November 4 2020
About a month ago I communicated with Toby’s mum to ask if there was anything I could do for her as Toby’s first year of his passing approached. She simply said that if I could light a candle for him that would be something he loved. She told me that no matter what his mood when they all sat down for dinner if the candles on the table were not lit, he would rise from his seat, get a lighter and light the candles. So in honor of Toby and his family I simply asked those who know him to light a candle for him and if they wish to do so to post a small video online. You can see them here. If you would like to upload your own message to Toby, you can do that by clicking here. Toby we all miss you and each of us thinks of you every single day. Love to you, miss you buddy.
September 1 2020
I have written an article that relates to Toby’s story titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”
August 17 2020
Several of the young women who danced with Toby at OSA created a heart felt tribute to him. It makes me so emotional to watch the love they exhibit for him. Love you Toby, I’m trying to look after your mom. She’s my friend. She even got me to buy a jigsaw puzzle! And I hate puzzles damn her! LOL
I asked your mum if she would like to be my ‘voice activated light stand’ during the beach shoot session. And of course she was very excited to do so and did a great job! I wanted her to experience what you saw during our sessions at OSA, albeit they weren’t in this cool setting. I paid her $1.00 USD that day so she can now say that she is a professional lighting assistant! I tucked it into her waistband and said “Now don’t go thinking you’re a stripper now!” Of course the girls all laughed. We all miss you Toby and think of you each and every day.
When I told your mum “We are going to turn day into night with the light Aly.” She gave me ‘that stare’ of disbelief! LOL. Since I had my iPad on the light pole she was holding when the shots came through she said “I’m standing right here and still can’t believe it!” Hahahaha. So I got to experience just a little of your mum’s disbelief first hand buddy!
November 16 2019
Last night, November 15 2019 was the service for Toby Weir. Like any memorial service it is never something to look forward to and this was no exception. It was a celebration of his life, but what struck me the most were his mother and father; Aly and Bix Weir. In the past during the tragic deaths of children I have never witnessed parents delivering eulogies like theirs. Heartfelt – completely and utterly honest, Aly’s accounts of her feelings took more courage than I could ever imagine from any human soul. Her words to other young people in the audience were honest, sincere and profound. We are all blessed to know souls like Aly and Bix. To have our lives intersect in this way is something I would never wish upon anyone. Yet to have our lives come together at all – I now view as a blessing to my own life.
They both changed how I view my life. Thank you.
November 7 2019
If you are looking for a photography review here, please move along. This post is about suicide.
All living things be they mammals, reptiles, aquatic, or fill in the blank, does all it can to avoid pain. It’s part of the natural survival instinct. Humans avoid pain through a litany of methods. Many are chemical, loads are through behavior. Pick your poison; drinking, drugs, sex, spending, working, who we hang with, what we focus on.
So when the choice of self-inflicted death is an option that is less painful than life – the tragedy rests on all of us as humans.
I have often felt that suicide is death by a thousand cuts. Small seemingly insignificant minor hurtful comments, being ignored, feeling invisible, not good enough are just some of the the lacerations that eventually end up making the decision to end one’s life. It can be as simple as never having a text responded to by your own children or parent. Looking at the pretend lives plastered every day on social media about peers whose lives seem so perfect. Comparing ourselves to how we feel we should be, rather than how we are.
For the past several years I have photographed for the Oakland School for the Arts Dance Emphasis. As a freshman a young man named Toby appeared before my lens. Shy, skinny and unsure of his place in the dance world his improvement over the years was remarkable. As a senior he was asked to join the Savage Jazz Dance Company which is an elite group of dancers. After the last night of the troupe’s performance he committed suicide.
I often say to people “Shoulda Coulda Woulda” when they tell me that they ‘meant’ to do say or act on anything. My point is how many opportunities have been neglected by each of us to say a kind or complimentary word to another person – DIRECTLY? Sure it’s common to bitch about someone, but seldom do I hear people compliment a person to their face, at the moment they appreciated an act, a word, an intent they found kind or helpful. Or something they admire about the person at that moment.
“I know I must have told her/him how much I admire/loved/appreciated them. Didn’t I? Gosh I know I thought it but maybe I never said it, but they must have known.”
Often those individuals who appear accomplished, sure of themselves are the ones often overlooked for compliments. “Oh they MUST KNOW how good/skilled/honored/etc. they are!” Then there are those who feel invisible, because they are treated that way. No eye contact, no smile finds its way to their eyes. No conversations initiated toward their ears.
We so often ask ourselves “Why” after someone we love, adore or know commits suicide. In some cases the person tells us why in their last note, but in others we will never know. Tomorrow is promised to no one, but I pledge to not contribute to a death by a thousand cuts to my fellow humans. I will say with both kindness and affection how I feel toward someone NOW. Not tomorrow, not to someone else, but to them.
Rest in peace Toby. I miss you. I miss your smile when I told you how special you were.
COVID19 2020 is unlike any year, any experience — anything anyone has endured in this century. Mask, no masks, 14 day isolation, human isolation, lack of freedom and anger — human frailties exposed in raw naked fashion. Record unemployment, all aspects of life now deemed political, black lives matter versus all lives matter; a world in total emotional chaos. All humans are yearning for hope, for solace and peace, for our lives to return to how things ‘use to be’ the way we took our lives so shamelessly for granted.
I vowed after the 2016 election to remove myself from all social media during the next presidential election. So my virtual contact with others is nonexistent, which is how I want to live my life in this time. My girlfriend informs me of positive news she feels she can share with me knowing full well that my saturation point of bad news, tragic news, bigoted new is very shallow in these times. So one day she says to me “Wow have you seen the rocks Danielle paints? I love them I’m going to buy one from her.” My thought at that moment was whatever makes anyone feel hope or joy in these times is a valid reason to participate no matter what it is.
When Danielle brought over Tracy’s painted rock she told us about the stress of homeschooling two small children, how her husband had been laid off and she as a stage manager for theatre companies is unemployed; something we both knew since we are both full time performance and publicity photographers.
When Tracy received her rock it brought her incredible joy. I witnessed the smile on her face each time she looked at it, held it and finally found the perfect place for it. I was in awe that a simple painted rock, created by a friend of ours brought so much genuine joy to my partner. I realized that this crisis has made many of us reawaken to the joy of the simple and thoughtful things in life. Something that many of us, me included had taken for granted.
I told Danielle I could not imagine home schooling children, having to work from home, balance my own life and family life in these times. So I asked what she does just for herself. She told me that she receives solace by painting rocks. If even for a brief period of time she focuses on herself, creating items that bring her joy, relaxes her and gives her peace. It was then I thought that I too would like my own rock, one of something very different than Tracy’s. A picture of my electric motorcycle that I had created in a photograph was the thing that would bring me joy. Stupid to some, yet for reasons I will keep to myself, wonderful to me.
I recalled a photo of Toby — a young man who committed suicide in November 2019 which was one of his mother’s favorite photos — all because of his genuine smile. Even though I am in that picture I decided to ask Danielle if she could not only paint the picture of my motorcycle, but of me and Toby. She knows of his story, seemed reticent at first saying that she was better at painting ‘things’ more than faces but would try.
When Danielle left our home I watched as Tracy handled her new rock, caressed it and carried it looking for just the right spot to place it where she would enjoy it. So she decided to place it on our front porch table. Each time she tended to the front garden she would enjoy her new piece of art.
Toby’s mom Aly and I have become friends despite the horrid tragedy of what brought us together. She had mentioned that she loves puzzles and collecting rocks, so I hoped a painted rock of her son would bring two of her favorite things together. And as I watched Tracy hold her rock carefully in the palm of her hand and gaze lovingly at it I thought of Aly. Rocks are very tactile and the warmth of our hands transfers to them becoming as warm as us. So for her to hold an image of her son, one of her favorite images and warm him with her kind hands would be something no mere photo could provide.
Upon receiving Toby’s rock she texted me that she too held her gift in her hands and walked around her home looking for just the right spot. She decided to place it on her desk so she could look at it as she was seated there. And she conveyed that whenever she is at her desk she finds herself subconsciously stroking the rock of Toby.
Being able to provide Danielle just a small stipend of income to paint rocks is inconsequential. But to provide her with a moment to herself, to have her create simple and wonderful items we can hold, can warm with our flesh and enjoy is immense. There is humanity in something made by the hand of another. And I know that I need as much humanity as I can gather right now. Two people benefited from something so simple, yet so intimate to each person.
Like so many others I too am between a rock and a hard place. The hard place is beyond my control, but the rock is something in just the right spot that now brings me much joy. I so hope you too find a rock that brings you joy.
If you want your own bit of joy:
Danielle Combs Owner/Artist — Bananarama Crafts
Foster City, CA 650–740–9921
Right now there are so many important and historic events happening in our country and our communities. The Black Lives Matter movement changing how blacks have been mistreated throughout history, COVID-19, record unemployment, home schooling, Zoom Meetings, and face to face isolation.
