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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R2-D2 (4 of 6)

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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Weston - Buchanan Dam, Texas

Weston (1 of 3) I photographed Weston this summer at Brittany's family reunion in Central Texas. It was well over 100 degrees most days, and the worst part was that the humidity felt way over 100%, but that didn't seem to bother the kids much at all. Weston is smart and outgoing, and I had been thinking that he would be a great portrait subject; when I found Brittany chopping this watermelon up into big, juicy slices for lunch, these photos seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, even if they push the boundary of what might fairly be called an "homage" to Richard Avedon.

Weston (2 of 3)

Weston (3 of 3)

Amanda, Test Shots - San Luis Obispo

Good. Now that I have your attention...

Amanda and I did some commercial-style test shots a couple weeks ago. In a situation like this, a photographer and a model generally both want to experiment with a style or look that they haven't worked with before, and the shots aren't necessarily the kind of thing that either would go around showing off. In this case though, I was really happy with some of the images we made. The first show below, you can totally imagine in an advertisement. The bottom one less so, but Amada's intensity is just awesome.

After we shot outside, I put Amanda on my seamless, just for kicks. This was Amanda's first time shooting on a backdrop. It's something I really like to do, because it forces the subject and the photographer to bring the attitude, rather than relying on the setting to provide it. Amanda brought the attitude, for sure.