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.