On February 24 2020 just before the public officially became aware of the novel coronavirus, a collection of artists of all genres gathered to create the Hillbarn Theatre’s 2020 Season Brochure. I need to rewind this story five years prior to that date. Tracy and I work with many theatres and performance venues in the Western United States. After having helped in creating season brochures and publicity collateral for theatres ranging from pre-Broadway houses to community theatres, August Laguio and I became restless with the look of theatre publicity imagery. August is one of the most accomplished graphic designers I have ever worked with and was responsible for so much of the marketing collateral our clients used.
We spoke to the marketing staff of all the theatres who were clients, “Hey we would like to try a new approach to how theatre presents itself to the public, a photo centric approach, not heavy with graphics and not using traditional show graphics titling.” Well what has always been done is a very difficult mindset to overcome, especially when theatres feel their income may suffer. Or they feel their season subscriber base would not take a liking to something new.
In 2006 before ever dreaming of becoming a commercial photographer I had the opportunity to spend time with Annie Leibovitz. She was on a tour for her book A Photographer’s Life and a friend arranged time for me to meet with her. “Annie, how can I learn to shoot like you?” Her reply “Mark, don’t attempt to shoot like me, strive to shoot like Mark. And one day I will look at your work and wonder why I didn’t ask you the very same question.” What she taught me in the time we spent together was not about camera gear. It was about concepts, storytelling and feeling.
So in late 2019 Tracy and I were looking through some of Annie’s work and the delicious nature of a wider shot that enveloped the entire scene of what goes into creating an image struck us both. “Let’s talk to Dan about doing it this way for Hillbarn’s 80th season, their 2020 Season Brochure!” In reality once Tracy and I are both on the same page about an idea, poor Dan didn’t really have a chance. With his typical askance look and a raised eyebrow he simply said “Uh OK I guess we can do that. Yeah it sounds good.” So we were off to the races. Of course Dano had to tell us the season so we could begin formulating a plan.
One of the most delicious elements in Annie’s style of pulled back imagery are the drops. Hand painted canvas background drops. The texture of painted drops is just delicious on film if they’re done correctly. So as Tracy often does, she began her investigation and found out that to purchase a 12’x12’ hand painted drop, averages 1800.00 per drop. Gulp! “We need to raise our prices babe!” was my response. We both agreed that we would need at least four different drops for the session. So what did she do? She researched how hand painted drops are made, what materials are used, where to find them and how they’re painted. Kelly Tighe was instrumental in helping her understand the process of selecting the correct canvas, the paints and the process. He was the first in our epic collaboration to create something very special.
So off to Musson Theatrical we went to buy the canvas, then to a paint shop in Belmont and then to the hardware store for brushes. But where do we paint these? The canvas can either be stretched over a wooden frame we would have to build or….
Stapled to a wooden floor. HEY Hillbarn’s greenroom has a wooden floor! So as luck would have it that area was clear during the times we’d need to occupy the space. So for days and nights Tracy painted, sprayed and rolled the canvases. Of course I was there for moral support as I napped in one of the prop chairs left in the room.
Dan informed us of Hillbarn’s 80th Season lineup:
- The Sound of Music
- A Chorus Line
- Shakespeare In Love
- The Producers
Now came the task of how to light each of the shows. Although I review gear on this blog I tend to not discuss gear too much outside of this site. Concepts are the most difficult aspect in my imagery development process. But the fact that I have been using battery operated Flashpoint strobes for the past six years makes my job easier. No more asking clients where power is located at on location venues. It’s all battery powered now, no cords, just freedom. And why is that important? Because NO ONE likes Mark’s cussing scale of one to ten. I’m a real bitch about just a few things; authentic expressions, donuts and light. Not many people know this because I don’t say, but with light and imagery I smell and taste when the shot is the right one; delicious, LITERALLY. For those who have worked with me they are accustomed to when I say I got the shot and I never even look at my camera. Sure all of the images go to my iPad, but it’s because I can taste when the shot is right that I know I got the shot. Weirdo? Yep, but it works for me.
Dan Demers the Artistic Director of Hillbarn Theatre had these thoughts:
“It’s always a challenge to think beyond the last brochure you create. Creatively you have to stretch yourself; you have to push beyond the uncomfortable beyond the safe looks. The honest reason I’m able to do that more easily now is because of the partnerships, friendships and trust I have with Mark and Tracy. So when both of them came to me with this idea I knew it was going to be powerful and I could see it in my mind instantly.
But how could I make this shoot rise to the idea of it. I knew I had to reach out to some amazing creative people and ask them for help. Together I shared the concept with them and they quickly starting to see if for themselves. But I was missing something…
You see every year Mark, Tracy and I sit down and talk about the emotion or feeling behind the shoots or brochure, and it is one of my favorite days. It usually starts with an idea that has been stirring in me, then when we sit down and talk about it, Mark takes it an begins to cook up ideas or images, and usually ends with a ‘damn you, now I can’t stop thinking about it.’ This time the tables were turned. It was me who was constantly thinking about the concept. I knew we had to do more, so with this amazing group of creative people we started to craft actual scenes for each show. Pulling props, period costumes, small set pieces and using the full theater space. This creation would only enhance the beauty of the concept and idea of our 80th Anniversary season brochure. I could not wait to see the pictures, the models, and the scenes we had all created to evoke the emotion of each show.”
So on the day of the shoot, Tracy is filming and I’m shooting. My primary job is to keep the energy HIGH throughout the day. What does that mean? It means that when each of the talent arrives and begins to go through makeup, hair, wardrobe, etc. when they get to me I need to show them my energy. I’ve never been the kind of shooter that just snaps my shutter. Nope I like to tell the talent a story of what I’m looking to create. In a way, I’m a director. And if I bore or lose that momentum then I have not done a good job. Smiles need to be genuine; tension needs to be authentic, even in a studio environment. Actors are professionals, but they need direction and that’s what I try to convey. I have concepts in my mind whenever I begin any session, but it’s the organic collaboration that happens during the sessions that creates the true magic.
Being collaborative, directing and encouraging organic development of ideas on set is what makes a shoot successful, memorable and authentic. I’ve always said that a pretty photo without emotion is just a pretty photo. We all strive together to make imagery and our memories of that day magic.
Behind the scenes images in the creation of:
It becomes very evident that our sessions are very serious and boring….LOL!!!
The Sound of Music (not accomplished due to COVID19)
A Chorus Line
Shakespeare In Love
And the final choices for the brochure by show
The Sound of Music – NA
A Chorus Line
Shakespeare In Love
I asked all of the people involved to add any comments if they wished to do so:
“Any smiles shown in the picture were real and not staged, just pure happiness being around amazing people in a warm and welcoming theatre family!!!” – Kylie Abucay, actress
“Thank you for sharing these with us, and we’re honored to have taken part of this experience, despite the current circumstances. Just imagine how strong and amped up we’ll all be when this all subsides! Much love and healthy wishes to you both and your families.” – Christine M. Shulman, actress
“It was almost surreal for me to be included in this photo shoot. As long as I have been Sofia’s mom I have sat in the audience. Enjoying all you very talented thespians from the seats in the second row. I never thought I’d be part of the gang. And then Tracy and Mark thought of me as the perfect Ms Scarlett. Be still my heart. It was amazing to be included.
Growing up in an Irish Catholic school most girls had blonde hair, freckles and blue eyes. I had a ton of dark hair, a unibrow among other unwanted hair, and pretty ethnic. I didn’t feel very pretty. Moments like this, where the way I look is appreciated and never gets old. Thank you Mark and Tracy for liking my look enough to include me as Ms Scarlett! You two and Dan are amazing! We miss you all very much.” – Vicky Costantini
“Walking into the theatre yesterday was like uncovering a time capsule—from before shelter-in-place, before face masks and government mandates to stay six feet apart. Caught in the moment before everything changed, the place feels frozen. The set for Laughter on the 23rd Floor is still in place; the props are pre-set and costumes hang on racks in the green room ready to be returned to storage.
We walked out on March 16 and other than visits for mail pick up, a place that is usually filled with people and projects has been abandoned. Only weeks before we jumped ship we had spent an incredibly creative and collaborative day as part of a collective hive-brain at an 80th Hillbarn Theatre Season brochure photoshoot.
With an understanding of the show characters, limited access to stock costumes and no actor measurements, co-costumer, Melissa and I had preselected outfits. With fingers crossed we hoped the Artistic Director approved ensembles would fit and tell the story.
Over the course of several weeks we’d watched videographer Tracey Martin paint the ombré backdrops; each gradient background is arguably a work of art in itself! It was against these grey’s and sages that the actors would express character with costumes and props aiding in setting time, place and character.
Photoshoot day was one of the best ever. The process was organically synergistic and well beyond the control of any participating individual. The “process” was humming as each member of the creative crew added their layer to the storyline. Editing was rich. No one said no. Creatives love to hear yes and… not yes but. The room reverberated.” – Pam Lampkin, costumer
Hillbarn’s 80th season may not have transpired on stage as planned. But the magic and collaboration of what we all created together is something that deserves sharing. Especially in the times of COVID19, the importance of Black Lives Matter and the changes necessary to make our world what it should have become long ago.
