Alexa is a friend and former manager of our local climbing gym. She recently moved away from San Luis Obispo, but she’s still a boss, to me.
This year’s holiday card concept was 100% Brittany’s brainchild. “You know, honey, we look kind of like Mulder and Scully...” She’s not wrong, although in retrospect, I should’ve ditched my glasses. Thankfully, this was also the first card in a number of years that didn’t require much post-production work. (Actually, looking back, this is our first card ever featuring an image shot in a single frame.)
I wonder how many of the hundred-plus folks to whom we sent copies of the card had absolutely no idea what the hell is supposed to be going on. Hopefully it’s a fun one, even if you aren’t a child of the 90s.
Here’s hoping everyone has a spoooooooooky Christmas and a very happy new year!
…and for anyone interested in going down the rabbit hole, you can see our collection of previous holiday cards right here.
This summer we photographed dozens of climbers and yogis at The Pad Climbing’s San Luis Obispo location to build up the gym’s library of promotional images. I’m sharing some of my favorites from the day below.
A huge thank-you to Nate for day-of coordination, not to mention being America’s lowkey top motorcycle model. Look for him on the cover of next month’s Easyriders Magazine.
On March 24 over 7,000 people gathered in Mitchell Park in support support of common sense gun law reform and school safety. We had the honor to listen to inspiring, tragic, powerful speeches by local students from all around the County. You can read the words of the students who spoke at the rally here. For me, this moment from Rosella Apel, a senior at Nipomo High School, captured the somber but resolute tone of the day:
The gun violence epidemic which has overtaken our country is a product of a culture which is, in part, complicit with violence. It does a disservice to our family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors who have perished at the hands of misused firearms to focus on only one facet of the issue. It is so much easier to ignore the fact that the systems we have in place do little to teach people that no matter how deep the pain they experience, violence is not the solution. The transformation that will be necessary to soften our societal bent towards brutality must come from all sides. We, as activists and people who care deeply about the sanctity of life, must protect it, not only through laws but through behavior and action. Cesar Chavez once said that in some cases non-violence requires more militancy than violence. In effect, we must want peace and safety just as much as others want to guard against infringements on their freedoms. If we can show that violence is not OK in our schools because it is not OK in our streets or our prisons, not OK in our international relationships or our personal interactions with one another, we begin to challenge that widespread societal apathy towards something inherently devoid of morality, the act of taking of another human’s life.
Below are some images I took at the rally in Mitchell Park and along the march through downtown San Luis Obispo.
I first learned of Elliott, a young local magician, after reading a couple recent profiles about his accomplishments in the SLO Tribune. Elliot's studying mechanical engineering at Cal Poly, a field that's not known for leaving students with tons of free time. But in spite of his school schedule (which also includes competing as a swimmer and triathlete), he performs locally, on- and off-campus, as well as monthly at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles.
Considering all these obligations, I really apprecaited Elliott's willingness to share some of his limited time with me to make these portraits.
These photographs were all made on medium format film (Kodak Portra 160) using my Hasselblad 500cm. The film was processed by the wonderful Richard Photo Lab in Valencia, CA. The second image is a composite of two seperate frames.
In contrast to last year's card, which we made in an uncharacteristically fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants manner, this year's card was planned well in advance. Notwithstanding the need for a quick side-trip to Target to buy some props on our way up to Bishop's Peak, we had the composition of the card fully sketched-out, as well as all the logistics that would be required to get both Brittany and I - as well as all of our climbing and photography equipment - up the wall and in position for the photo (this last bit was my job).
Our car-to-car time to make this picture was north of three hours, but I think the results justify the effort. Plus I got a cool new pair of shoes out of the deal.
Happy holidays and a very happy new year!
I wrote about the first half of our summer vacation - the eclipseapocalypse - in my last post. A total solar eclipse is a tough act to follow, so the obvious choice was to go looking for dinosaurs. First stop: Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite. (In the wider photo a fairly distinct three-toed footprint can be seen about a meter in front of Suzie's feet.)
