amazing people. I certainly look forward to being involved with Rock The Ink in the future. I suppose we’ll see.

The Road Back

So, with RtI 2011 behind us, it was back to Santa Cruz. The ride back was pretty much the ride there in reverse, with less side trips. We were on a schedule, so there wasn’t a lot of dilly-dallying to be had.

All The Damn Vampires

During my time in ABQ I’d made plans to head to Syracuse, NY via Boston, MA depending on how travel back to SC panned out. I ended up driving back to SC with Barry in the RV, which was a similar enough to the trip down that it doesn’t require great explanation, so I’d be flying straight to Syracuse through NYC. Before that though, I was going to have another one of those breathtaking landscape moments.

Barry
Barry

I really only had a handful of hours in Santa Cruz before heading to San Jose Airport to catch the red eye to Syracuse, via NYC. Luckily we arrived just before Golden Hour so, aside from a few errands, I was able to head directly to the coast to shoot the sunset. Barry knew a couple of spots that were just spectacular.

Santa Cruz Sunset
Santa Cruz Sunset

I watched a beautiful sunset on the coast, then to dinner with the Santa Cruz folks. It was a beautiful way to wrap up my time on the west coast. After dinner I was off to San Jose airport to catch the red eye to Syracuse, NY after a layover in New York City. I’ve been hesitant to return to the east coast given the time of year. The weather in the north east has a way of trapping people here and that was the last thing I wanted. I boarded my flight and tried to get some sleep.


And I feel that time’s a wasted go
So where ya going to tomorrow?
And I see that these are lies to come
Would you even care?

Playing With Power – Pt. 1 [Featured]

What you are about to read, should you decide to read it, is all true to the best of my recollection. I have had a long, strange, journey through the video game industry. I have hundreds of stories, this is just one of them.

Nintendo Street Team: 2004
Remember Link Cables?

It’s for breakfast now.

It’s interesting to see all the news about Nintendo recently and the expected fiscal loss posting. “First time in 30 years…” “Lower than expected interest in the 3Ds.” “20 billion yen.”, etc etc. I really only have one question: “Is anyone really that surprised?”

Ok, let me preface this with a few things.

  1. I am not a financial professional. I don’t analyze trends, stocks, or earning strategies.
  2. I am not a corporate business strategist. I understand the complexities of running a business, but I am by no means familiar with the intricacies of running a massive, multinational, corporation.
  3. I have worked for and with Nintendo in the past (2002-2007). In fact, I did through one of their darkest hours, the end of the GameCube lifecycle, in what was essentially “the trenches”, Marketing and Promotions. I was also there for one of the truly brightest moments, the launch of the Wii.
  4. Yes, I’ve met Reggie Fils-Amie. I sat across from him at a marketing meeting in New York City in 2004 and told him we should probably forget Geist ever existed and focus on Resident Evil 4 and Metroid Prime 2 for that particular holiday season. I’m not saying it affected anything either way, but we all know how that turned out.

In any case, all I present here is my experience with Nintendo, the frustration that came with working for them, especially as a fan of the company and their products, the insight it gave me to the insane swing-set-riding-a-roller-coaster that the company exists on, and why it should surprise no one that they’re on the big downswing yet again.

Continue reading

The Eyes of Disarray: Pt. 1

This is going to be a long one. I’m really far behind on a lot of things simply due to the craziness of my recent travel and shooting schedule. So, if you’re content to read it all in one go, grab a cup of coffee, a snack, and let’s get caught up. I’ll wait.

Good to go? Alrighty then.

Mario Barth’s “Biggest Tattoo Show on Earth”

BTSOE 2011

AKA: Amazing People, Terrible Lighting.

This actually happened about three weeks ago, which is crazy to think about since it seems like I was just there. I was invited down to the Mario Barth’s Biggest Tattoo Show On Earth by my best friend, Stephen, who was working at the show with the company he works for, Anatometal. His boss, and owner of Anatometal, Barry Blanchard, is a bit of a photog, so the offer was extended to come down and shoot for the show. It wasn’t an actual paid gig beyond what I can license out, but it was worth it for the people I met and the shooting I was able to do. I had a lot of exclusive access to show happenings, so that was a good time. I shot thousands of photos and I’m still trying to process the backlog of them all. The odds of anything significant coming out of them are low, but it did lead to some other opportunities and potential work.