I know that it shocks my Caucasian friends and acquaintances when I say “Oh he’s my white friend Fred who I knew in college.” When I refer to a friend or someone I see who is Japanese or Asian I simply say, “Oh he’s my friend George.” I feel it must be difficult for whites to fully understand what the big deal is all about not being represented in media. It became extremely obvious to me when my cousin asked me to watch over his home on Oahu when he went to visit Japan for several weeks. 90% of the people on TV were Asians and not just the token female Asian news anchor but people in car ads, mouthwash commercials, and furniture store ads. And many of them were Asian MEN, something seldom seen on the mainland. And as I roamed around the island away from Honolulu everyone looked like me, men women and children. It was then I discovered what it must be like to have white privilege, where almost everything that is represented looks like you.
It has taken me a few weeks to formulate my feelings for this post since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. In 1968 when I was a young teen living in SoCal the Watts riots happened. I remember watching it on our family’s black and white TV. We had moved from Crenshaw to Anaheim so we were removed from the LA area. My aunt and uncle along with my cousins still lived in LA but not near Watts. I remember being disturbed by the images of rioting, looting and violence as I watched the news. But my parents tried to protect my sister and I by turning off the TV and not discussing it with us. When we went to school there was no mention of the riots or the reasons why it happened, only uneasiness that was apparent in some of the teachers, who were all white and 95% male. The suburbs where I lived were far removed from Watts so any danger was only on the TV screen.
There are certainly people I’ve encountered that I classify as a racist or bigot. But there are also people in between those all or nothing titles. People I call “Racially Ignorant” who are not full bigots or racists, but because they have been born into white privilege they have never experienced or understood what it TRULY FEELS LIKE to be marginalized by a white social structure. Whites in the USA along with nonwhites are schooled by a white social system. What we are taught, how we are taught is all homogenized to support the elevated status of being white. If you think back to how we were taught about “American Indians” in school it was painted as a fair trade, land for trinkets. Cowboys were the heroes and the Indians were savages, people the white man saved by taking away their lands. I was never taught that the Native’s land was forcibly taken away and they were forever banished to ‘reservations.’ We learned about the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War. But again it’s all painted with pretty American colors to satisfy the palate of a white nation. How white America made life better for nonwhites.
I like other minorities encountered direct as well as veiled prejudice and bigotry as I was going up. My parents decided to move from Crenshaw to Orange County after the helicopters and gun fire became too much. Crenshaw was predominately black and when people saw me they referred to me as “The Chinaman.” Upon moving to all white Orange County I was again referred to as “The Chinaman.” I discovered later as an adult that the white neighborhood where we moved started a petition to “Keep out the Orientals” citing‘our kind’ reducing property values. Although I was not privy to that information at the time I know my parents especially my Dad would have been incensed. He, mom, my aunts and uncles were all imprisoned in camps during WWII for simply being of Japanese descent. Of course I knew nothing about that because in school it was never taught. Just like how the Native American story was never told truthfully. Neither my parents nor any of my paternal or maternal relatives ever spoke of their times in the prison camps. The lessons they learned from that time was to teach their children to assimilate, to give them American names and hope it would not happen again. There was a period of time when Italians were being considered to be imprisoned, but of course that never happened. Historically it’s much better to identify an easily recognizable race to blame, fear and ultimately punish.
The type of prejudice and bigotry I’ve experienced has been both overt and subtle. When dad and I were at the LA public library a white woman approached me to ask if I knew where the library science section was located. After explaining the area where she could look she said “My goodness your English is so good!” Shocked I simply replied “Uh thank you.” When we were going home I told my father the story and he said “You’re going to run into that a lot in your life boy. White people assume that everyone who are obviously not white speak with an accent. They’re ignorant people because they don’t have to be aware, but they like to think they are. Don’t worry about it.” Throughout my lifetime, it’s been unanimous hearing people of color say “They’re just ignorant’ when referring to whites and their cluelessness about races other than white. In 1989 I traveled to Indiana for business; the regional airport I flew into was named Michiana Airport.
Upon arriving at my client’s office I asked the receptionist, “Hi is the airport named Michiana because it’s shared by Michigan and Indiana?” Her reply “I think it’s called that because it’s the airport.” So I dropped the conversation. When I met with the MIS director I told him the story to which he replied “Oh she said that because she’s a Pollock, she’d dumb.” I discovered that when NO people of color are in an area the whites start to delineate ethnicity of their European ancestry.
In high school Jeff, Amy and I were the only nonwhites in the school of 790 kids in my graduating class. All three of us are Japanese. When I attended classmate’s summer party I entered the kitchen to get some food I heard the mother of my friend Connie whispering “Yeah, Mark’s not bad looking for an Oriental boy.” I ended up leaving right after hearing that and went home.
In both of those (and many other situations) the white people felt their intentions were fair and positive. A woman complimenting an Oriental boy on his English, the mother of a high school friend saying I was not too bad looking compared to white boys. I believe that most whites don’t believe or do not want to believe they are racist bigots. They are genuinely angered by the Ku Klux Klan, the Neo Nazi’s, etc. But those are the extreme easily identifiable racists. Cutting out the “N Word” from their verbal vocabulary makes things “OK” but I wonder how many use “Nigger, Jap, Gook, Slant, Greaser, etc.” in their thoughts. And even then it would be too much to admit, even to themselves.
And just one of the overt bigotry events I witness was as my dad and I were at a takeout Chinese restaurant we frequented every Wednesday. Mom took her night off from cooking so we all had our favorite Chinese food on Wednesday nights. Dad called those “Wonton Wednesdays.” Anyway the place was takeout only, no seating with a very large menu selection sign above the counter where you order and pay. Mr. Canton was the owner, always wearing a soiled apron with a number 2 yellow pencil behind his ear. Dad and I were the only people in the store and as we were looking up at the menu a six foot tall white man with cowboy boots and a cowboy hat came in and stepped right in front of my dad. Dad politely said “Oh excuse me, but my son and I are in line.” The guy turned his head slightly and dismissively to one side and said “I don’t have to wait behind any Japs.”
As SOON as the man uttered “JA..” my Dad moved instantly to the cowboy’s side, put his hand on the guy’s belt and leveraged him up in the air. I was shocked as I saw him upside-down with his boots up in the air and then heard his head hit the bare concrete with a distinctive “FLOWOP!” No punches thrown, just an instant judo move. His cowboy hat was still on his head, but he was out cold! Mr. Canton called the police and when they arrived, the cowboy was still unconscious. They questioned both my father and Mr. Canton separately and let us go home. My father admonished me to “NOT SAY A WORD ABOUT THIS TO YOUR MOTHER WHEN WE GET HOME BOY!”
When we arrived home mom was pissed “What took you so long to get the food!?” I yelled out “MOM DAD KILLED A COWBOY!” (BTW my dad was 5 foot 5 inches, a brown belt (before all of the now in between participation belt colors) in Judo and a Golden Gloves boxing champion. He taught me how to fight and tactics, but that does not apply to this post.)
In all of the lessons my father taught me about life with whites or the police NOT ONCE did he ever tell me that the police may or will kill me. NEVER. Had dad and I been black during the Chinese food incident I know the police would not have let us go after dad bounced the white cowboy on his head rendering him unconscious. Even if Mr. Canton had described what occurred we would have been questioned much harder and at the police station or handcuffed in the back of their patrol car. Japanese as well as all Asians are considered the “Model Minority;” non-threatening, passive or both. I remember the first time I heard that moniker and was offended. Why? – Because we were anointed by white people with that title who again felt it to be a huge compliment to Orientals. “Look at the Orientals, we kinda mistreated them, but they worked hard (and didn’t cause us any trouble) and look where they are today! See ‘some’ minorities can be good!”
Living in the Bay Area the news cycle covered stories about black men being killed by the police. Rodney King was one of the most visible stories. It was one of the first times a video of the beating of a black man by police officers was captured and shown. Following the King beating there were many others since citizen cell phones became as common as ever. But it was witnessing the killing of Oscar Grant that began a series of feelings in me that brought about rage. A black man held down by a cop and shot in the back by another was beyond comprehension.
Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia who was ‘thought’ to be a burglary suspect in a neighborhood. Three white men chased him down with their cars and went after him with firearms. Ahmaud began defending himself as any man would do in a situation like that and so he was shot. Cowards use guns on an unarmed man because they fear being hurt. And a property burglary in a neighborhood does not condone hunting a person down to kill them. Ahmaud was not coming into someone’s home at night where the threat of harm to the homeowner could be perceived as real. No, he was a man jogging through a neighborhood. But since he was a black man, in the view of the three white people he was automatically a prime suspect. In the minds of the three white bigots a black man running warranted a death sentence when he began defending himself against whites with firearms.
And then George Floyd’s murder at the hands of three white and one Asian cop. Watching a man die before our eyes is not something most people want see. In reading accounts about people watching an execution, even the victim’s families describe the scene as incredibly horrific. Adding to the horror is watching the nonchalant expression on Derek Chauvin’s face as he stared DIRECTLY into the camera that was filming him. No remorse, no emotion, simply his eyes of death. And this was the TO (Training Officer) for two of the other three cops there. THEIR TRAINING OFFICER, teaching them how things should be done!
