Thursday, November 18, 2010

You'll Be Sorry

... for yourself, but not for me.

I've been in touch with this band called American Fangs ever since I shot them a few months back at a private party. They're a bunch of really cool guys from Texas who make some really great Alternative Rock, with a splash on Punk thrown in.

What's funny is that all of our correspondences have been through Twitter, so at least this time around I got to find out who exactly I was talking to all the time (turns out it was the drummer). I decided that since I'd already shot stills of these guys in the same venue, the lighting would be mostly the same (dim!), and maybe I could try some video in addition to more photos - I took 2 different songs, just to be sure I got something usable.

My CYA move proved to be a good one. When I reviewed the footage I found the first video I took to be too shakey, and the audio wasn't all that hot either. The audio was probably a symptom of where I was standing in relation to the amps, as I hadn't brought any external microphones for this (most likely because the idea to shoot video came to me while sitting in Lincoln Tunnel traffic on the way in to the show). However, on the bright side, I had some B-roll footage of the band to use in the better video to break up the camera angles a little.

It was my first attempt at editing together 2 separate live performances. I've taken a bunch of live videos of bands, but it has always been single-take kinda stuff. I'm pretty happy with the results considering I've never done it like this before. You be the judge, take a look at the video below (or go see it on YouTube for a larger, HD version) and let me know in the comments what you think!

In case you missed the link above, you can see the still shots from this show HERE

More soon,

Thursday, October 21, 2010

PYC: Pay Your Creatives

Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking, and rethinking, regarding my approach to business and marketing. There has to be more opportunity out there for more steady work, but it's very hard to find. On top of that, living just outside of NYC puts me at a great disadvantage at times. There are lots of chances for work in the City, but the problem lies in the over-saturated market. I keep going though, picking up clients here and there, but I'd be lying if I said I was completely content with the state of things.

One thing we creative professionals hear a lot is "Our budget is tight, can you work with us?" or "I didn't really have money for it, I was just hoping we could work something out." There are lots of other variables, but they all mean the same thing: "Your work is great, I just don't want to pay for it."

Before I go on any further, I'd like to call your attention to a post I found today, written by Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir on the same topic: We Really Love Your Stuff, But We're on a Really Tight Budget. It's a fast read and well-worth the time. Check it out and then come back for more.

Well-written, right? I thought so. Personally, I don't mind doing work for free if I truly believe it will present me with a great opportunity down the road, or even at the next traffic light. I just get very irritated by people who have no intention of ever contacting you again, or ever using what you give them in any way that might actually promote you. Lets face it, times are hard, and I know that as well as the next guy, but if we don't help each other, who will? The government? Not likely. We need to start working with one another again. The concept of mom and pop businesses was sold off long ago so they could bulldoze those avenues and put in big box conglomerates that sell everything from mattresses, to portrait services, to clothing, with some luggage, pharmaceuticals, and groceries in the mix as well.

Here's the problem that most people don't realize: Creative professionals, such as writers, painters, photographers, and craftsmen of other types as well, all carry a huge burden. The burden to make you happy, or to look good, or to sound intelligent, or to entertain you, etc. From a photography perspective, I have spent not only money on education, but I've also spent countless hours which I'm sure cumulate to months, if not more, honing my craft. I hone my craft for myself and for my clients, but nobody pays me. I've done dozens of personal projects that eat up my time and my money, just so I can be prepared for any situation that may be even a slight bit demanding on me and my skills. We break our backs, some of us literally, to get "the shot" and at times it's not even for a client, it's for ourselves, so we can learn to better serve you, should you ever need us to recreate a situation. We need to know how to do a job going into it. We're not office temps, we don't go after work where we can be trained when we show up on day 1. People expect more of us, we are expected to know lighting, lens selection, camera settings, tricks of the trade, thinking on our feet, rigging equipment, and how to set everything up and tear it down in the most time efficient manner, all while calculating all of the environmental variables as we do so. Oh yeah, and we have to make the end product look good, too.