BTSOE 2011
BTSOE 2011

I’ve been disconnected from the body modification scene for a while. I first got pierced when I was 16 (ears/tongue/nipples) and tattooed when I was 18 (my 2nd day after moving to NYC). It’s been part of my life for a long time, but my involvement in the community fell off drastically when I started touring for a living and especially now that BME‘s “IAM” (an amazing social network that existed before social networks were even a thing) has seen its last days. There just isn’t the time to devote to it. My arms remain unfinished and I’ve removed a lot of my facial piercings and while I don’t really see the need to get any more piercings, I do want to finish my tattoos, and get a few more.

BTSOE 2011
BTSOE 2011

Being in Vegas, though, made me realize not just how disconnected I’d become, but also how much the entire industry has not particularly changed that much. The events are still kind of gimmicky and a lot of the industry still deals with a lot of cliché and stereotype. Granted, you kind of have to be when so much of the business is based on the general public. While I do not doubt the creativity, talent, and artistry involved, the whole industry could still use an injection of professionalism and organization. Administrative bodies like the APP have gone a long way with that, but given how old the trade is, I’m surprised it’s still as slap-dash as it is. I do love the people though. The unique expressionism, attitude, and overall acceptance of the community is amazing.

BTSOE 2011
BTSOE 2011

I got to meet Bill Tinney and his wife at BTSOE, which was a huge highlight. He is an incredible photographer and old hat to a lot of these events. I got some great advice from his wife over the weekend and I’ve taken it all to heart. It offered me a bit of an unexpected perspective change and I am certainly grateful for it.

The Monday after the show, I had a long talk with my dad about life and business and travel while I waited for the bus back to LA. It was right on time. I jumped on and headed back to Los Angeles without incident. Not bad for $25.

BTSOE 2011
BTSOE 2011

So yeah. A long, introspective bus ride both ways, through the desert. It provided further affirmation for me though that my personal values seem to exist in a space that is just not aligned with the majority of people I know. It doesn’t affect the work that I am able to produce on a technical level, but the longer I’m around people in a “professional” setting, the more I find I have to just isolate myself and work on my own level. I was kind of hoping it was just the result of working around people I’d never worked with before (aside from Stephen) and who are from a completely different industry. It’s not that there is no common ground, just highly different values and operational procedure. I end up hearing the same thing I’ve heard my entire life… “Why are you so serious all the time?” The post right before this one expands on this concept. Little did I know this would come up again, in a much more exaggerated fashion, a couple weeks later.

So, like I mentioned, it was a long bus ride through the desert back to LA from Vegas. I’ve made that drive many times in my life. On the way back, they showed “Despicable Me“, which I’d never seen and thought was pretty funny, “500 Days of Summer“, which I’d also never seen and didn’t particularly enjoy for personal reasons, and “When In Rome“, which I have, amazingly, seen before but cannot remember where. I listened to my usual podcasts and did a lot of staring out the window.

Back to the City of Angels

Hollywood Sunset
Hollywood Sunset

The bus actually got back to LA early, but then the LA Metro (if you can even call it that) was having all kinds of delays, so that pretty much canceled out any progress that had been made. I hoofed it back to Michelle’s place in Hollywood and got ready to jump over to my brother’s condo in Santa Monica for my last few days in LA. One of the last things I did in Hollywood was do some light wardrobe shopping in an attempt to reconnect with myself. It sounds silly, but reshuffling my clothes a little has gone a ways towards making me feel more comfortable with myself.

Marc
Marc

My brother is an interesting guy. I have no idea how he affords to live the lifestyle he does, or how no woman has yet managed to kill him for some of the relationship decisions he’s made. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, but as we’ve grown older, the bond that is brotherhood and family has pushed aside our differences. All in all he’s a great guy and I really enjoyed my time hanging out with him. His new condo is incredible and I’ve never explored Santa Monica all that much. I spent some time on the beach, staring at the ocean, shooting some photos, and spent the rest getting packed up and ready to fly back to Santa Cruz. I culled a lot out of my suitcase and considerably lightened my load. I would have to hit the ground running in SC, since I was immediately departing on a 3 day drive to Albuquerque, NM for “Rock The Ink: 2011“.

The Road There

Fish(eye) in the desert.
Fish(eye) in the desert.

Originally I was going to fly to Albuquerque, NM and meet up with Stephen and the Anatometal crew for Rock The Ink: 2011, a convention that Anatometal is heavily involved in. The offer was extended after my initial introduction in Las Vegas. When I mentioned flying down, Barry (the Anatometal owner) instead suggested that I drive down with him in his massive “house on wheels” RV. All I had to do was get to back to Santa Cruz. Well, it sounded like an adventure so I grabbed my camera, booked my ticket back to SC, and was on my way. It was going to be three days through the desert, not even a blip on the radar compared to my touring days, in a completely ridiculous vehicle. What’s the worst that could happen?

