Elliott Hunter - San Luis Obispo

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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.

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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.

Summer Vacation - Dinotopia

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.

Summer Vacation - Eclipseapocalypse

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.

Vacation - Tuolumne Meadows

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 - Arroyo Grande

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.

Alec & Artoo - Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mechanical Engineering

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 - San Luis Obispo

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.

Reese Galido - San Luis Obispo

Reese (1 of 2) 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).

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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.

R2-D2 - Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mechanical Engineering

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. R2-D2 (3 of 6)

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.'

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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.

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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.

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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, Los Angeles Bandleader - Arroyo Grande

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. blog-post-(2-of-3)

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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.

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Mark "Gizmo" Grayson - San Luis Obispo

Gizmo (1 of 2) 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.

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Victoria Carranza - San Luis Obispo

Carranza (1 of 2) Victoria Carranza is the Chief Business Development Officer at One Cool Earth, a SLO-area nonprofit that supports outdoor education, neighborhood gardens and community tree plantings. I met Victoria through Rory Aronson, who I photographed last month. When Rory told me about Victoria's work with One Cool Earth I was interested in meeting her, but when he told me about Victoria's other current project, I knew for sure that she'd make a great photographic subject - Victoria and her husband-to-be Brian are building a Tiny Home.

Tiny Homes are small houses sized to fit on a trailer. That means they're usually not more than about 8 1/2 feet wide and 20 feet long. With housing continuing to get more and more expensive in San Luis Obispo, it's easy to see the appeal of something small, simple, and affordable. Victoria and Brian are building their Tiny Home in Nipomo, where her family has made some space for them to work. However, building their Tiny Home on a trailer means that, when it's finished, home can be just about wherever they'd like it to be.

While we were working on these photographs, Victoria walked me through their home-in-progress, and talked about the process of getting rid of the years of accumulated "stuff" that won't fit in their new home, and coming to terms with the fact that most of that stuff isn't really necessary in the first place. She even said that she's bonded with her grandmother over it, since her grandmother is going through the same process of simplification in her golden years.

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Rory Aronson - San Luis Obispo

Aronson (2 of 2) I've known Rory Aronson for quite a while - originally through SLO Op Climbing (our local community bouldering gym), and later through his involvement with the Board of Directors of the SLO MakerSpace. Rory has a way of getting himself involved in community-based, sometimes somewhat counter-cultural projects. His current project is FarmBot, an open source, web controlled farming machine designed to optimize small-scale urban farming and empower more people to start growing their own food. Using technology to manage farming isn't a new idea, but so far it's been limited mostly to large-scale, industrial agriculture. The rest of us work mostly with hand trowels and kneepads, learning when to sow our seeds, water our sprouts, and harvest our food from books, blogs, and homemade YouTube videos. Rory's goal with FarmBot is to bring the same kinds of precision tools used by big business to small scale home gardeners.

To learn more about FarmBot, which will be having a Kickstarter to raise funds in the near future, check out Rory's FarmBot website , as well as the FarmBot Wiki that Rory developed to organize documentation, schematics, assembly guides, troubleshooting tips, and all kinds of other info for the FarmBot project.

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Both of these images were made on medium format film (Portra 160) using my Hasselblad V-series camera. The film was processed by the wonderful Richard Photo Lab in Valencia, CA.

Bill Ostrander - San Luis Obispo

Ostrander (1 of 2) A couple years ago I photographed Bill Ostrander for SLO Life Magazine. At the time, Bill was preparing for the Citizen's Congress 2014, a national gathering of legislators, scholars, and public advocacy groups to combat the influence of money in American politics. Bill runs Citizen's Congress, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating corruption in politics, and now, continuing in this work, Bill is running for Congress in the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County. I photographed Bill at his ranch in the Los Osos Valley.

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We made these images on medium format film using my Hasselblad. The film was processed by Richard Photo Lab in Valencia, CA.

Clint Slaughter - San Luis Obispo

Clint Slaughter (1 of 2) I first photographed Clint Slaughter in early 2014 for the SLO MakerSpace. Clint's a friend, and was one of the first people I thought of when I started working on a new independent portrait project about especially interesting members of the San Luis Obispo community. Clint is the driving force behind the SLO MakerSpace, and serves on the MakerSpace Board of Directors as Chief Executive Officer. The MakerSpace is a collaborative machine, wood, electronics, and textile shop where community members come to work on all kinds of projects, take classes, and network with other local makers. As if that wasn't enough, Clint is also an emergency physician at French Hospital in San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande Hospital.

(Yes, he's "Dr. Slaughter." And no, I could not have made that up.)

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Both of these photographs of Clint were made at the MakerSpace on medium format film using my Hasselblad. The film was processed by the always brilliant Richard Photo Lab in Valencia, CA.