I have never marched in protest for anything in my lifetime. And with the COVID-19 pandemic I have been careful of my health because I’m in the high risk group; 65 years of age with preexisting hypertension. But when my town organized a march from City Hall to the Police Department there was no question I wanted to march. Social distancing is out the window during a march and should not be expected. But even though it was 89 degrees, wearing a mask made it hard to breathe, walking from the PD to City Hall and back is further than I normally walk – those incidental sufferings meant nothing compared to what blacks have endured in generation after generation. The most powerful aspect of my life is choice. I chose to march and if I contracted COVID-19 and die it would be worth that sacrifice.
This is not a news cycle movement like Occupy Wall Street or a fad like white people going on and on about gluten free food or avocado toast. Make no mistake, within non-white communities prejudice exists between races. The difference? Nonwhites are not in power or control – whether that is in government or the police departments and their unions.
In listening to a real President, Barack Obama’s speech his sage words are the blueprints for change. Social unrest makes elected officials nervous, nervous enough to make changes for those who they are alleged to represent, US. Vote in local elections because those elected officials are the people responsible for appointing the local police chiefs and officials. Freedom is not free, yet in a society whose constant yearning for convenience by hitting the Easy Button has turned us into drones who just want easy, just want the way things have been. White privilege is the same as pretty privilege, as male privilege, as all privileges that are not EARNED, just unearned privilege. Being white is not earned, yet it is rewarded. Being black was not earned, yet it is punished.
I’m not painting all whites in a poor light. Like all things there are varying degrees of culpability in terms of bigotry and racism or supporting its continuing attitudes. I believe that one of the things that some whites fear is the threat of becoming ‘the minority.’ Is it possible that their perceived fear is predicated upon knowing how current minorities are treated? And standing on ‘reverse discrimination’ openly acknowledges discrimination against non-whites exists.
As with all things, when something is taken away or is being threatened to be removed it is much worse than never having something. And like high paying corporate jobs where the term “Golden Handcuffs” is well understood, becoming complacent because of a comfortable and safe lifestyle, most are unwilling to sacrifice losing that status, that lifestyle. So a fine line is danced to justify that “we’re not racist or bigots, we care…” Self-justification is as powerful as denial, yet both are so counter to actual human progress.
Yesterday a close white friend called me and was obviously upset. A group has assembled a listing of companies of which his was included. The list highlighted some of the racially ignorant examples over the years which included those prior to and during his leadership. “I was raised to be colorblind Mark that people are to be judged by their abilities and actions, not the color of their skin.” I could hear the pain in his voice over the phone and sympathized with him. He went on to say that some of the people in the discussion stood up for him. All nonwhites have heard the exact same statement as my friend stated over and over and over and over from their white friends or acquaintances – all with the best of intentions. But like I stated in the opening of this post, whites are raised in white privilege, unearned privilege.
The insidious nature of racial ignorance reminds me of hypertension (high blood pressure), which I have that eventually resulted in me having a stroke. When undiagnosed it’s hidden, I felt fine, but it was always there and I didn’t have to think about it because it didn’t affect me; until it did. Much like George Floyd’s murder and the resulting protests, racial ignorance has always been here, unnoticed by whites since it did not affect their daily lives, until it did.
It’s as simple as hearing white parents announce how they found the ‘best school’ for their elementary school aged kids and they were accepted. Are whites the only parents who want their children placed in the ‘best schools?’ Are those schools open to nonwhites? I hear many people tell me that their kid’s school is diverse, but that is from the perspective of how whites feel about what constitutes diversity in their world. I imagine that asking nonwhite parents whose children attend the same school would yield a different perspective.
The New York Times published a story “A School Admissions Process That Caused Segregation Fell Apart in Weeks” which paints a real life picture of white privilege in sought after public schools.
“Critics say that the process is inherently unfair, because it privileges children whose families have the time and money to navigate the complex system and pay for test preparation or consultants, and that it discriminates against qualified but low-income black and Hispanic students. The screening system produces selective schools that are largely attended by white and Asian-American students, though the city’s school system is mostly black and Hispanic.”
One of my clients, Village Theatre recently ran an open discussion with four black women who appeared in “Dream Girls.” Alexandria Henderson, Lauren Du Press, Joell Weil and Angela Birchett. They were joined by Jerry Dixon, Village’s Artistic Director who is also black. Although their discussion surrounds the world of black lives in the world of theatrical arts, many of the issues they bring up are germane to black lives outside of theatre.
I am not striving to be a Model Minority but to be a Model American. And that means to resist when it’s needed, to speak up when bigotry and racism is displayed and to help those who paved the way for people like me yet who continue to be maimed and killed.
“It always seems impossible until it is done.” – Nelson Mandela
“I’ve been out there with the protesters. I feel very optimistic when I see who is out there. I very much think of this as not a moment but a movement.
And there’s a specific thing that is different about this, and that is the significance of smartphones. I will tell you that probably over the last 10 years, my white friends would come up to me and say, “Kamala, what is going on all of a sudden with all this excessive force?” And I would say to them, “You sound like a colonist.” Because you’re seeing it for the first time, you think you’ve discovered it.” – Senator Kamala Harris in her interview with the New York Times.
“But there is no one that has been hurt more by White America than Black people (specifically Black women). Following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, every individual in America must choose a role to play in the fight against anti-Blackness. To be silent is to be complicit; this extends far beyond white people. For my fellow Asian American women, this includes us, too.” – Sara Li’s Op-ed in InStyle
“Ask not what your country and do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” – JFK
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke
To begin I believe we should add two words to Black Lives Matter, Why Do Black Lives Matter? Honestly asking yourself that simple question can reveal powerful things about yourself you may have never realized. For me black lives matter moves to eliminate the numbness which is the norm for blacks to survive in a white world. Making themselves smaller and invisible in order to be acceptable to whites will be eliminated when everyone recognizes black lives matter. Black lives matter means no longer being secretly reminded to “know their place” in a white world.
Does it matter to you? And if so what will you do to take action to actually manifest change?
Updated May 15 2020
RinseKit warranty service responded to me once I filled out their warranty page and asked me to disassemble the unit and send them photos or a video. It’s very easy to do; remove the two plugs and the instruction plastic top to reveal the tank. Upon doing so I filled the tank and was able to see that the seam near the outlet ruptured causing a leak. I am awaiting their response, but they had stated that it would be replaced. More soon….
Updated May 2 2020
I use my RinseKit + all the time due to COVID19. Today as I was refilling it as I always have from my garden hose I heard a sound and rather than the unit simply stopping the sound of the flow of water, the water rose above the inner top cover where the instructions are printed. I have written to RinseKit about this issue and will post what I find once I hear back. I’m so use to using this to keep myself and family safe that I’m upset that it malfunctioned. Stay tuned.
Update April 4 2020
I wanted to update this post to cover why experts continue to place hand washing with soap and water AS THE MOST EFFECTIVE way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Like toilet paper (and who TF knows why people hoard that shit) hand sanitizer and wipes are hard to find because people hoard those too. I will continue to recommend and tell my friends and family that hand washing is the best possible thing to do.
- How soap absolutely annihilates the coronavirus
- Contained in the link above is THE BEST explanation I’ve EVER seen (even for someone as dumb as me!) about why/how hand washing with SOAP is so effective! Thank you for this!!!
“Soap doesn’t really fail easily,” Thordarson says. It doesn’t really matter the formulation of soap, either. You don’t need “antibacterial soap” — which the Food and Drug Administration advises to skip altogether due to a lack of evidence of its usefulness. And you don’t need a super-harsh detergent like you’d put in your dishwasher or laundry machine. Simple soap works fine. “As long as you give it a little bit of time, it will do its job.”
- Crime-scene cleaner CEO: This is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to coronavirus cleaning
“Lastly, echoing health officials, McCallum says the best thing you can do to prevent the spread is by washing your hands thoroughly and consistently.”
And instead of buying liquid soap I use this recipe to make my own. I have saved those irritating little bits of bar soap for a long time. (my parents grew up during the Great Depression) But you can simply use a new full bar too.
Stay healthy. Stay mindful. Stay kind. Be considerate.
Update April 2 2020
The company RinseKit recently placed my post on their Media page. I really hope this helps others.
In the fall of 2019 my home water heater malfunctioned. I have personally replaced and installed more water heaters than I care to remember. But in this case it was under warranty. So since the part had to be ordered and would take 10 days I had no home hot water. I have a camping hot water heater that is basically a large metal sprayer which is heated with a one pound propane tank. Fine for camping and I used it to take a hot shower at home while I waited for the repair.
So I decided to start researching alternatives to my camping water heater and found the RinseKit that was invented by a surfer. Like all surfers who take off their wetsuits and want to rinse off their bodies he invented something better than a one gallon jug to hold over your head. His site can tell you all about how it works.
Being a Boy Scout I decided to purchase his medium size unit along with accessories like the electric heater, air pump and other various bits that came with the accessory kit. Of course the most important one to me was the heating rod. And I will say it does not work that well. It takes forever to heat cold water, but works well if I fill my unit with warm water and use it to just keep the water warm.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic I had developed an inexpensive and, according to the CDC and WHO a more effective method of keeping viruses off of my hands other than wipes and sprays. Which are tough to find as well as expensive due to hoarding.
