Broken Banjo Photography

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Alanna and her Hoop: Bali, Indonesia

This is Alanna.  We met in Ubud, a city on the island of Bali in Indonesia.  I spent a few months living just outside of Ubud in 2009, where I spent most of my time doing things related to photography, agriculture, potlucks, and acro-yoga (not too very different from my life right now).
We had a photo shoot in the tiered outdoor amphitheater behind the Yoga Barn in Ubud.  As you can see, the immaculate grass blends wonderfully with the wooden inset steps, and I had been looking for somebody to shoot in that environment.  We were in a shaded area, and I used only natural light for these images; I was not traveling with any flashes or studio lights at that time.  She needed nearly no instruction besides where to stand, and it was as simple as saying, "Okay...go!"  She hooped, I shot.  Shot with a Nikon D40 (a relatively cheap DSLR, bought in Indonesia) at F-2.8 to blur the background.  I found that shooting at 1/500th of a second blurred the hoop just enough to show motion, but froze it enough to give some great framing effects.
 Alanna and her partner, Atom, had moved to the island around the same time as myself with the intention of focusing on their professional development while living in a gorgeous place.  They were doing their best to pull out of congested places like Los Angeles, while maintaining an income from afar.  This is not an uncommon endeavor.  You'll meet folks looking for that all over the world, expatriates crossing borders to find less a travel experience and more a new home.  I met many of them in Bali.

Alanna and I became fast friends, sharing, among other things, a love of the camera.  At some point in our friendship, she began teaching a hooping class at a local hub, called The Yoga Barn.  As you could probably surmise, The Yoga Barn, set near downtown Ubud and surrounded by rice paddies, was a popular spot for yoga practitioners.  Her hoop classes were popular at the time that I experienced them, and I very much wanted a portrait of Alanna with one of her many arts.
These shots are pretty much out-of-camera, with only some color adjustments on the first image.  As you can see, pumping the vibrance (in the first shot) and slightly tweaking the saturation of the greens makes a huge difference when compared to this out-of-camera version.
It's been a few years now, and we've kept in touch.  She and Atom left Bali around the same time that I did.  Personal and professional issues limited them in ways that were unexpected (or in ways that they had hoped to escape), and they currently reside in the Los Angeles area.  While I visit California for work and play fairly frequently, I almost never get as far south as LA.

But a few months ago, when I scheduled a flight to North Carolina for work, I saw one of my flight options routed through southern California.  With the option of a long layover, I booked a flight with a 5-hour pause in LA, hoping that Alanna was free.  She picked me up an shuttled me far down the freeway, where we found time to have lunch, catch up on life, and then shoot back to get me on a plane.

She now produces remarkable branding and marketing work in LA with her company, Co-Creative Media,  and photography-that-makes-me-wish-I-were-a-model-just-so-she-would-photograph-me at 2nd Chakra Studio.

And it's not a Hula Hoop.  Just a hoop!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Paul on the Ridge: Rifle, Colorado

This is Paul.  The former president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, I met him in 2009 in the town of Rifle.  He was being interviewed by myself and Kacy Spooner for the "Stewards: Stories and Perspectives on American Agriculture" project.  Offhand, I do not recall who it was that gave us Paul's number, but when we called around to the regional agricultural organizations, somebody said, "You want history about farmin' and ranchin'?  I got a guy for you..."
This portrait took about 8 minutes and two small handheld speedlights.  Working on a budget, the lights were a LumoPro 160 and a cheap 30-year-old Vivitar, bought at a thrifty camera store.  Expressing that I wanted a good photo, Paul drove us up to this point.  He is talking to Kacy (he just liked to stand this way, and needed little direction).  I used manual settings on a Nikon D300 to get a good exposure for the sky (the sun is directly above us, as seen by the shadow on his chest), and made sure his hat totally shaded his face from the sun.  With radio slaves, I hand-held a flash aimed at his face, while Kacy stood to camera left and aimed a vertical beam at his body.  The photo took very minimal retouching later, mostly just to bring some detail out in the clouds.
We met Paul at a local gas station, where we parked our car and hopped up into his pickup truck.  He took us to his favorite restaurant, which happened to be located on a golf course on the edge of town; sitting on the veranda, the server brought him his usual and we made observations of the incredible geologic formations ringing the golfing green.