All this, for you to nickel and dime us? We decide what our work is worth, and it's not easy. We don't just pull numbers out of thin air. We factor in our experience, what we've done over the years to get to where we are, we factor in materials, labor, hired help if any is needed, overhead costs, hours spent proofing and editing, finished deliverable medium, plus lots of other things that go into your project. We're not looking to get rich and retire off of just your job, we aren't trying to rip you off, or ask for more than what it's worth. It wouldn't make any sense if we did because we actually like what we do. We aren't trying to make one big, huge sale and then retire. We look forward to ongoing projects and repeat clients. The truth is, most of us still under-charge for fear we may not get what we ask for, and then we still hear resistance. We train as rigorously and as regularly as any start athlete, yet we're paid a teeny tiny fraction of the relative dollar amount.

There is a link at the bottom of the article I posted, and if you didn't get to watch the video that it links to, it really sums a lot of this up, so here it is:

The bottom line is, we put in our time, effort, and money to get where we are. You wouldn't even like us enough to want to hire us if our portfolios didn't impress you. We weren't born knowing how to do all of this (well, maybe Chase Jarvis or Joey L, but that's it.), it takes lots of hard work and dedication, and yes, even some literal blood, sweat, and tears. We're always flattered when someone appreciates our hard work and talents, but flattery doesn't pay the bills, it doesn't put food on the table. You want beautiful portraits of your wonderful family, and if your boss didn't pay you for whatever it is you do, you wouldn't be able to feed your wonderful family. We just want to be able to feed ours as well, and I really don't think that's too much to ask.

Thanks for listening to my rant.

More soon.

Friday, October 15, 2010

365 Days of Photos

(Warning: This post is quite a ramble, and it's very photo-heavy)


Finally, a year later from the start of my 365 project, I'm done. I made it out alive, but most importantly to me, I made it through the whole project without ever once missing a day or cheating in any sense. It's probably one of the hardest photo challenges I've ever had. It was also simultaneously the longest year of my life, and the shortest year of my life. Confused? Here's why:

We all pride ourselves on being creative, whether we are considered "creative professionals," just hobbyists, or even just dedicated parents helping your children with an art or science project. We all feel, and utilize the little sparks of creative inspiration that pop into our heads from time to time. But can creativity be forced? I'd like to say, for certain, it cannot. It can be coerced, it can be coaxed out of hiding, you can certainly bargain with it. However, it is as stubborn as a mule and if it doesn't want to come around, well, it won't.

This project gave me many almost-sleepness nights. I'd be up until 4 or 5AM at times, trying to force creativity to deliver some magical idea to me. Most of those nights it did not. I would settle for less, if absolutely necessary, but I was never happy about it. Some of the toughest days were the ones that I didn't have anything in particular planned. Some days I'd wake up with an idea, or it would hit me at lunch time, or I'd finally have the time needed to go after a planned photo idea that maybe had come to me weeks prior. Sometimes it would depend on the weather, sometimes it would depend on my day-to-day schedule, sometimes it even depended on my location, or even my health.

The bottom line is that I really wanted to stick this out. There were so many nights that I thought I may fall asleep just trying to think of something, and to me, if I didn't have a new photo before I officially fell asleep for the night, then I failed. There are some shots in here that I knew I could have done better if I'd had the time to bust out an entire lighting setup with stands, modifiers, clamps, background holders, and other items that only photographers would know by name; but quite simply, I was too tired, or in too much of a hurry, or something was in my way that could not be helped. So I did my best and uploaded the least-worst of the batch. This was meant to be a learning experience, and sometimes the only way to learn is by missing the target from time to time.