So I decided to replace my homemade hand washing kit in our primary car with my RinseKit outfitted with soap, a small spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol, two micro fiber towels, two pairs of nitrite gloves and two hospital vomit bags. The whole kit is kept in the trunk of the car.
So here’s my protocol:
- After I go shopping for food I open the back of the car
- I then place my groceries in the trunk
- Open the RinseKit
- Take out the squeeze bottle of soap and alcohol spray
- Use the sprayer to wet my hands
- Squeeze soap into my hands and wash them per the CDC guidelines
- Rinse off my hands with the RinseKit
- Dry them with a microfiber towel
- Use the little sprayer with alcohol to spray the RinseKit spray handle, the latch and the soap squeeze bottle and the car’s rear latch
- Place the used towel into one of the vomit bags
My feeling is now when I open my car door, use the buttons, the steering wheel, etc. I’m not transferring potential viruses to those surfaces. Plus I am now using my RinseKit more often than before. Believe me though I’m looking forward to the day I can hug my friends without worrying or using the kit.
Stay healthy and I hope this helps others who may own one.
The news about the new coronavirus or COVID-19 constantly surrounds us, permeates our thoughts and constantly and insidiously encourages us to fear. Fear human contact, fear human interaction, fear our normal lives.
Because I photograph the arts – theatre, dance and music, my entire world along with those who I know and cherish has been disrupted like no other time in my memory. The 1963 Kennedy assassination, the AIDS discovery in 1983, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake or September 11 2001 attack.
Businesses were disrupted during those times and rightfully so. But what makes the current climate so different is the fear proliferating in society. Social media as we know it today did not exist in those times. Hoarding of toilet paper or other non-essential items illustrates to me an aspect of humanity for which I’m ashamed. Certainly with any new and unknown virus governments are wise to use an abundance of caution to ensure society is safe. But not to instill fear. Human nature fears all that is unknown.
When society allows fear to supersede all other factors, events like what happened to my own parents and relatives occurs. Place all Japanese American citizens into prison camps (what they termed ‘internment camps’ a bullshit whitewashed name) because of the fear we were all spies and plotting against the United States. FEAR
Today it’s about people avoiding and in some instances being outright hostile to Asians simply because the epidemic began in Wuhan China. FEAR, FEAR and more FEAR can make a nation not only fearful and in the case of COVID-19 isolated. Unlike the prior crises where humans could gather to support, or entertain and soften the blow of a tragedy, the coronavirus and resulting laws prevent those important healing events to occur. Today the answer to ‘stay safe’ is doing all things electronically, something I believe we did too much of even before coronavirus with our “I love me” cell phones.
I believe that precautions should be taken – hand washing (good grief your mother should have taught you that anyway!), sanitation of public places observed, as well as not going to work if you’re ill or suspect you are. But unlike the AIDS epidemic in 1983 which almost certainly meant an ugly and painful death, COVID-19 does not mean the same. Not even close as outlined by a 42 year old woman who got and recovered from the coronavirus.
So as all theatres were ordered to close their doors due to government regulations – Dan, my local client and close friend who is the Artistic Director for the theatre in my hometown let me know that his current show, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” was closing before opening night, the night we had planned on attending the show. As he spoke his voice began to crack and his sadness was palpable through the phone.
After ending the call my partner Tracy said “I’d like to do something for Dan. I can’t donate money to the theatre (we are out of work as a result of all theatres closing), but we can do something else. Let’s film the performance. That way the cast can have all they’ve worked for on film.” So we got in contact with Dan and presented the idea. At first he was unsure of attempting to put on the performance since he had just notified the cast and crew that Opening Night was cancelled as well as the entire run of the show.
After contacting everyone he let us know that it was a go for Opening Night filming. Tracy then mentioned that we would need an audience to have authenticity in the film with laughter and applause. So Dan then contacted friends and family being careful to keep within the limits of what the government set about limiting public gatherings to 100 or less. As people gathered into the theatre and the cast and crew began their performance I had an epiphany. I have and still work with many levels of theatres. Some are professional pre-Broadway shops and some community theatres. As tends to be human nature some pre-Broadway company staff members tend to be a bit snooty when referring to other theatres as ‘a community theatre’ the insinuation being a lower level of performance and professionalism. Lower budgets, less skilled talent, blah blah blah. Lower budgets yes, less skilled is like saying all Japanese fellas are quiet and docile….then you have not met me in person!
My epiphany was realizing that my hometown community theatre put aside fear and allowed us to interact as humans, as common souls. Unlike 9/11, the 89 Quake, the recent Camp Fires where humans support one another by gathering, sharing feelings with eye to eye contact and yes EVEN HUGS, the fear of coronavirus has prevented it. NO ONE at the theatre showed any reticence in exchanging hugs with one another. As a matter of fact, even though theatre folks hug all the time, the ones I gave and received last night were more tight and embraces seemed longer than usual as if we all know that we must band together to endure this crisis. I was never more proud of my community theatre and what it represents in my own life as well as the lives of so many others.
I’m NOT naïve enough to think that a small gathering is going to solve everything. Almost everyone in the theatre last night is out of work. Meaning OUT OF WORK, no paid time off, no paid by employer health benefits, etc. That includes me and my partner. The coronavirus crisis has affected everyone, domestically and internationally. But what I learned last night and will forever cherish is this: Human contact, human face to face interaction conquers fear, the true virus of humanity.
I am constantly searching for new ways to use light and shadow. Much of my work revolves around dance and although I’ve been happy with most of my work, I’m always thinking my next shot will be my best shot. I study lots of dance photographers, Lois Greenfield is just one of my favorites. Her creations for movement are delicious. After spending time in nature and watching movies I’ve become inspired to try to recreate some of the concepts I see in my dance imagery. So for my first concept I wanted to create a wall of light and a ceiling and floor of light. I determined that the most effective way for me to accomplish this task was to use my Aputure Spotlight and the Leko follow spot I converted into a strobe. Both use blades to shape and focus the light with or without a gobo. If you’re not familiar with blades in follow spots, just do some Google searching.
Prior to attempting my wall/floor/ceiling concept I wanted to try using the blades on the spotlight for more static poses dancers often perform. The next two images were created using the instruments above. The dancers I asked to help me understood that the shoot this time was not about them. Not about the desire for perfect feet, hands, etc. but about the light. I was blessed that they understood the intent for this shoot.
I then filled the room with haze so the light rays would be visible.
Test shots for walls and then floor ceiling of light.
And here are three of my light test shots.
So I will continue to chase new light, sometimes it works, sometimes it does not….at least not initially. But experimenting is the only way I’ve found to break out of my norm.
I had posted a dance photo I created a few seasons ago on Instagram. A close friend left a comment, “And the shots you capture are perfection.” Her comment was certainly well intended, yet it gave me pause. There are photos I take which I feel are ‘captured‘ but in this case the image was created. I will explain….
A year before I created this image of Kaitlin, a professional ballerina, I was hired to shoot the original Soluna Festival for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. One of the venues I covered was the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas. Upon arriving I noticed an art sculpture in the main patio entrance of the center. I was completely captivated by the texture and structure and immediately felt it would be delicious for a dance shoot. Even though I had none planned at the time.
A year later a local ballet company hired me to shoot in and around the Dallas area and that is when I used the structure for one of the images. (You can view the BTS video of that session here.)
Setting up the strobes for the shoot. It was at dusk.
So in this image or any of the images I create for a client, my personal view is it is not captured but created.
For relaxation I do capture images, images in nature…. During the 2019 Christmas holiday I went to Joshua Tree National Park to camp for four nights. And it was there I captured images in nature. Sure I guess technically one can say I am creating images, but my view is the scene is found and captured not created. Who really knows and for most it does not matter. Yet the distinction means much to me.
Original Post August 15 2019
Twenty four months ago a close friend of mine was told that he might have throat cancer during a routine dentist appointment. After visiting his doctor it was confirmed. As can be expected it was a devastating piece of news. Even more so since his profession is as a full time singer. Thankfully he has fully recovered after his treatments and rehabilitation which were both difficult and long. When visiting him at his home I was curious about ‘this thing’ in his music room. It appeared to be a fiberglass mold of someone’s head and shoulders. When he returned to the room he told me that it was the mask made of him and used during his throat radiation treatments.
He explained that the mask was made for him to prevent him from any movement as his neck was precision blasted with radiation. His head and shoulders were bolted to a metal table under the mask. I had a visceral reaction to that story. It was at that very moment when I knew emotionally that I wanted to create an image of both the horrors of his cancer and his recovery. I asked him if I could take the mask to do a proof of concept before embarking on the full project. He agreed.
I took his mask to a pile of black rocks along with a small AD200 strobe. I wanted to see if I could create light rays coming out of the throat area if I threw dust into the air for particulate. It worked.
My concept was to have him stand next to the mask, having light emanating from the throat area with birds flying away from his torso. I had scouted a location where the vegetation was barren after it had been mowed down. I wanted the landscape to reflect the wasteland that is the news of cancer. I had planned that with a sharp sound the birds would fly away representing cancer leaving his body. But like all things organic, that did not work out. The day was VERY windy and late in the day. So the birds could not be coerced, even with food placed into the area.