Now, don’t get me wrong, Barry and his 2nd in command, Tod, are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Great senses of humor, hospitable, generous, and fun to hang out with, Barry and I can wax photographica endlessly. The two of them represent a wealth of life experience I only hope I can one day achieve. There is one massive caveat though…

Looking Back
Looking Back

The two of them smoke more cigarettes than I have ever witnessed any human beings smoke in my life. I had an ex-girlfriend who smoked a lot, but these two put her to shame. Driving down the road, it’s no big deal. Just pop the windows open and it’s fine. I’m not a complainer and smoking in general doesn’t really bother me that much. My extensive touring experience has given me a pretty thick skin. I know how the road works. Where it killed me though, was at night when the RV is parked and closed up. I know now what it must be like to try and asphyxiate yourself in a garage. I’m not about to ask or tell a man to not smoke in his own house though.

I was willing to overlook the catastrophic effects on my health, but the damage that cigarette smoke can do to my equipment had me really worried. The gear I travel with, my camera, my laptop, my clothes… are all I have (yes, the same argument exists for my health). While I do hold the philosophical opinion that everything in my life is ultimately replaceable (with one, critical, exception), the practical reality is that I am not in a position to just be willy-nilly buying new things if they get damaged or destroyed. I understand that everyone’s situation is not the same, I only ask that they respect mine. Yeah, not so much. I did my best to keep my gear sealed up tight, but it was akin to fighting the tide.

Side Trips

On the way down to Albuquerque, we made two real side trips and one minor one. The first was a scant ride over to an abandoned water park outside of Yermo, CA. The second, a three and a half hour drive from AZ to Utah, up to Monument Valley that would push my tolerance to its limits. It would be the first of two times it would happen on this trip.

Yermo, CA – Abandoned Water Park

Decay
Abandoned Water Park

Barry and Tod had been talking about this place since Vegas. It’s just off The 15 near Yermo, CA. I was hoping for a bit more urban decay than I got, but it is still an amazing site for shooting photos. I would love to get some people and models together and go back and do a proper shoot. This trip was mostly exploratory for me, but I did manage to get some fun shots in. I have a much better idea about the site now and will definitely be returning.

Ok, that is enough TL:DR for now. Part 2 will be inbound shortly.

Your smile is a thin disguise.

Fish(eye) in the desert.
Fish(eye) in the desert.

I’ve been sitting on a huge post draft that goes through all the crazy travel I’ve been doing recently. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Santa Cruz, Albuquerque, and back again. I’m currently on the road back to Santa Cruz. I’ll recoup there for a few days and decide where to next.

Unexpected Places
Unexpected Places

Part of that post was devoted to my recent trek to Albuquerque, NM from Santa Cruz, CA via RV, to shoot photos for Rock The Ink 2011 and then back again. It’s been a trying experience on more than one level, far more so than any tour I’ve ever been on, regardless of duration or circumstance. I’ve been on some pretty bad tours too.

The Road
The Road

The biggest part of this whole experience has been further confirmation that my personal and professional values just do not align with the vast majority of people I interact with. I find myself constantly at odds with how people function and the choices they make. Their conduct. I’m not saying that they are right or wrong, just that they do not ever seem to agree with my own. I always do my best to maintain a strict sense of professionalism and respect. In any given scenario my tendency to overthink means that I constantly considering the consequences of my actions and behavior. I tend to err on the side of caution. I stay quiet and focused. I set parameters and do not stray outside of them for a given task (though I, of course, always remain adaptable to any situation). This usually results in people saying that I am “too serious” or “too intense” and that I should “lighten up” or “relax”. It is very rare that I am around people who work on the same level that I do, who will take things seriously. To me, that is professionalism (Note: It is possible to enjoy your work and still be serious about it. You can have fun while working. It’s a matter of retaining focus on the job at hand). On a personal level, it means that my default is to always consider the effects of my actions and choices. I typically will not cross boundaries that I feel could be potentially disrespectful, regardless of my personal preferences. As I said, I tend to always err on the side of caution.

The Road
The Road

I’ve found that a lot of people do not. The try to force attention to themselves, or are concerned only with their own personal preferences. I’ve also found that these same people nearly always feel that their “way” is the “best” or “how things should be” without consideration for others. It is especially bad when people aren’t even self aware enough to recognize that in themselves. This leads to the aforementioned “too serious” style comments. It’s easy to see where this is going. Given that my personal values hardly ever align with those of others and the fact that 95% of people I find myself around are focused solely on their own, it creating increasingly uncomfortable, difficult, and frustrating situations. It makes working difficult and that feeds into a vicious cycle of not being able to enjoy my work, so I have to focus more on the serious side in order to produce the results I want. This feeds back into me seeming like I am incapable of having fun or enjoying what I am doing.