So, what did I learn? In no particular order:

  • You can't force inspiration, you have to feel it. It will find you, not the other way around.
  • Anything can be made to look great if given the time to really set up a shot with meaning
  • When you rush, you can still complete a masterpiece, but it's hit-or-miss
  • Having no experience what-so-ever with a particular photographic method is all the reason in the world to finally give it a try
  • When in doubt, grab a flash
  • In the words of Zack Arias: "What really is a studio? A floor and a couple walls? You got a floor and a couple walls? You got yerself a studio!"
  • A-clamps are absolutely invaluable
  • Always carry at least one light stand and a tripod in your car at all times.
  • In general, things start looking different after the first few weeks. You notice more photo opportunities where you never thought of looking before.
  • Learned how to plan more involved shots into smaller spans of time
  • Invaluable lessons in timing and quick setups
  • The first time you try something new, it's going to suck, unless you get lucky, but it's the only way to get started. You always need the first building block.
  • Any photo can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. If you have a specific message to get out, you need to put as much into it as you can.
  • If you lock yourself into one specific style, you will fail. You don't have to master everything, but you have to be open to trying new styles and ideas
  • You can improvise backgrounds out of anything as long as you can get enough blur from an open aperture.
Hell, there's probably lots more, but that's most of it. Most importantly though, I'd say about 90% of these photos had no real "Photoshopping" done to them. Sure, maybe I'd boost some brightness, bring out some more shadow detail, change the saturation; minor tweaks that you would do even with film in a darkroom. Aside from one photo where the purpose was to layer 2 images, I did no recompositing; there are no sharks jumping out of the water attacking a helicopter in this gallery. Everything was displayed the way it was shot. If you can't learn to get it right in-camera, then you're not bettering your photography, you're bettering your editing skills, and that is opposite to the purpose of doing a project like this in the first place.

Were there days when I wanted to quit? Sure, of course. There were times when I was sick, physically sick and stuck in bed, but still dragged myself out to take a shot. Many nights I'd pace my house for hours before something hit me. I had people telling me I should just let it go so I could get back on a regular sleep schedule. Hell it took me a few days just to write this entry. I needed to finally get my mind off of it. The funny thing is that I still get that panic-like rush when the sun starts going down and I forget, for a moment, that I'm done and don't need to take a photo for the day. Then the calm washes over me and a sense of accomplishment rushes through me.

The project finished Tuesday night. Originally I was going to grab a picture of my cat's behind, sort of as a "kiss my ass" to anyone who thought I couldn't pull this off (myself included, believe me) but instead I had the chance to get out and photograph Sevendust's concert that night. I think it's incredibly appropriate that a project like this end with a concert photo, since concert photography is what got me started in the first place.

If I had to give any advice to people wanting to do something like this, the most important thing would be to make sure you've got the strength to go through with it. Anyone who doesn't understand probably thinks I'm over-dramatizing right now, but it's the truth. It's very taxing on your nerves, on your thinking, and on your time. If you don't make time to use the creativity that hits you, you'll fall right off the horse. Try planning shots over time, that way one days when no inspiration hits you, you've at least got a backup list of things you can shoot. I only figured that out more than halfway through, and even then some of the ideas I had were too intricate to pull off when you've barely got one eye open.

Not all of the images in the gallery are masterpieces, but they serve a purpose. some of them tell a story, and some of them were just nice ideas in-and-of themselves. I am proud of each and every one of them. In fact, some of the crappiest shots are very important to me because those are most likely the ones that came to me at the very last minute in the early morning before I could barely stay awake any longer.

Finally, the images. Here are some of my favorites:

Day 14: 10-26-09 Lemon Ice

Day 36 11-17-09 Sparks (probably my absolute favorite of all)

Day 52 12-03-09 Seasons Greedings (first attempt at bokeh)

Day 61 12-12-09 Identify

Day 71 12-22-09 Butcher Shop

Day 79 12-30-09 Down In A Hole

Day 121 02-10-10 Snow Day

Day 136 02-25-10 Someone In The Oven

Day 167 03-28-10 Ignite

Day 174 04-04-10 Infinity

Day 181 04-11-10 What Does This Do?

Day 202 05-02-10 Lost In The Summer Sky

Day 216 05-16-10 How Could You?

Day 262 07-01-10 Paradise

Day 285 07-24-10 Drill Sgt.

