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.

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.

R2-D2 (2 of 6)

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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Movember Max

Movember Max 1 I adore Movember. Moustaches grow wild and free, the fight against in-the-pants cancer gets a needed influx of funding, and for a brief month, hipsters blend in with every other average Joe. My dear friend Max is a big proponent of the cause, raising north of $1,200 this year on his own. I've photographed Movember participants before, and had a great time doing it, so when I met up with Max in Los Angeles over the Thanksgiving holiday, I asked if I could make his life-saving moustache's portrait.

"Changing the face of mens' health," indeed.

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Heidewood

Heidewood 2 My good friend Greg Heide is a woodworker. He built one of the cabinets in my home, built a deck for our outdoor shed, loaned me his mitre saw, and has given me advice on more than a few other projects here and there. Last year, in an effort to repay Greg for all of his help, I offered to make some portraits of him for his website.

Well, his website is still in the works (these things take time). But while I'm prepping to shoot some new work over these next few weeks, I've been revisiting some of my favorite portrait sessions from the last year, and this shoot with Greg kept sticking in my mind. So, even though his website is still in process, and it'll be a while before most of the images have a chance to get out into the wild, I thought I would share just a couple of my personal favorites here on the blog.

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Arianna and Ali - Los Angeles

I photographed Arianna and Ali, along with several other very pretty girls, for a good friend who is working to market her hair/makeup services to wedding clients. She'll be using the photos in color for her work, but I really liked the classic feel that these photos took on when converted them to black & white.