So I paid to download an image from Shutterstock, a crow disintegrating which would represent the cancer. I normally NEVER use Photoshop in my commercial work, but this was not for a client, nor was it for my friend. It was for me. And that really is my point of this post. There are times when I feel or more accurately I am emotionally COMPELLED to create a piece. Two things happened when I showed both a virtual friend and my friend whose trauma of cancer this entailed.
I told my virtual friend the backstory of the image. Once he knew his comment was “And shoot is a lot of emotion but not sure it works if you don’t know the back story.” I can completely understand his reasoning, but like all things art, what truly matters is what the creator of the piece feels. Remember that in your own work. I miss the days of LP cover art. Some of my favorite album covers which you may or may not recognize:
Know the backstory of each of these? No? Yes? What each element represents? My point is the artist who created these knows the story of the image. If an image makes anyone stop, think and wonder, then for me that’s an accomplishment. Perhaps they will figure out the meaning, perhaps not. But to capture one’s imagination for a moment and in the best of times, for a while or ultimately years later is all that really matters. Art was never meant to be literal, its purpose is to spark the imagination, to awaken an emotion.
When my friend who overcame cancer saw the image he said “I laughed because at first I thought it was a chicken! Then I thought I’d like you to make it a Phoenix and I like the one with no clouds, can you remove the clouds?”
Keep in mind that I did NOT create any of these images FOR HIM. They are most certainly ABOUT HIM, but how I FEEL about what he had to endure. And thankfully in the end, how the wonders of his treatment and his physical therapy relieved him of cancer.
As you create your own art, others may or may not offer the approval you seek. The trick is not to seek approval, but to be emotionally satisfied with what you have created. Art is not created by committee. Its genesis is emotion. And its birth begins through your hands.
I’m really happy I didn’t read an article like this before I decided to turn pro! SO MANY things left out of this article, but hey if it was easy then everyone could do it right? My advice, be wary of “articles” that dissuade you from what you want to do. Takes loads of hard work and tenacity, but the alternative is horrifying to me.
INCREDIBLE! AT&T actually published my negative review on their site! Perhaps there is hope for the world!
Original Post March 10 2019
First of all this has nothing to do with photography. Nothing. Yet it has everything to do with what the world is witnessing in the decline of brick and mortar stores. Like many others of my generation (Baby Boomers) it saddens me. Institutions that were once retail icons, Montgomery Ward, JC Penny, Sears, Kmart now only exist either in history books (meaning on a Kindle now) or are about to become history. As a young man I was so fortunate to work for Mervin Morris of Mervyn’s Department Stores. Throughout my life he has been my Gold Standard for both leadership and customer service. “Nothing happens without a sale.” was just one of the many values he instilled in his employees. I was with Merv 11 years, even after he sold the company to the Dayton Hudson Corp which is now Target Corp.
I like to keep my ‘things’ for longer than most. My cars generally live with me for 20 years. I like to pay cash for things as I deplore payments. Five years before I know I will need a car, I make a monthly car payment ‘to myself’ placing it in a savings account. Then when I’m ready to buy, I purchase the car cash. It’s just how I roll.
So when I knew it was time to purchase a new cell phone I waited for the Samsung Galaxy S10+. My S7 Edge was getting long in the tooth, or more specifically short in the battery life. I had normally purchased or upgraded my phones at AT&T stores. But having passed the wireless sales booth at my beloved Costco for so long I decided to purchase it there.
So on February 26, 2018 I went in and preordered my S10+ and was happy to discover that those who pre ordered their phones would receive Samsung Buds free, a $130.00 value! Without going into all the gory details here was the comedy of errors caused by the salesperson “Jack” who is NOT a Costco employee, but an employee of the in store Costco vendor, Wireless Advocates:
The email I received to confirm my preorder came to my email address, but the name of the addressee was “Jack.”
- I went back the next day and he corrected the name. I asked him at that time if my prepaid AT&T plan would be accepted, he assured me it would be.
- The day before picking up the phone, which was also the LAST DAY one could quality for the Buds was 3-7-19, the day I was there. I had not received the last two of the three emails specified on the handout I was given, and I got worried. I again went back to Costco, spoke to Jack’s manager and he assured me that they received enough AT&T phones, so not to worry.
- On 3-8-19 at 10am I went in to buy my new phone and guess what? The manager told me he could not sell me the phone because I was on a prepaid plan. I left without a new phone and could no longer qualify for the complimentary Samsung Buds.
I was PISSED. I came home and wrote a two page letter about my horrible experience, printed it out along with all my supporting documentation and hand carried it to the Costco assistant manager. She was incredible. Her listening skills were right out of Merv’s handbook. She was GENUINELY empathetic and kind. She let me know that she would let the store manager know as well as the staff at Wireless Advocates. Merv would be proud of her for sure!
So my girlfriend, bless her heart said “Let’s go to the AT&T store right by the house Honey. You can get your phone there, OK?” So off we went and I told the clerk I wanted to buy the S10+. When I told him I had a prepaid plan he then said “Oh, I’m sorry we can’t sell you a phone for a prepaid plan.” “Wait so you’re telling me I want to pay cash for the phone, I’m with AT&T and I can’t buy a phone?” “No you cannot, AT&T does not do that. But if you go to Target or Best Buy you can buy one.” WTF. So Target is in the same center so off we went. When we found the lone clerk in the “Tech Department” I said I’d like to buy a S10+. He said the phone salesman just went to lunch, I’ll call him. So he did and then told us “He will be back in 30 minutes.” WTF? So if the ONE phone salesperson is not there, NO ONE can sell a phone? So the next time you need an ambulance and the guy is out to lunch, he will pick you up in 30 minutes!
So we left….
By this time I was more than pissed, I was completely disgusted by the total lack of customer service by brick and mortar locations. So I got online and looked up AT&T, called the Hillsdale location only to be met with voicemail jail. Round and round and round until I finally hung up. Then I got on the AT&T chat line with an agent named “Steve” and who really knows where he works. I asked him two specific questions:
Me: “Does the Hillsdale location at Zip code 94403 have any S10+’s?”
Steve: “Yes they have ten in various colors.”
Me: “Will they accept a prepaid plan for the S10+?”
Steve: “Yes they will.”
I printed out the entire chat conversation and put it in my jacket.
Once I arrived at that location the sales person Jayson A approached me. At that time I stated that I wanted to purchase an S10+. He immediately told me he was sorry, but they were all out of stock. I then produced the print out of the chat conversation I had with Steve 10 minutes earlier. He called over his manager who said “We have some in stock, only white though.” I told Jayson A that was the color I wanted and I was glad to have not taken his word on the stock in the store.
He then went to get the unit and once he came back he asked “Do you need help setting it up?” I replied, “I just need to put my SIM card into the unit to see if it works.” He then told me that the S10+ comes with its own SIM and he had activated it. Uh the box was still sealed and unless technology has changed one MUST remove the SIM from the credit card size holder and PLACE IT INTO THE PHONE. When I told him of that fact, he sighed, opened the package, removed the SIM card from the holder and placed it into the phone. It took time to activate.
I believe that since I was paying cash for the phone, did not want a postpaid plan like he asked me about even though I was SPECIFIC about keeping my current plan he wasn’t making a commission. I understand that but his level of service was so poor, so uninterested it will be of no surprise if he no longer works there much longer. Or even worse, he is the ‘new customer service normal.’
The series of poor customer service situations I experienced was not confined to a specific retailer. Wireless Advocates, Target, two different AT&T locations just did not want me to buy a $1,000.00 phone. And in a time when cell phone sales are on the decline it’s even more shocking. I literally had to be tenacious in my quest to spend the money. Based on yesterday I cannot wait for all brick and mortar stores to go the way of Montgomery Ward. Well except for Costco, REI and Nordstrom, those few locations in my experience who embody the Baby Boomer’s definition of customer service, you know service and knowledge.
In a few days I will be entering my eighth year as a full time professional photographer. I was called into my boss’s office on March 7, 2011 under the auspices of meeting with her to review a PowerPoint presentation for an upcoming meeting. When I entered her office, one of the HR representatives was there so I knew that something was up. Jean, my boss who happens to be the absolute worst supervisor I’ve ever had to endure during my corporate life began by saying “Mark, we’ve determined that your position is no longer needed. Tracy’s here to explain your severance package.” I then said “OK, well then you have no need to be here so why don’t you leave?” And at that point she lowered her head, grabbed her purse and left.
Tracy, the HR representative then went on to explain the rules of my severance package and told me, “After leaving this office you cannot return to your office or speak to any other employees. I asked Jean to have this separate meeting with you rather than in the conference room with the other people being laid off today. Now you can pursue your little photography business. Any questions?” I told her that I didn’t need to return to my office because months ago I had decided that the company was a horrible place to work so I had taken my personal affects home. I had been looking for a new job.
I’ve always believed in Karma. I heard months later that Jean was laid off, Sally the VP of HR was laid off, and years later Glenn the SVP of Operations was laid off too. All of whom I didn’t respect and felt their skills and demeanor was so poor compared to the other executives I had worked with in my 38 years in corporate America.