Lesley Santos Dierks - SLO Life Magazine

Lesley Santos Dierks 2 Lesley is the CEO of Spokes, a San Luis Obispo organization that provides management training and other resources to local non profits, to help them succeed and better serve the community. I photographed Lesley in her home for the cover of the latest issue of SLO Life Magazine, which just came out at the beginning of December. This was the first set of images that I've delivered to the magazine that was entirely shot on film. I always carry my digital gear for backup on these shoots, and usually deliver at least some images from the digital rig, since it allows me to move faster and get some coverage that my Hasselblad isn't fast enough to keep up with; however, for this shoot Lesley so patient that I was able to get full coverage on a single roll of 220 film - just 24 frames!

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Thanks, as usual, to Richard Photo Lab for handling my film marvelously.

Why Film? And Why Medium Format?

For every cover of SLO Life that I shoot, Tom (the editor of the magazine) asks me to write a couple short paragraphs about the portrait session. The first time Tom included this small write-up in the magazine was when I started shooting the covers using my old analog Hasselblad, rather than my digital gear. As a result, when writing these pieces, I've often discussed the process of shooting film, thinking that it may be interesting to older readers who remember being limited to a mere 36 exposures per roll, or to younger readers who've grown up accustomed to the instant feedback of digital photography. What I haven't written about is why I choose to shoot film. The answer is simple but can easily get complicated... I shoot film so that I can shoot medium format.

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I'll spare you the plodding explanation of different film/sensor formats. There's plenty of that kind of thing on the web already, and trust me when I say that most of it is tremendously boring. Pretty much all you need to know is that most digital camera sensors are small, but medium format film is big. Is there bigger film than medium format? Oh yeah. Are there also bigger digital sensors? Yup. But if we're limiting ourselves cameras that you can carry around relatively easily, and can afford to buy without a taking out second mortgage, the formula holds true: film = big, digital sensors = small.

Why does that matter? Physics.

The bigger your film plane - whether it's a digital sensor or a piece of chemical emulsion - the faster things go from sharp where the camera is focused to blurry where it's not. Have you noticed how, when you take a picture with your cellphone or a compact camera, pretty much everything is in focus, whether it's close to the lens or in the background? That's because the sensor is tiny. Sometimes you want to have everything in focus, but sometimes you don't. Bigger digital cameras with bigger sensors than your cellphone let you make this choice to a degree, but with medium formal film, the focus falls off from sharp to blurry very fast. In these portraits of Eric Meyer, my camera is focused on Eric's eyes, and you can see that they're tack-sharp, along with his nose and mouth, which are all about the same distance from the camera as his eyes. But even just a tiny bit further from the lens the focus falls off, and things get softer and softer as they recede into the background.

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When I look at these pictures, I really lock in on Eric's eyes and his expression, because they're super sharp. Anything that might be distracting is quite soft, so it doesn't pull attention away from the center of his face. For me, the effect that I get using medium format film for a close headshot like this evokes a sense of sitting across from a person, having an intimate conversation with them. That sense of intimacy is a critical part of why these pictures work for me, and why I enjoy working with medium format film.

Stephanie Burchiel - SLO Life Magazine

Stephanie Burchiel 2 The cover of the August/September SLO Life Magazine is Stephanie Burchiel. Stephanie has been offering her vegan soups at farmer's markets throughout San Luis Obispo County for almost six years, and just released a cookbook featuring her recipes through Farmer's Market Publishing. She also almost never stops smiling.

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Stephanie and I met at her parent's ranch, deep in the coastal hills above Cayucos, so that we could take advantage of the ranch's wooded scenery for some of the images. As usual, the images for the magazine were shot on Portra 160 film with my Hasselblad, and processed at Richard Photo Lab in Los Angeles.

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Bill Ostrander - SLO Life Magazine

Bill Ostrander 1 Bill Ostrander is the director of the 2014 Citizens' Congress, a national gathering of legislators, academics, and advocacy groups working to combat the influence of money in politics. Bill was featured in this month's SLO Life Magazine, and the images above and below are a couple that I especially liked from our cover shoot.

The cover session was shot on Portra 160 film in my Hasselblad, and processed at Richard Photo Lab in Los Angeles.

 

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Bill is also a rancher, growing hay and raising cattle on his ranch in the hills above Los Osos Valley, and was generous enough to show me around his ranch for a few outdoor images.

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Terri Kurczewski - SLO Life Magazine

Terri Kurczewski 1 Most regular folks don't necessarily enjoy the process of being photographed. Terri Kurczewski is no exception, but it was her turn to grace the cover of this April's SLO Life, and it was my pleasure to meet her and photograph her for the magazine. Terri runs the Child Development Resource Center of the Central Coast (CRDC) as well as the Sm(ART) Studio, a community art studio, gallery, and classroom that benefits the CRDC.

Terri and I worked through a number of different scenarios, to see what might work best in the magazine, including some images of her in the Sm(ART) Studio, an outdoor setting with a small studio backdrop behind her head, and even an off-the-wall idea where glitter was raining down on her from above. But in the end, my favorite were these simple portraits on white, shot for the magazine cover. The final image that ran on the cover  was made with one of my digital cameras, but these frames - from the two rolls of film that I ran through my Hasselblad that afternoon and developed at Richard Photo Lab in Los Angeles -  are my favorites.

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