Day 320 08-28-10 Ferris Wheel

Day 358 10-05-10 Crimson

Day 361 10-08-10 David Ellefson

Day 363 10-10-10 Coexist

Of course, there are others, but it would take too long to go through all of them.

I am definitely going to make myself a photo book of this entire gallery. I don't know if anyone else would care to own a book full of all these shots, but they're definitely special, and important, to me. If anyone has any interest in a photo book full of my 365 shots, please contact me ASAP. I will try to order a few at once to keep the pricing down, but due to the cost of putting something like this together I probably can't make it available indefinitely just yet.

Thanks to everyone who supported me by sharing kinds words about my photos and by visiting the gallery every so often to catch up on what's new. Extra special thanks to Lisa, my fiancee and best friend. I wouldn't have the determination I have without you, and I certainly wouldn't be the person I am without you in my life.

More soon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Inspiring Nights: Part 1

Sometimes you get what you ask for, sometimes you don't. Other times you get more, even though it may be different from what you expected.

I had been in kind of a slump for a while now. Lots of "things" have been getting in my way and my day-to-day was getting unbearably frustrating. I continued doing what I had to do but it was really starting to wear me down. Then one day a couple of weeks ago, I was posting to my Twitter account via HootSuite when I noticed a search column I had set up a while back had something interesting in it. HootSuite is my third-party program of choice for managing my social networking updates, and one of the great features is that you can have permanent search results in their own column that refresh constantly. I had set up a search for the terms "need" and "photographer" about 6 or 7 months ago when I first found out about the site/program. All along, the only thing I'd ever found were people looking for photographers, but with no budget to actually pay for services. The few times anything even halfway promising would appear, it would always fall through at some point.

This time, though, it was different. I had no idea at first, but the person looking for a photographer was an employee at In De Goot Entertainment. I only found that out after they responded with their email address so we could talk over details of what they needed. In De Goot manages a bunch of bands that I really love, but most importantly, Shinedown. Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a HUGE Shinedown fan;, their music really has meant a lot to me over the years. Needless to say, I was more than happy to help with whatever they needed.

Two days later, I found myself at a private rooftop party for In De Goot, surrounded by dozens of very important people in the music industry. There were reps from HBO, MTV, VH1, Myspace Music, the list goes on. I even got to grab a photo of Brent Smith of Shinedown with his lady, since he was attending the party as well. The party was to celebrate In De Goot's band American Fangs, who just started up a major North American tour.

I was just there as a photographer, grabbing candids of people drinking, eating, chatting, having a fun time; I was also one of 3 photographers that were snapping portraits of people in front of the step-and-repeat wall. I stopped to look around and really take it in every few moments, and realized that this is what could have been if Paragon Magazine had really taken off. It really gave me the boost of inspiration I needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps and go back at it with full-force. The site is going to be redesigned, we're going after content with more vigor, and we're going to try to get it back up to and beyond where it used to be.

After the party, I made sure to get my photos out to my contact immediately. I knew stuff like this would be time-sensitive. The next morning, I got over 200 hits to my web gallery because the link went out to everyone that was invited, as well as posted and re-posted all over Facebook and Twitter. Lots of great comments on the photos, and Brent Smith of Shinedown even posted that he attended the party and the photo he used of himself was one that I shot, and had my watermark on it. Talk about social media and viral marketing!

Will it get me a ton of new jobs? Maybe, maybe not, but I'm happy that I got as much exposure as I did, and of course I'm delighted that my client enjoyed the photos enough to share them immediately the next day.

Sometimes you just have to stick things out and hope for the best. I had already given up on the idea that Twitter would ever find me anything redeeming, but when I least expected it, a great opportunity came my way. This one chance that I was given made up for the hundreds of tweets that went unnoticed and all the people that ignored me even when I was sometimes the only photographer to respond to their posts.

Oh and on top of that, I got to photograph American Fangs performing that night. The shots came out pretty cool, the band liked them, and now we stay in touch via Twitter. I'll be shooting them again when they play NYC or NJ again down the road

If you want to see some of the photos, you can check them out in this gallery.