We spoke in deep detail about farming and ranching issues...the finer points of which will someday be transcribed on the Stewards well as about other local problems, such as the fracking going on in the local shale deposits.  But the story that stuck with me the most was the one about his pack horse, lost decades earlier on the ridge that you can see here in the distance.

When Paul (pictured here in his 70's) was a teenager, on one of his earlier herd-tending treks in which he had heavy responsibility, he was tasked with directing a number of cattle up a winding trail on a shale-based slope.  Back then and, to a lesser extent, sill today, cattlemen set their herds loose on public lands for the grazing season, sometimes with a worker to live out there and check in on them..  Months later, the rancher and team would return for the roundup, tracking the cattle by brands.

On this particular journey, pushing those cows upward, one of Paul's pack horses hit a loose spot of shale.  Even a horse, known for quick recovery, is not immune to gravity, and Paul saw/heard the animal fall to its death.  He then dealt with the grisly need to get himself down the hill again and recover his belongings and goods from the horse, as well as deal with the fact of the body and his emotional attachment.  A classic cowboy, respect and appreciation for his animals ran deeply through our conversation and through the story that he has been telling for fifty-odd years.
Photography on a budget: you can do it!  The two flashes used here cost just around $140 (new) and about $25 (used), respectively.  I was using Cactus Radio Triggers and a Nikon D300, with (believe it or not) a kit lens.  It's all about understanding light.  And about figuring out your subject as fast as possible.  From exiting the truck at this previously-unseen location to calibrating my settings and getting these shots, only around 8 minutes passed, leaving the rest of the day for conversation and story.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Brent and his Dreadlocks: Portland, Oregon

This is Brent.  We met in Bend, Oregon sometime in 2005 or 2006, when we were both attending Central Oregon Community College.  I was living in my van on campus.  Between classes one day, while I was killing time in my vehicle, possibly playing the banjo, he and another friend poked their heads in and introduced themselves.

This was just a couple of months ago, in late 2012.  After 7 years, Brent was considering cutting off his dreadlocks, and asked me to take a series of photos highlighting his hair.  He looks much tougher here than he really is.  

This shot was taken with a digital Pentax K-5 using three speedlights; two are at equal distance, camera right and left, with shoot-through umbrellas, at about a 30-degree angle.  The third light is above him, bare, and on a low setting to highlight and outline the blond dreads.
We became fast friends; less than a year later, he, I, and a few other friends rented a house together, named it The Goodness Collective, and began an epic phase of potluck-hosting, musical jams, and general community-on-a-budget living.

When we met, his dreadlocks were relatively short.  We've shared many experiences together, including a week at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada in 2007.  Look at those short dreads.  This is from Burning Man in 2007, five years before the first photo.  He still has this hat. 
This image was shot with an old Pentax K1000 film camera, on ISO 200 film.  The negatives were scanned in and digitized at a very high resolution.  As you can see, this image hasn't been touched up and still contains dust specks from the festival.  Scanning negatives in like this allows me to zoom in several hundred percent and see film grain long before I see pixels.
 Brent now lives in Portland, Oregon, not too far from me.  He fishes commercially for salmon in Alaska during his summers, and studies political science the rest of the time.  While he is contemplating the next step in his life, I sincerely hope that we will remain close at heart.  He was married this year, and I had the serious honor, after all these years of friendship, of documenting his wedding.
Also taken with a Pentax K-5 at about 21mm; I chose to render many of Brent's wedding photos in black and white, partially because of our history.  He has been a subject many times as I've developed my portraiture skills, which were born of black and white film photography.
When introducing yourself to a stranger, as he did to me years ago, you never know how long and serious the resulting relationship will be.  Take that risk, and say hello.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Donna in the Bakery: Homer, Alaska

This is Donna. In 1982 she founded the Fresh Sourdough Express, a fine bakery in Homer Alaska. To do so, she had to drive a van and trailer from Washington state, up through Canada, to parts unknown in the distant north. The vehicle was a mobile bakery, a bread-slinging wagon that paid her way along the Alcan Highway.

In late summer of 2003, I vagabonded into Homer, after several months of traveling. I had left the Florida Everglades in April and ended up at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula in August. I slept in the local hostel for a night.

The two photos on this page were shot using one of my favorite (and affordable!) techniques.  They were taken on an old Pentax K1000 film camera.  Some of you may recognize this as the bulletproof student camera that many of us used when learning film photography.