The Road
The Road

I once read that you should always strive to team up with people who are your general equal. If the other person is more skilled than you, they don’t need you. If you are more skilled, you don’t need them. Granted, people possess different skill sets, so it’s really a sense of “equality” across the board. You’d never learn anything new otherwise. I’ve heard this same concept applied to relationships, but that’s a conversation for a different time.

The Road
The Road

This trip also highlighted that I just don’t get people sometimes. Well, when it comes to personal interactions anyway. Observationally, I am very skilled at deciphering people and their motivations. I generally understand people and how they work. As soon as the interactions turn personal though (beyond general formalities), I find myself not sure how to react. It’s not that I have expectations; I just can’t always correctly interpret people’s actions or intentions towards me. Since I always side with caution, I think people understand that as disinterest, which usually is not the case. I am constantly entertaining dozens and dozens of options/actions and their implications (this was previously outlined in a post about my natural ability to see “avenues of possible outcomes”, the ability to easily anticipate people’s reactions). Without a clear understanding of intention though, I’m never sure what course of action to follow. I hate feeling like I am “overstepping boundaries”. I’ve been told that this is a somewhat unfair strategy, since my actions/reactions are required to confirm intention. The idea of misreading someone’s intention stops me in my tracks though. I’d rather politely do nothing. Something to work on I suppose.

The Road
The Road

Another trend I’ve noticed recently is people abruptly ending conversations. This is especially true lately in digital communications. Email, text, IM, etc. A conversation will start, questions, answers, general talking and then it’s like the person at the other end just walks in the middle of it without any kind of warning. Now, I of course understand that people are busy, and have lives, get distracted, have things come up, but it’s been unusually prevalent lately. People dodging questions has been common lately too.

So anyway, travel recap on the way.

This isn’t the last…

I’ve been thinking all morning about where to start this. I can’t really decide on an appropriate starting point. How about…

9 years ago I trekked to Los Angeles on a personal adventure and found myself waking up on Sycamore St. in Hollywood. I was in the apartment of my new friend and upcoming professional photographer, Michelle Star. I woke up, kept quiet, got dressed, and walked to Starbucks to start my day. Opportunities abound…

Yesterday I arrived in Los Angeles on a continuation of a personal adventure. Today, I found myself waking up on Sycamore St. in Hollywood. I was in the apartment of my old friend and well known professional photographer, Michelle Star. I woke up, kept quiet, got dressed, and walked to Starbucks to start my day. Opportunities abound…

Too “history repeating”? Hmmm, how about…

I’m sitting in a Starbucks on the corner La Brea & Santa Monica in LA. I’ve sat in this Starbucks before, 2 years ago, while on a break/materials gathering mission while working on a job at Paramount Studios. I can see, from where I am sitting now, the GameStop and Target I went to, looking for a Mad Catz Rock Band Drum Cymbal Extension Kit for the stage I was building for the “Get Schooled” media event (see “Résumé” above).

Funny where you end up sometimes.

Not quite what I was looking for. Just the act of being here is changing how this is progressing, adding new potential to the mental mix.

I’m sitting in a Starbucks in LA, a city I’m on record for not being a huge fan of after living here 9 years ago. I’ve warmed to it a bit in the time since, but it still doesn’t sit right with me. “New York State of Mind” is playing on the radio. I loved living in NYC when I did. It’s not the city for me anymore really, sadly, but I wouldn’t trade the time I spent there for anything, good or bad. As I’m thinking of all those old times, feeling nostalgic, I look out the window to my left. A girl on a fixie just got hammered by a car on the corner of La Brea and Santa Monica Blvd. The car takes off. She is banged up, but ok. Her bike is rough shape. I rush outside to help.

The same thing happened to me 13 years ago on 8th & Broadway in NYC. I’ve told the story a thousand times. I start to wonder if it’s some kind of cosmic sign. My old life and my new life colliding? My past catching up to me? A chance to pay back some karma? I hold the belief that there really is no such thing as coincidence, you just need to be aware and recognize events as they happen, then try and decipher their significance. So now I’m sitting here thinking about what that might be.

A bit esoteric. How about just some recap action?

If you’ve been following this website, blog, journal, experiment, whatever it is, for any length of time, you’ll know that I have a history of being a bit all over the place… in more than just one regard. That wanderlust is seemingly baked in to my DNA/soul/consciousness/whatever. It’s driven by my perpetual feeling of a lack of purpose, or sense of really belonging anywhere. I move around a lot, try new things, and generally try and fill my life with skills and experience.