After many hours of driving across Wyoming, including a stop at Devil's Tower, we arrived in Belle Fourche, South Dakota to go digging for fossils.
This dig site is in the Hell Creek formation, which is a geologic formation that dates back to the end of the Cretaceous period, about 66 million years ago. It's lousy with fossils, including turtles and alligators, fish, and dinosaurs like Triceratops, hadrosaurs, raptors, and even the most recognizable dinosaur of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. We spent two days digging with paleontologist Walter Stein, and excavated a bunch of neat fossils. I'll eventually photograph some of our coolest finds and share them here.
The actual digging is super hard hard, and it turns out all us amateurs strike pretty much the same pose while we're digging:
After two long days at the dig site we were totally beat. Walter, however, has been doing this for years, so he knows all too well that inefficient work can take a toll on the body. Here, he demonstrates the proper relaxed posture for cleaning a fossil.
If a couple days of backbreaking work in the hot sun of South Dakota looks fun (and I can say without hesitation that it is), I recommend checking out Walter's paleontology tourism company PaleoAdventures for yourself.
This summer Brittany and I, along with two good friends, traveled to Idaho, Wyoming, and South Dakota to visit Yellowstone, see the total solar eclipse, catch up with an old friend, and dig up some dinosaur bones. These are some images from the first half of that trip, with more to come from the second half eventually. After flying into Idaho Falls, we did a whirlwind tour of Yellowstone, investigating all kinds of geothermal features, and narrowly avoiding being eaten by a bear.
Then we returned to Idaho, making our way to Driggs, to meet up with Greg, a San Luis Obispo expat. The property that Greg lives on is dead-center on the line of totality for the 2017 eclipse.
But Greg had other things in mind of the eclipse - he took us north, to a special spot he'd staked out well in advance.
In the photos above and below, you can see why Greg picked this spot - we were treated to a breathtaking view of the total solar eclipse over the western vista of the Teton range. The image below was the best I could manage, guessing the correct exposure on the Hassy SWC, but you can see a gorgeous version of roughly same perspective on Ben Horton's Instagram.
Earlier this summer Brittany and I spent a long weekend in Tuolumne Meadows and on the east side of the Sierra. It was Brittany's first time there.
We found a really awesome campsite in Inyo National Forest, south of Mono Lake.
Mono Lake is so salty that the water feels viscous and slippery.
It also doesn't taste as good as you might think.
Tenaya Lake, in Tuolumne Meadows, is much more pleasant to take a dip in (if much, much colder).
These images were made with my Hasselblad SWC, which has quickly become my favorite carry-around camera.
Gabe is a friend from SLO-Op, our local bouldering gym. He's moving out of town after finishing his degree in biomedical engineering at Cal Poly SLO. He has a wonderful face (and a deep, sonorous voice that I wish I could share), and I wanted to take his picture before he left.
I've worked alongside Gabe setting routes for the bouldering gym for several years (a group of volunteer route setters removes, cleans, and re-sets the holds on the wall every month). He's a great route setter and has always been dedicated to the gym's community. Earlier this year, at our annual bouldering competition, Gabe set the route that was chosen as the favorite by the competitors. The prize for this victory is nothing more and nothing less than the pride of being the top dog among the talented and committed route setting crew. However, that pride does come with a token, and it's a pretty sweet hunk of bling.
I photographed Alec Bialek's ongoing five-year project - a screen-accurate R2-D2 replica - last year, when it was still a work in progress. Over the past several months Alec has been finishing up the build, including the lower portion of Artoo's cylindrical body, the feet, and a gorgeous weathering job that dates this Artoo to the final act of The Empire Strikes Back (having recently taken a dip in the Dagobah swamps). Alec wanted some images that document the culmination of his work, before Artoo gets packed up and shipped off to Sweden, where Alec will be working with supercar maker Koenigsegg (I know, I can't pronounce it either).