My partner sent me a link today of an article she read in the NY Times Magazine, “The Future of Work, Wealthy, Successful and Miserable.” As I read through the article (you may not be able to see it if you are not a NYT subscriber…sorry) I was reminded of the misery that prompted me to embark on this wonderful journey as a full time pro. The day after I was laid off I began to sit at my computer to look on Monster for jobs. It was then I asked myself a hard question: “Mark do you really want to submit your resume, go on interviews with 30 somethings, be asked ‘What is your five year plan?’ and reply ‘Fuck you’ which would not be conducive to being hired? Or do you want to man up and take all of the business development experience you have and start your own ‘little photography business’?”
Quite a few of the people who write to me here want to talk about gear. I can understand that because prior to doing this full time, I too was primarily interested in the latest and greatest gear what people used and why. But now I’m interested in concepts, light and the story. The reasons? My job of course is to produce imagery that helps market a service or concept. Yet ALL of the imagery I create involves people; people who are either performing or fine artists. My first desire is to create and capture their souls through a lens. I want them to see themselves in the way I see them, not how they so critically view themselves in the mirror. I truly feel that how someone feels about themselves in the moment we are together comes through in a photograph. I derive the most pleasure out of showing someone the beauty they radiate when they believe in who they are. I have recently decided to not photograph people who are incredibly critical of themselves. Because no matter how much effort is put forth, they will never be satisfied with how they look, simply because they are not happy with themselves. And that comes through on film. My intent is to always portray someone’s beauty, but I’m not in the business of long term projects with an individual I only have in front of me for ten minutes.
So as I read the NYT Mag article, I was struck how I could relate to the ‘high salaries, miserable at work’ mentality in the article. Prior to giving up my Direct Deposits, paid vacation and PTO time, medical and dental benefits, retirement accounts blah blah blah, I ALWAYS had a backup plan, Always. I had a ‘go bag’ in the event I was laid off, meaning a backup plan. Yet as a full time pro shooter with no safety net like having a spouse who is working with benefits I have none, NONE. No direct deposit, no paid benefits or vacation, no matching retirement accounts, no blah blah blah.
And I could not feel more secure and happy. Why? Because even given all of the things I thought I’d given up what I gained is the ability to create and meet with an incredible number of people is well worth the risk. Am I struggling financially, no I’m not. Reducing my personal expenses was key to much of that with the added benefit of financial freedom – and not through an increase in a salary. I recall photographing a theatre performance “Auctioning the Ainsleys” where one of the lines in the play ‘when the stuff you own begins to own you’ has always stayed with me. It’s so true.
Of course there are days/times when the person I have to photograph is difficult. But I get to CHOOSE if I want to continue and work with that person again. I get to weigh whether or not I can give up that income. Thankfully those instances have been very, very rare. But having the power to choose is enlightening. I have had an incredible number of people who support my efforts and work, something for which I will always be grateful.
A few excerpts from the NYT Mag article:
“What’s interesting, however, is that once you can provide financially for yourself and your family, according to studies, additional salary and benefits don’t reliably contribute to worker satisfaction. Much more important are things like whether a job provides a sense of autonomy — the ability to control your time and the authority to act on your unique expertise. People want to work alongside others whom they respect (and, optimally, enjoy spending time with) and who seem to respect them in return.
And finally, workers want to feel that their labors are meaningful. “You don’t have to be curing cancer,” says Barry Schwartz, a visiting professor of management at the University of California, Berkeley. We want to feel that we’re making the world better, even if it’s as small a matter as helping a shopper find the right product at the grocery store. “You can be a salesperson, or a toll collector, but if you see your goal as solving people’s problems, then each day presents 100 opportunities to improve someone’s life, and your satisfaction increases dramatically,” Schwartz says.
As the airwaves heat up in anticipation of the 2020 election, Americans are likely to hear a lot of competing views about what a “good job” entails. Some will celebrate billionaires as examples of this nation’s greatness, while others will pillory them as evidence of an economy gone astray. Through all of that, it’s worth keeping in mind that the concept of a “good job” is inherently complicated, because ultimately it’s a conversation about what we value, whether individually or collectively. Even for Americans who live frighteningly close to the bone, like the janitors studied by Wrzesniewski and Dutton, a job is usually more than just a means to a paycheck. It’s a source of purpose and meaning, a place in the world.”
I’ve said many times that my camera is simply my excuse to meet people. It’s so true and if I had stayed in corporate America I would have missed all that I have experienced. Glad I ‘man’d up’
Update November 25 2018
It’s been over three years since I wrote this article. Since that time I have had the privilege and experience working with other disabled individuals, primarily those who are deaf. Antoine Hunter, a deaf dancer who I photographed for the magazine “The Pool“ and Joshua Castille a deaf actor who appeared in Hunchback for 5th Avenue Theatre are both remarkable in their abilities as artists. My work with both Christine and Sarah along with those who I’ve come to know since then has forever changed my life. Just like ‘White Privilege” it’s tough for anyone non white to understand the meaning of that phrase. So often when I bring it up (if at all) to whites, they immediately go on the defensive, as if they’ve done something wrong. No in 95% of the time that’s not the case. Privilege of any type often goes without any conscious thought. It just ‘is.’ In the very same way ‘able body privilege’ exists for which I have been guilty, but without meaning to be guilty. Not experiencing first hand being disabled doesn’t allow one to truly KNOW the feelings/experiences/hardships of what was once just a right.
My partner recently sent me a New York Times article that hits very close to home, Revelations in a Wheelchair by Nolan Ryan Trowe. It is especially poignant because he is a photographer. He became disabled due to a cliff diving spinal injury and decided to use his photographic skills to document how able body privilege works.
This month the Camp Fire near Oroville, CA recorded the largest wildfire in California history. A 62 year old woman who was wheelchair bound due to a stroke managed to escape despite her disability. This is especially poignant to me since after caring for my mother for three years before her death, I suffered a stroke 22 days after her passing. I am forever grateful that my stroke has not left me with any visible disability.
I know that many people visit my site to learn about my experiences with ‘gear.’ But the most important part of my life isn’t gear. It’s the people I meet and befriend. I hope you find that in your life as well.
Original Article June 29 2015
Three years ago I was inspired to be uncomfortable when I met and worked with Adrian Blue, a deaf actor/director. He immediately struck me as an individual I wanted to know, and even though he would read lips I was motivated to learn ASL, at least enough to sign a few sentences. I’ve always been crappy at languages, but I noticed I had more of an aptitude at ASL than I did in learning French!
It was during my interaction with Adrian that I realized I knew NOTHING about people with disabilities. Growing up I had one family friend who had been born with Down’s Syndrome. I was not very popular in school simply because I was the only Japanese American, but each and every time Karen came to visit, she would run up to me yelling MARK! and gave me the largest hug I’d ever received. I noticed my father was very uncomfortable around her which bothered me quite a bit. His own discomfort arose from not knowing what to do/say to her. It was while watching his reaction that I realized growth can come from placing myself in ‘uncomfortable’ situations so I could grow as a human.
So for the past two years I have embarked on a personal journey to learn more about those with disabilities, to educate myself about something I know very little about. I originally started with a young girl and have now worked with two young women who from birth have used a wheelchair. My voice is to use photography in describing how I see my world and with those I interact with my life. How despite each person’s disability we are in the end more than our disabilities. And each of us has one or more. Some are visible, some are not. How we deal with our own disabilities determines how we will live our lives. How we view our brothers and sisters will determine how we view our world.
At the end of this project, at least the photographic part I will amass all of the lessons I have experienced at the grace of those who have allowed me to share a part of their lives with me. But for now I will simply say that we are all the same, we are all human souls who all want the very same things; love, respect and community.
I was recently reading a blog post about the new Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head – Godox H200R. I had purchased one and find it another remarkable innovation and improvement from Godox which translates to Flashpoint in the USA. I really like the protected covered strobe bulb that I can leave on my AD200 during airline transport. Prior to this head I would encase my bare bulbs in plastic or aluminum sleeves which I would carry in my camera bag. And yes I will be conducting some tests of the output of the unit. I also appreciate the yet to be purchased gel/grid/snoot combo pack designed for the new head. Incredible innovation and flexibility by Godox/Flashpoint continues.
What struck me about the back and forth the inane pie hole ad nauseam conversations were over is about the shape of the bulb in the new round head. NOT ONE OF THE PIE HOLES had a link to their work. Why? Because most people who like to pontificate (meaning see their talking in text) on their perception of the technical aspects of anything don’t consider what actually happens in real life. Let’s see your body of work. Let’s see how you’ve used the light in question. Let’s SEE something you’ve created.
I post this to warn those of you who linger much too long on forums, sites, etc. Analysis paralysis stunts your creative growth. Instead of reading the bovine back and forth of those who produce NOTHING, go out and create.
“When it’s new you have so many people they don’t see, they don’t have the vision. They don’t understand, they don’t want to understand. Why change something? Ah you think it’s impossible. We will show you the opposite. “ – LOFT: The Jetman Story
Today, May 20 2018 is my second anniversary as a stroke survivor. It occurred exactly 22 days after my Mom’s death and for the three years preceding that event it was both stressful and heart wrenching to watch her health decline. I didn’t have grandparents long, they passed when I was a young toddler. So experiencing the declining health of an elder was a new experience for me. Something only experience can show you and in reality nothing actually prepares anyone for that inevitable time.