So now I’m sitting in a familiar Starbucks on La Brea and Santa Monica Blvd in Los Angeles, CA. This morning I woke up on the couch of an old friend, a friend I met here 9 years ago. Yesterday I was walking through the fog in Santa Cruz.  So, just how did I end up in this seat?

Approx 2 years ago: I move from my apartment in Las Vegas, NV to Boston, MA for a shot at a fulltime job at Harmonix Music Systems, Inc. It’s a longshot, but the culmination of a lifetime of freelance work in the videogame event industry. Long story short, I get the job and become the Event Specialist for Harmonix. I go on to help produce events like E3, PAX (East & Prime), and Gamescom. I also slide into a kind of defacto photographer role for the team I’m on.

Approx 6 months ago: I quit my job at Harmonix Music Systems, Inc after the company is sold by MTV/Viacom and internal event production is scaled way down as the studio shifts it’s focus and new partners exert influence. I make the decision to move to Paris, FR for as long as a travel visa will allow. While there, I also travel to places like Cannes, Brussels, Antwerp, NYC, Bierves, Le Mans, etc. While in Paris I work on not just my photography and writing, but on myself. I try and sort out all my personal short-comings, my flaws, my weaknesses… the things I don’t particularly like about myself. I attempt to reconcile the two sides of myself that I feel are constantly at odds with each other. To find some kind of balance. In the process I end up boiling myself down a lot. I discover a lot of things about myself and for the first time in a long time I feel like I have priorities. I solidify some goals, make plans, and feel not only a sense of purpose, but also of belonging and comfort. I start to consolidate and focus on what I want in my life. A new me starts to emerge.

Seattle
Seattle

Approx 1 month ago: I leave Paris bound for Seattle, WA. I’ve spent as much time as I could in Paris without risking deportation. For the first time in a long time though, I don’t want to leave where I am. I actually like Paris and the life that was starting there. Duty calls. I’m headed to see Suki Valentine, a friend from way back, from the old New York days. She’s building and opening a new store in Seattle and I agreed to help out with the opening. She’s offered me a place to stay while I do. Though I’m sad to leave Paris, I am excited at this opportunity. After nearly 5 months of creative and emotional focus, I’m going to see if my practical skills are still sharp. I find that not only are they, but I am able to find some the balance I had been working towards. I start shooting photos for the store after it opens. I build massive playlists and DJ sets as well. I work on social media. I meet a lot of great people and even get a chance to shoot some photography on the set of a film in Olympia. I kind of like Seattle and the potential it presents. I seem to have started down the path I was working towards, but something is missing.

Approx 1 week ago: I leave Seattle, bound for Santa Cruz, CA. The housing thing didn’t quite pan out as expected in Seattle. I slept on the floor of the store a lot. I slept on the couches of new friends. It was fine, I’m adaptable and experienced. I’m good at making due with what is available. The hospitality and kindness shown to me by new friends was amazing. I’m not really comfortable with that for too long though. I don’t like intruding on people’s lives, no matter how much they insist that I’m not.

Patton
Patton

So it was off to Santa Cruz, CA, the home of my best friend, Stephen, his lovely fiancé Heather, and their hilarious Welsh Corgi, Patton. You can read more about that in the post right below this one. There will be another incoming shortly, a follow up on my time spent in Santa Cruz.

Yesterday: It’s an intensely foggy evening in Santa Cruz. Stephen drops me off at San Jose airport and I board a little prop plane bound for Los Angeles, CA. It’s a more introspective flight than usual. Since the plane never clears 25,000ft during the whole flight, I can watch the sun set below the California coastline and the lights of cities twinkle on. The two stewardesses are hilarious. They dole out complimentary drinks with wild abandon. The front cabin stewardess talks like she’s smoked two packs of Camel Light Wides a day since she was born. It was entertaining.

Sunset
San Jose Sunset

The fog is just as intense in LA when we land as it was in Santa Cruz when I left. It lends a kind of quiet to the arrival as we slowly descend though it. You still deplane to the tarmac on flights like this, and we’re all standing in the fog waiting for our luggage to emerge. It’s surreal and still kind of quiet. I get my bag and all that quiet goes away the second I emerge from the other side of LAX. It’s like the car version of white water rapids if it was a race and you were allowed to jump into the rafts from the sidelines. Cacophonous madness, but that’s LA. I knew what I was getting into.