After developing the negatives, I did NOT make prints in the darkroom.  Instead, I wandered into the digital photo studio at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.  There, using a Nikon Coolscan 5000 ED scanner, I ran the strips of negatives through and into a computer.  These scanners are amazing, and can give you resolutions of 4000 DPI or more (better than any 35mm camera on the market).
The next day, looking for work and completely without money or plan, I walked into the Fresh Sourdough Express and handed them a resume. Being late in the tourist season, I expected that I had a very small chance to find any work in town. After just a few minutes, Kevin, Donna's husband and business partner, came back to the counter and asked if I could begin work the next day.

Over the next five years, I spent four summers in Homer, driving up as early as April when the Yukon River was still thickly frozen over, and leaving around October when the raindrops threaten edges of ice and the days begin shortening dramatically. Donna has kept up with me, and I with her; most years she and Kevin call me at some point to ask, only 30% kidding, if they could fly me back to Alaska to work the bakery.

Using the technique above gave me very large digital files, which could be tweaked, cropped, balanced, toned, etc., and saved for future use. Scanning in your negatives results in wonderfully powerful and high-quality images, which can be printed quite large.  In the prints you may see the film grain, but you'll be hard-pressed to ever see any pixelation unless you are going wall-sized, or have done extensive editing in post.  
They live their lives primarily in Hawai'i now, and finally sold the bakery in Homer after 30 years. They and their son Jazz (who was one of the brightest pre-teens I'd had the pleasure to hang out with) recently swung through Portland and had dinner with Anna and I on Thanksgiving Eve. Jazz has grown, Kevin is his wonderfully goofy-and-kind self, and Donna is healthy, happy, and working hard to make sure the world is a nutritious, thoughtful place.

We all have thousands of "what-if" moments in our lives. What if I hadn't walked in to the bakery? What if I hadn't taken the suggestion of an Anchorage barista to head south to Homer? What if I was never shown the joy of baking bread? What if? 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ellyn On the Willamette: Portland, Oregon

This is Ellyn.  We have known each other since we were young teenagers, tromping around in Manzanita, Oregon. We got in trouble together a few times, but that's what friends do when growing up in small towns.  Or anywhere, I suppose.

There is a place where the mighty Columbia River and the Willamette River collide.  It is a simple park in Portland.  There is a beach there (if you examine the sand you will find it to be equal parts powdered remains of rocks, industry, cement, shipyards, and history).  From that beach you can watch container ships haul goods out towards the ocean, full of wheat and coal.

Shot with only natural light while the sun was low in the evening, this shot encapsulates much of how I feel about my friendship with Ellyn.  Colorful and dynamic, but peaceful and contemplative at the same time.  Shot with a Pentax K-5 at 18mm, with vibrance and clarity pumped up a bit in post.
Ellyn and I both live in Portland now.  Throughout my adult life I have lived in countless places, often moving after just six or nine months in a town.  She has traveled and has lived in such wayward places as Tennessee, but has called a single apartment in Portland her home for 7 years.  I find that impressive.

I hold on tightly to my old friends, those who have known me or seen me through all of the iterations of my life.  Sometimes a decade passes by, but as long as one person is willing to track down another, there are always opportunities to maintain relationships with the folks who have shared time with you.

The north-flowing Willamette brings the essence of the Oregon valleys, of Eugene, Corvallis, Salem, and points in between, of wine country, dairies, and cities.  The Columbia is a viaduct for salmon, and has come through many dams.  It sheds its energy along its path, powering the Northwest through Bonneville and the Grand Coulee Dam ("the mightiest thing ever built by a man", sang Woody Guthrie).  It has passed through the Northwest's desert for thousands of years, and has left a jagged, steep mark in the form of the Columbia River Gorge.

Ellyn took me there to catch up, while she did some scouting for a location to hold a small family reunion.  Catching the late light in late summer, we stepped over families with cheap radios and steered around packs of friendly dogs.  The sun gave us golden light as it lowered and we stepped barefoot through the splashing edge of two rivers that have seen the Northwest through its grand history.
Also shot in natural, golden light.  No matter what else is obscured, a (totally breakable) rule of portraiture remains that the subject's eye(s) should be clear, well-lit, and the sharpest part of the image.