I was photographing for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on that day in 2016. I was on the balcony level when it happened. I knew that if I fell I would not only kill myself, but someone below me. So I made my way to the emergency exit stairwell and laid down on the floor. I heard the final notes, the applause and just as that ended, a white male, about 50-55 years old, 6-1 190lbs with a blue blazer and grey slacks entered the stairwell. (If you’re wondering about my description I was an investigator for 8 years) He looked directly at me and paused for just a second and then continued walking. Not a word, no offer of help. I will always remember his face and if I ever see him again we will share an experience we will both remember.
The doctors told me I was lucky when I finally went to the hospital three days later. Yes I did EVERYTHING wrong by not going to the ER right away, waiting until I flew back home to go to the ER AFTER I went to sleep that night when I arrived home. I’ve always been the type who does what I want to do…given my life’s limitations. I raised two kids, put one through college, paid for her education and supported a family of four. So during those times I had self imposed limitations, kids, a family to support and that’s what I chose to do.
But even then I would seldom listen to people who made little sense or seemed to only like the sound of their own voice. But that day in the stairwell in Dallas marked an even more profound change in my attitude about choices. I no longer choose to do, say or think things in life I don’t agree with. And perhaps most important, I choose to disassociate from, avoid or confront those who are rude, mean spirited or simply ignorant. I chose to save, to lead a 1099 life and now I’m blessed to have made those choices and have been lucky. Only an arrogant person ever believes that the entire benefits of life are totally self made. It’s the same as a victim mentality, always believing it’s someone else’s fault.
It’s one of the small reasons I maintain this blog, to help others, to offer my views of things I’ve used, my experiences with them. It’s why I have an especially jaded view of trolls of any type.
My two goals in life are to live an honorable life and to help others, that’s it.
Long ago I gave up participating on forums. Why? Because like ex-girlfriends who just had to be right, I cannot stand people who talk, bitch and produce nothing. Or sadly feel their work is good! I do frequent a few sites, the-digital-picture where Bryan and Sean take their time and review camera gear with integrity. Flashhavoc is where I learn about new lighting items. And I recently started frequenting Lighting Rumours which also talks about new lighting gear but have reviews of some of the items. Markus Klinko a shooter whose body of work I admire, also posts some interesting information about gear he uses on that site. He’s a commercial photographer who has a link to his work in his articles which is very well done. One of the aspects of how he approaches gear is that the brand/cost is irrelevant to his decisions. He states he uses Elinchrom, Broncolor, Cheetahstand among others. He looks at the performance of a product, not the brand or price point. I admire that as I tend to do the very same thing in my own selections.
Most if not all fucking trolls NEVER have links to their work, EVER. Why? Well because they really don’t know how to shoot well yet love to hear themselves talk about gear. Their photos ‘may’ be ‘nice’ (my mentor’s word for shit work) but instead they like to bitch about anything and sharp shoot those who are expressing their views.
Working photographers who post reviews of gear they’ve used are people I truly respect. Trolls are the bottom feeders of any craft.
Here are examples of the comments relating the Markus’ quick personal review of the Elinchrom Indirect Litemotiv Octa 190cm. Not all are trolls, but you will be able to immediately identify those who fit that category:
Markus thanks for your personal assessments on Lighting Rumours. It takes time to write these things, I know that first hand. And thanks for supporting the craft of photography.
This article by Ilona isn’t about photography, but it is about fucking trolls. “Ever since the dawn of the internet, there have been trolls. These broken, deeply insecure people love nothing more than to bring others down to their level by preying on their insecurities.” What’s great though is if you’re not insecure it don’t mean shit.
UPDATED March 7 2018
Today marks the seventh anniversary of my departure from corporate America. Having been a small business for seven years has been both rewarding as well as remarkable. I so appreciate the tenacity and grit it takes to be a small business owner and collaborate with other small businesses. I have found that the intelligence and business acumen of those who run their own small businesses eclipse those I worked with in corporate America for over 38 years. It’s not for everyone, but for those who have always aspired to ‘be their own boss‘ be prepared to do it all, and to enjoy the rewards. If I can do it in the most expensive part of the country, the Bay Area, so can you.
March 7 2011 was the day I was laid off from my last corporate job. Unlike most of my colleagues who move to different companies, but remain within the same industry; I have been in a wide variety of industries. Law enforcement, security, retail, insurance, broking, energy, sales, marketing and finally software. My titles ranged from individual contributor to Senior Vice President, then COO of a Fortune 100 company. Company cars, paid monthly parking in downtown San Francisco, expense accounts first class travel you name it I had it. I was a suit…..
No matter what my job or company I always had my ‘back up plan’ just in case my day job went south. Those plans included skills in woodworking, fabrication, computer repair and finally photography. It seems I never felt fully secure in any company even though I received continual accolades and promotions. Nope it always occurred to me that it could all be ‘taken away’ at a moment’s notice. So when my last job at PlayStation ended when the HR person and my boss (the worst boss of any of my 38 years in corporate America. The worst part is the executives knew she was horrible, yet did nothing) let me know ”Your job has been eliminated” I was both relieved and surprised. You see my boss had told me that the meeting was about a “Powerpoint” presentation she wanted me to review with her.
When I heard their words I looked at my now former boss and said “Gosh then there is no need for you to be here. Why don’t you go find something else to do?!” And she quietly got up from her desk grabbed her purse and left. Tracy, the HR person went over my severance package, told me I was not allowed to go back to my office or talk with anyone. She asked to write down anything in my office that are personal items I wanted returned. I said “No need. Two months ago I took all of my personal possessions home.” She asked why and if I was sure. “Yes and I have hated how I’ve been treated here for six years so there was no need to have anything personal in my office.” She then said smugly “So now you can pursue your little photography business.”
I had been moonlighting as a part time (what some people call ‘semi pro’) photographer for two local theatre companies. My girlfriend and I were partners in those shoots. Since I had a highly paying day job there was no need for her to have full or part time employment. She did some graphic and website design from home to earn money. So when I went home that day at noon, and told her the news, she seemed shocked.
As I began a search online the next week for new ‘jobs’ I thought to myself, “Mark, it’s time you man up. Do you really want to invest time and your dignity into going on interviews with thirtysomethings and be asked questions like ‘What is your five year plan?’ and then responding with ‘Fuck you!’” It just would not be conducive to being hired or worse being hired. So with 30 years of business development, management, finance, sale, marketing experience and a love for photography I decided it was time to man up and pursue my dream.
My finance mind went to work right away since unlike others I didn’t have the safety net of a working spouse with benefits. So I tightened down my expenses and calculated what I would need to survive those first five years of being self-employed. And then the biz dev side of me took over. Little by little I obtained more clients. I never did any advertising so all of my new client work was through word of mouth. Several key people were instrumental in helping me grow the business by recommending me to others. For that I will always be grateful. I’m also not arrogant enough to not believe that luck and timing has much to do with a person’s success. One of the advantages of having a varied corporate background is most people simply consider me as just a photographer. I seldom if ever discuss my background, but it’s such an advantage.
And along the way I noticed something I had never done in my entire previous working life….I didn’t have or want a backup plan, no Plan B, no nothing! I was all in and discovered that doing what one loves to do automatically eliminated the desire for a Plan B. Sure the money was much less in the beginning, but the people I encountered and have befriended on this journey along with the experiences make everything else pale in comparison. The quality of my life is beyond what I would have ever imagined. And it all has to do with my love for what I do. It’s the people, it’s the rich experiences that I so adore.
For about 38 years I was a ‘suit.’ A pure corporate guy whose career started at the bottom and worked its way to COO of a Fortune 100 company. But now having been a small business owner running a full time commercial photography firm I can safely say that even if I had the chance, I’d never go back. I say that I photograph just to meet people and it’s true. My camera is just a convenient excuse to meet and befriend other artists.
One of my clients is a symphony in Dallas, TX. And over the years I have become friends with many of the musicians in the orchestra along with people in Marketing, Development and many other departments. Just recently I was tasked by the VP of Marketing to create an image of 90 of the musicians in the lighting style of the Dutch Masters paintings.
While doing so the two co concertmasters, Alex and Nathan began fooling around during a toast by intertwining their glasses and arms like newlyweds! Of course the whole orchestra HOWLED with laughter and no photographer would pass up that decisive moment to capture it on film. Ah the blackmail leverage I now possess!
Then during the creation of another part of the marketing collateral I was asked to do a portrait of several of the senior members of the orchestra.
But during that time two of the video team from Genius House Media were there filming their version of James Cordin’s “Carpool Karaoke” by having Alex, Nathan, Erin, Lydia and Kara ride through Dallas playing their instruments. So often there’s friction between photographers and videographers, but in the case of Adam and Darren from Genius House, they feel more like just collaborative creatives. I so enjoy working along side them when our work intersects I just had to create a photo of them goofing around.
My whole point to this post is this; what good is life without the camaraderie and companionship of other creatives? Like I said, my camera is simply an excuse.