Arrival
Arrival

Michelle and I chat on the drive. We catch up a little bit. I see her new place, drop my stuff. She’s been awake for 25 hours and is out pretty quickly. I drop onto the couch in her living room, putting pretty much everything aside for the evening. Stephen had let me borrow “Do Travel Writers Go To Hell” by Thomas Kohnstamm, so I start in just to see how it is. 3 hours later, I finish it. I start it over again, book marking passages with, appropriately, old boarding passes, airport receipts, and TSA inspection notices. Some of the paragraphs read like I wrote them, or at least like I thought them. Paragraphs like:

I am rarely lonely or depressed when I travel alone – except when I first wake up in the morning. My eyes adjust to the surroundings and I try to figure out where I am and what I’m doing there. One white ceiling with cracked paint is the same as the next. It is also a point in the day when I have too much space to reflect on the events that have led me to where I am, and to think about what else I could be doing with my life.

By the time I was though the second read, it was about 5:00AM. So much for sleep. I hadn’t really eaten all that much in the past day or so either. Sleep was in order. I’d figure out food tomorrow. Dreams were strange. I was up by 10:00AM. And now… here I sit, tip-tapping away, trying to get all this in order. LA is going to be a bit crazy (more on that later).

So yeah, something like that. Not the most detailed of recaps, but you can always just go read the individual posts if you’re interested.

And now we’re caught up a bit. For those that really know me, they know that I am omitting parts of this story, including one of the most important parts, actually, but that’s the way it is for now. The time isn’t quite right for that.

So that’s where I sit, literally. Dinner with my brother tonight and a shoot that starts first thing in the morning.

Some Very Strange Birds

Unit Still

So last weekend I was in Olympia, WA and found myself shooting unit stills for an indie film, which was pretty amazing.

I’m going to try and recap this the best I can, since the reality of the situation is that I’ve been pretty distracted lately. A lot of things remain in question about, well, a lot of things. Vague, yes, but for the time being they have to be. Thinking about it all saps my motivation.

Anyway, Olympia.

Basil
Basil

So originally I wasn’t hired for any kind of photography, I was, well, I should say, my lenses were hired. I had spoken to filmmaker/producer, and friend of a friend, Basil Shadid, at the opening party for BedlamBedlam (see below). We got to talking about cameras and lenses and I mentioned the lenses I had with me while I was traveling. A couple days later he got in touch about renting my lenses for a film shoot he was going to be working on in Olympia, WA, specifically, my:

I was hesitant to let those lenses loose in the wild, especially my beloved 28mm (yes, I know the 10-22mm is like, 2x the price, but I love my 28mm so much) so when the offer to join the on-set crew was included, I wasn’t going to say no. Tack on transportation, accommodations, food , and free reign to shoot on-set and I couldn’t have really asked for a better deal. The experience alone made it worth it.

Om... nom?
Om... nom?

And overall it was. I shot about 2500 photos, with about 400 of them being select worthy, and about another 400 being passable (in my opinion). That’s a pretty good ratio and some of the selects came are really good, some of the best I’ve shot. There is no gallery up yet, and there won’t be, until I talk more with the director and the producer about them. They expressed interest in buying some of them from me (even though I was not the official set photographer), so that’s pretty awesome.

I brought along back-up lenses because I knew that some of my best primes would be used by the film team (seems funny to call it “film”), so I brought my:

I didn’t know what kind of environments we were shooting in, so I figured that would cover my bases. The film guys ended up using all of my lenses (including the 3 above) at various points in during the filming, which was pretty awesome. They also used my tripod and the ballhead off my monopod, which I was happy to offer. Even my Speedlite 320EX got put to use (finally got to seriously use the video LED). One of the cool flip-sides to having them use my lenses, was that I was able to test drive Basil’s EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. It’s a pretty nice lens, I live shooting on it, but I don’t know that I’d take it over my beloved EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM, especially since it’s due for a refresh soon, hopefully adding IS to the mix.

The lens that really saved my shooting though, was my EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. We ended up shooting on some really dark sets and the speed of the 50mm was just unbeatable. I tend to shoot wide open a lot, so I was used to framing and shooting at f/1.4, which can be a challenge when you’re trying to keep two or more actors in focus on different planes. f/1.4 is a pretty unforgiving depth, but knowing how to shoot that shallow really helped me grab shots that would have been impossible otherwise. I also tend to shoot with a -1 exposure bias, so my experience with that offered me a bit of extra shutter speed.

2nd Lead

I also learned a lot about what I am and am not interested in when it comes to being on a set. I also learned more about my personal strengths and weaknesses.