This is part one, I've already got a part two for this post. But most importantly, I want to know what inspires you? Is it photography? Videos? Painting? Nature? Music? Struggle? Maybe you're inspired by colors around you, or certain sounds? Do your pets seem to telepathically lead you towards different moods or thoughts? Sounds like crazy talk, but I've noticed over the course of the last year that inspiration can come from lots of different places. We all think we can put our finger on the big influences, and most of them would be correct, but sometimes it hits you clear out of nowhere. So what does it for you? Let's make a discussion out of this.

More soon.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Surfing To Venus

Been sitting on this post for a while now. Got it started and wasn't able to finish it and get it up. Enjoy!

I've known NJ native and Ibanez Guitar endorser Steve Bello since 2003 when he first contacted me at Paragon Music Magazine asking if we'd be interested in checking out his new album. We've been good friends ever since and I've been lucky enough to hear and see his music evolve over the years. 

I've photographed and interviewed Steve and his bandmates on a few occasions, and back in March I decided to head up to the rehearsal studio they rented for the day to check out the new tunes as they ready them for the new album. I brought my Canon 5D Mark II with me and some video lighting and decided to put together a music video for Steve so that he could share it around the web and give people a taste of what the new music will sound like.

Like many artistic endeavors, when I got ready to edit it, I wasn't seeing exactly what I had hoped I'd gotten, so the idea had to be redrawn in my head. Life took over and it got pushed back to make room for other projects. Then, late last week, I got a message from Steve saying a Rock zine in Japan is interested in running a feature on him and would like some photos and video to use with it. Steve already had plenty of photos that I'd taken for him, but the video was still unfinished. This was the spark under my butt that I needed to finally complete the piece. 

So over the course of about 3.5 days I sat back down and re-edited the video. I posted it to my Vimeo account and we've been spreading it around the web. It's gotten over 250 hits in less than 3 days, which is a great number in our minds, as we're both still pretty unknown outside of our own circles. This could be very good for us both though, as it makes a great portfolio piece for me and a great way to build some hype around the new album. Recording of the new music will begin September 12, and the CD should be out late this year or early next year. Grammy Award-winning producer Johnnie Truesdale will be at the helm making sure all the sliders are in place.

Here's a little background info on how it was shot and edited:

  • Canon 5D Mark II
  • Canon 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 Image Stabilizer  Autofocus Lens
  • (2) 500w Impact continuous tungsten lights
  • Rode VideoMic
  • Shot in 3 takes, one of each band member
  • Edited in Final Cut Express

Special thanks to Joe DeMott (bass) for supplying me with a dual copy of the audio from each take. He recorded it on a rack recorder that he brings around to all practices and rehearsals. It allowed me to double up the audio in sections where the VideoMic failed to pick up certain sounds or tones.

Without any further delay, I give you: Surfing To Venus

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Swashbuckle: Pirates of the Mason Dixon

I've been friends with the guys in Swashbuckle for years now and this April they asked me to shoot their promo photos for the upcoming album Crime Always Pays. Always up for a good time with some friends I headed down to central NJ with a bag full of lights.

I got to Commodore Redrum's house to find a game of Battleship set up on the table in the basement. We knocked out a few photos of the guys playing the game and looking angry with each other before we busted out what I like to consider my "Pulp Fiction" pose, as seen below.

Would you mess with these guys? I wouldn't!

We headed over to a bar that we had reserved for shooting in and snapped off a few more shots by the beer taps and in front of a nice big wine rack wall. I really liked lighting in the smaller space because it allows for more creativity since it's more challenging. It's easy to flood a room with an even wash of light and call attention to details in a broad sense. It's a very different story to purposely play with shadows and direct the light where you want it. This is where I have the most fun. I light the wine rack from behind each pirate while giving a soft but directional blast from the side. The result is a glowing wine rack, great separation from the background, and enough light and shadow to make these guys look like they were lurking in the galley waiting for an unsuspecting victim. We wrapped up after about 4 hours of shooting and I sent off the files to the guys once they were sorted and edited.