I think he did a pretty good job; don't you agree?
Film processed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab.
Ryan is a friend of mine, and a classy gentleman. He generously offered his time to help me test some equipment, and these are the result. The bottom "behind the scenes" image was made using a new (to me) and very different hunk of metal, plastic, and gears called the Hasselblad SuperWide Camera (SWC). It's a weird and gorgeous piece of equipment that I'm looking forward to experimenting further with.
On January 21st I went with my wife to the San Luis Obispo Women's March in support of women, racial and religious minorities, the LGBTQ community and others who feel threatened by President Trump's incoming administration. I brought my Hasselblad SuperWide with me, which seemed a good choice to take in the crowds. These are five of the images I took that morning at Mitchell Park and along the one-mile loop through downtown San Luis Obispo.
This year's Bersbach holiday card started as a simple travel-based beach photo with our camper truck (R.I.P. Rocinante v1.0), but quickly evolved into an homage to this year's mobile gaming phenomenon Pokemon GO. This is the first Bersbach holiday card that wasn't fully-concepted before we shot it, and I'll admit that pulling it together was a bit more of a seat-of-our pants endeavor than I would have liked. But the good news is that in the final hustle to finish the card we came up with several ideas that are now on deck for upcoming holiday seasons.
But that's for next year. For now, a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and revelrous Festivus to everyone! See you in 2017!
Reese Galido is the lead singer of the Reese Galido Trio and The Kicks. I met Reese for the first time at a bonfire in Avila Beach at least six or seven years ago. We talked about our shared love of Scotch whisky and I'm not sure what else. When I got back in touch with Reese earlier this year to see if she would sit for a portrait, I wasn't actually sure if she'd remember that we'd met before. Fortunately for me she did, and she generously invited me to her home in downtown San Luis to shoot. (Also I got to meet her rabbit, Bunzo.)
The images below were made at the Steynberg Gallery in SLO, where Reese performed for the release of her most recent album, Unraveled. You can hear a bunch of Reese's music for free here, and you can pick up a copy of Unraveled here (or on Internet-places like iTunes).
These photographs were all made on medium format film (Kodak Portra 160) using my Hasselblad 500cm. The film was processed by the wonderful Richard Photo Lab in Valencia, CA.
Most of my images involve people. Until very recently, I don't think I'd ever photographed anything that you'd call a "robot." So even though R2-D2 (or "Artoo") may be an iconic character from one of the most famous science fiction stories of all time, he’s definitely outside the realm of my usual subject matter. Take my word for it though, when you meet him in person, he's at least as expressive as most of the humans I know.
So how did I get access to this little blue guy? Well, among TV and movie watchers there’s a subset of fans who want a more visceral connection to a story than simply watching it unfold on a screen. Places like the Replica Prop Forum and the R2-D2 Builder’s Club cater to these fans, offering them a like-minded community of enthusiasts, instructions, encouragement, and even access to limited runs of custom-made difficult-to-find components. This droid’s builder, Alec Bialek, is a mechanical engineering student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Alec takes his Artoo to events like the premier of The Force Awakens at SLO's historic Fremont Theater, giving fans a chance to meet the famous droid in person. After seeing photos of Artoo at a recent school fundraiser, I contacted Alec, and he generously granted me an exclusive one-on-one to meet Artoo and make something along the lines of a 'portrait of an astromech droid.'
Alec’s Artoo isn’t completely finished yet - Alec is still working on the feet and the base of the body - which is why I mostly photographed Artoo from the "waist" up. When those last pieces are done, Alec is planning to weather Artoo so he looks a little more battle-worn, consistent with his appearance in the films.