  • I really like set photography. It may not be glamorous, but I really, really, enjoy it.
  • A lot of my technical skills were put to good use. I know my equipment and what it can do.
  • My ability to creatively problem solve, especially in a production environment, is as strong as ever.
  • I’m still adaptable to fill pretty much any role that is needed in a production environment and my practicality still runs strong.
  • I feel like I could take on a DP role, especially with the combination of my eye and my knowledge, but I definitely need to study up.
  • I still love writing and creating. As I was photographing, I was also re-writing and directing in my own head. I kept a lot of notes during takes, I’m interested to see the final cut of the film.
  • I definitely do not know enough about light. I know how to utilize it effectively, but not create it as well as I should.

Another thing that is interesting is a conversation I had with the Gaffer, Alex Walsh. We were talking about light, how I wasn’t used to shooting in scenarios where the light was so perfect, and how it was making for some stunning photographs. We got to talking about “seeing things as a photographer” vs. “seeing things as a filmmaker”. For me, when I see a perfect scene, I imagine it as a perfect photo: how I would shoot it, what I would need to capture that exact moment. Alex talked about how when he looks through a viewfinder, he asks himself “Why am I taking just a photograph? I could be filming this.” It was an interesting conversation about how different people see the same thing, and it also represents the same way my brother Troy and I see things. It’s one of the reasons we work so well together when we collaborate. I really hope I get to work again with Alex in the future.

So all in all, the whole thing was a pretty excellent time. I met a lot of really cool people, learned quite a bit, and got to put a lot of myself back into practice. I haven’t been part of a production in a while, and never part of a film production, but it’s good to know that my skill-set is pretty much applicable across the board.

It was also nice to shoot in that environment (perfect lighting, all the time) and know that I don’t have to sacrifice quality for application. That I can integrate into a production in a capacity that I really enjoy. Photography has always been a part of my event production, but never the focus. I’m still not 100% comfortable with it being my main role though. It’s a bit difficult to detach from wanting to help out with all parts of a production or event (which I kind of did anyway), but I just had to assist where I could and remember that photography was the real reason to be there (though, I hadn’t been officially hired as the set photographer, I still treated my role as such).

The drive back to Seattle was fine. I rode with the producer and writer of the film, Brent. We talked a bit about travel, working, identity, and purpose in life. Talking with him reminded me that I am basically sitting on the equivalent of close to a thousand pages of writing. I’ve almost posted/published them here a few times, but for some reason I’m far more protective of my writing than I am of my photography.

I was only back in Seattle for a day, repacking and getting organized for moving on. I couldn’t finish this out without mentioning Steve Barta and Gennifer Holland, both of which showed me incredible kindness and hospitality during my stay in the Emerald City. My own personal Wizard and Glinda, though I’m not sure Gen will appreciate that reference. Ha!

I’ll have more on Seattle up, and an update on where I am now, next time.

What forever means…

At this time last week I was preparing to leave Paris, FR, after 3.5 amazing months there.

At this time this week I am in Seattle, WA preparing to spin after having spun my final set at BedlamBedlam, a new store opened by one of my close friends, Suki Valentine and her husband, Shea.

Shea and Suki
Shea and Suki

I flew in to not just DJ the premiere weekend events, but also to assist with the actual store production in it’s final days leading up to the grand opening. It was a mad rush right up to the very last second, but that kind of executional environment happens to be a specialty of mine. I operate very well under pressure and the diversity of my experience means that there wasn’t a single task I couldn’t take on. Everything from electrical work, vinyl cutting and application, construction/carpentry, A/V, merchandising, social media roll-out, etc, the works, you name it. It was nice to put all those skills to use again and to know I’m as sharp and well versed as ever. Helping my friends is the best possible cause so I was glad I was able to put my skillset to use for that purpose.

Vinyl Cutting
Vinyl Cutting

On top of the production work, I’ve also spun a series of live sets for in-store events, created epic playlists for the store, and photographed the goings on (simultaneously DJing and photographic events is not easy, heh). It’s been a strange amalgamation of my past and my present. When I was originally asked to DJ for the store events, including a fashion show, I thought it might be a joke. It had been nearly decade since I was behind decks, during a time in my life that was a million miles from where I am now. The technology has changed dramatically (I used to record my sets on long-play cassettes) so it was a bit of a challenge to do everything digitally from scratch (no pun intended), but I pulled it all off in a pretty spectacular fashion and added a lot of new tools and techniques to my audio arsenal in the process. My musical taste has certainly changed since that time too, well, “expanded” I should say. That proved to be a bit of a double-edged sword.

Taking it all in.
Taking it all in.

It is unfortunately, painfully, obvious that I am just not part of this subculture any more (something I also experienced with the hardcore videogame culture in my last job). I’ve evolved as a person and while I still retain aspects of the subculture as part of myself, I’m certainly much broader in scope as an individual than can be associated with any one particular group. Yes, I’m of course connected through the music, in a way, but I’ve found that as I have changed, and that which I introduce those changes, it’s not often met with a sense of acceptance, especially when applied to something as rigid as a specific subculture. The image is rooted in tradition, no matter how “anti-traditional” the image is. People want what they are familiar with and straying from that, even into a space that is more authentic or situationally suited for the environment, tends to incite conflict. I’m not saying I’m some progressive or creative genius or anything like that, just that I try to encourage the evolution of all things. To be open to the possibilities that something unknown can work within the context of what you are familiar with. As an example, here’s a small sampling of the tracks I used for the BedlamBedlam reception set I mixed.

Satan (Live from Irvine) – Orbital
Still – Neotropic
Radio Babylon – Meat Beat Manifesto
Moya (7″) – Southern Death Cult
Ostia (The Death of Pasolini) – Coil
Papua New Guinea – The Future Sound of London
Destroy Everything You Touch – Ladytron
Ballad of a Paralyzed Citizen – The Faint
Chainsaw (Josh Wink Remix) – Skinny Puppy
Stopwatch Hearts – Delerium
You Can’t Go Home Again – DJ Shadow

I was asked to keep it generally down-tempo and low-key. This was a reception, not a dance party. I was billed as spinning Trip-Hop, Ambient, and Darkwave, and while I am familiar with all those styles of music, I am not really devoted to any one of them. Now, a lot of those tracks above are not any of those three styles of music, but when well sampled and mixed, they work into a marvelous dark electro-ambient landscape. More-so, each track was explicitly, deliberately, chosen for personal significance to the people in attendance. The opening sample in the live version of “Satan” is something Suki and I still reference to this day. “Assimilate” is an industrial classic and a staple of my old sets, the remix I used for this set fit the event but still was able to call back to those days. “Destroy Everything You Touch” is one of Suki’s favorite tracks. “You Can’t Go Home Again“, well, I’m sure by now you can guess why I put that in there. I can go on and on, but you get the idea. The entire experience was designed to have significance, even if it didn’t fit exactly into the genre scope I was assigned. To me, that is the essence of producing a meaningful set/event/photo/etc. A personal connection trumps guideline/genre confinement, especially when you can still operate within the boundaries of the theme. That is what having passion about something is. Well, to me anyway.

Stopwatch Heart.
Stopwatch Heart.

My in-store sets have been much different. Crazy uptempo, epic, sprawling, sets full of old and new. Although the store’s theme is “Goth” (which also usually bends backwards into 80’s, New Wave, and Post-Punk) I’ve been straying far more into Industrial, EBM, Synth, Electro, and even a bit of Metal. As it is, I’ve been banned from mixing The Misfits into my sets and that is extra-ordinarily disheartening to me. I’ve caught some flack for some of my choices (Southern Death Cult is ok, The Cult is not.) and some I’ve been able to sneak under the radar because they fit so well (Devils Never Cry, Bloody Tears) and I know how to mix them. Pushing boundaries like that was one of the reasons I was originally noticed and picked up by Nintendo (mixing classic Nintendo tracks into my cool-down sets). Pushing those limitations is progress and imagination.

BedlamBedlam promo
BedlamBedlam promo

In any case, it’s been an experience. Originally I was going to make Seattle my base of operations for a while. The start-up scene, tech industry, and creative environment are very strong here and there is a lot of great job potential. Unfortunately, the housing situation that was proposed to me did not manifest as planned and, well, I kind of need one of two things to get the ball rolling in most places. A place to live or a well paying gig. With one, the other can usually be secured very quickly. Without either, being particularly effective at anything becomes a challenge. So, with that, it’s time to move on. I definitely still feel that there is potential here though. I’ve made some amazing contacts across all different kinds of industries and I could probably integrate very quickly here, but now is just not the time. It’s been a good lesson in saying “No.” and understanding what I don’t want. Both of those being kind of opposite scenarios for me. The former in that I’m not going to just be ambivalent about things and the latter in the way that I do have such a better idea about what I want in my life, especially after Paris.

Lights Out
Lights Out

During the reception one of Suki’s closest friends asked me if I live in my own “Kyle World”. I asked her what she meant (I’m not fond of that phrase) and she clarified. She said that it seemed like I didn’t quite fit into any of the traditional group dynamics around me, especially for the store. That I seem to live outside of my given environment, observing or affecting it externally via my photography, music, work ethic, etc, but never becoming an actual part of it.

It was an interesting observation. In a way it’s true, given my natural adaptability and ability to play a role that is needed while still holding on to some base element of myself. Maybe I’m out of practice after Paris, where I was just able to be myself 95% of the time.