The interesting part of making these images, at least for me, was exploring the space between portraiture and still life. Even in the Star Wars universe, Artoo isn't quite a living thing, yet somehow he's imbued with a very strong sense of agency and personality. That sense is borne partially from the puppetry and sound effects that you experience when you watch the film (or, if you're lucky like me, when Alec fires up his remote control and has Artoo run circles around you while tweeting & whistling). But it also has a lot to do with Artoo's basic visual design. He's hardly anthropomorphic, but when his big, black, glassy eye is pointed in your direction, it's hard not to feel like you're being seen.
That sense is what I tried to capture in these last two images, and what I would very much like to capture with other similar subjects. If anybody reading this happens to know someone who's built other character droids from popular sci-fi - such as WALL-E, Johnny Five, Marvin, Bender, H.E.L.P.e.R. or others, please don't hesitate to share this post with them, and have them drop me a line.
Jonathan Stout is the bandleader of the Campus Five and the Jonathan Stout Orchestra based in Los Angeles, in addition to four other swing and jazz bands of various styles, sizes, and configurations. Jonathan is also one of my oldest friends, and during a recent visit to Arroyo Grande, he asked if I would help him produce some new promotional images in the visual style of the great jazz bandleaders of the 1930s. We reviewed available images of musicians like Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Charlie Christian, and talked about what worked well about the best of these historical photographs. Jonathan also showed me some example advertisements, so I could see how he wanted to use the images to promote his music.
The above two images were made on my go-to film - Kodak Portra 160 - which converts beautifully to black & white. (Somewhat to my amusement, it occurred to me that this is the first shoot I've ever done where my old medium-format film camera might qualify as inappropriately modern technology for the task at hand.)
After we shot a few rolls, including photographing Jonathan with three different gorgeous vintage guitars (for those interested: a 1932 Gibson L-5, a 1937 Gibson ES-150, and a National Style 1 Tricone), I made some more intimate portraits of Jonathan using a long-expired roll of Agfa XRS 1000. I half-guessed at the proper exposure, and while I was in the ballpark, the resulting images were washed out and super low-contrast (hopefully due to the age of the film and no error on my part!). A black & white conversion and a little love in the digital darkroom brought these photographs back to life, but the film grain in this final image is 100% analog.
Most people call Mark Grayson by his nickname, “Gizmo.” A gizmo, Mark explained to me, is different than a widget. He pointed to the rack on top of one of his gleaming silver panel vans (which he artfully refers to as “the toaster”), explaining, “that’s a widget.” If I understood correctly, widgets don't have moving parts, but gizmos do.
Mark has spent most of career as a fabricator, designing and building gizmos and widgets for the less handy among us. His shop is packed to the brim with projects that include a retro Datsun and about a bazillion bicycles in all shapes and sizes.
If you’ve been to SLO’s famous Thursday night Bike Happening, where local cyclists ride nighttime laps around downtown SLO, then you’ve seen the kind of extreme-cycling design that Gizmo revels in. Riders in the Bike Happening show off everything from stock road bikes and cruisers to vintage rigs and elaborate homemade custom jobs (including the odd unicycle and trike). In addition to the bicycles themselves, the Bike Happening also reflects the fruit of Gizmo’s social and cultural influence in SLO – the monthly event is the evolution of a tradition that Gizmo helped start over fifteen years ago, with just a few dozen friends riding the same circuit through downtown SLO following the Thursday night Farmer’s Market. From these humble (but optimistic beginnings) the Bike Happening has grown to a massive "rain-doesn't-cancel" event with hundreds of riders, most of whom dress in costume associated with the monthly theme. If you haven't seen it, it's a sight to behold, and if you haven't ridden in it, it's the Happening of a lifetime.
This year Brittany and I travelled further down the rabbit hole of questionable Christmas card choices. And if it wasn't already, I think three years in a row officially makes this a tradition. If you've visited Awkward Family Photos, then the inspiration for this year's card is pretty obvious. If you haven't, then we just look like crazy cat people. (And honestly, that's fine by me.)
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and have an excellent 2016!