A few weeks ago I met up with them again in New York City on the Panic Across North America Tour. The Commodore showed me the mock up artwork for the new album and it's full of the photos we shot, including a 2-page center spread of one of the photos from the basement. It's very exciting for me as it's the first time my work will be published as part of a major label release.

I hung around and shot their set, including some video at the end. These guys are different from most bands in costume, mainly because they don't take themselves overly serious. Sure, they're serious about their music, but they know they're a bunch of guys from New Jersey wearing pirate costumes in the 21st Century. Which means they have fun with their performance, and that translates into the audience and everyone has a blast. Below are some more photos, as well as live video of "It Came From The Deep" and "X Marks The Spot."

It's also not too late to catch them live if you haven't seen them yet. You can get info on the rest of their tour dates here

Click here to view the full gallery of promo photos
Click here to view the photos from the NYC show

More soon,

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Plaza of Fear: Fear Factory in NYC

Last weekend (7/25/10) Fear Factory returned to Irving Plaza in New York City for the first time in a while. I was lucky enough to be in the photo pit for this amazing performance. The chemistry between Dino and Burton is undeniable and with the incredible rhythm section of Byron Stroud (bass) and Gene Hoglan (drums) they are a force to be reckoned with.

Opening with the title track from their new album Mechanize, they made it clear to anyone who has not yet heard the new material that they were back to their classic sound with no compromises. The one-two punch of "Shock" and "Edgecrusher" followed.

We were treated to "Smasher/Devourer," "Acres of Skin," and "Linchpin" before launching into another new song called "Powershifter" which was quickly followed by "Fear Campaign." After the 2 new songs Burton and the guys reached way back to Soul of a New Machine and played "Martyr" before switching gears to the more somber "Final Exit."

After a brief break they came back out to perform what would be considered the encore of the night. Burton said a few words regarding BP and oil spill in the Gulf before going into "Demanufacture" which featured the chant "BP Must Pay" through the middle.  The show was closed out with "Self Biased Resistor," "Zero Signal," "Hunter-Killer," and of course, "Replica."

I've seen Fear Factory a few times now and this was easily one of, if not the best show they've ever put on. I followed up the show photos with a phone interview with Burton a few days later which will be a feature at in the very near future.  In the meantime you can view the rest of the photos from the show right here.

More soon,

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Need Advice, Feedback Requested

We all have various sites and blogs that we check daily. The internet has become more about routine these days than discovery. Let's face it, when most of us were younger and the internet was still fresh and relatively new, we spent more time finding new sites than we did revisiting ones we already knew about. The world wide web was wide and fresh with info. Nowadays though, through syndication of content, most people really only need to check a small handful daily. Thanks to things like MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and the like, a lot of what we're interested in is already indexed for us daily and spoon-fed. Sure, it's great because it saves a lot of time, but how often do you really come across a new source of info that you decide you will go to daily (and I don't mean by adding it to a bookmark site or RSS feed)?

Since my blog is relatively small, with few viewers as of this writing, I need people's opinions on how to drive up the number of people that come here.

I'm no slouch, but it can be difficult at times to provide quality content that I can be sure people will be interested in. Leave some advice in the comments section below and let me know what would make this blog (and the related website) more worth your time on a daily basis. Do you want to see more pictures? Do you like more of the how-to stories behind a shoot? Are you interested in product reviews or gear articles? I've got some ideas lined up for some new entries but I want to make sure that I can get people's attention.

I think part of my problem is that I'm too concerned with my own personal privacy. I don't like the idea of putting photos of myself on the internet, despite the fact that it's been proven that it helps make people feel more comfortable contacting you. I also don't like to put too much personal info out there, even though that helps people feel like they know you. Lastly, at times I can be overly concerned with being as professional as possible, which sometimes causes me to lack a sense of humor about things, or at least that's how it can come across.

Some of my favorite photographers, who are very successful at what they do, are very accessible in the sense that they communicate directly with their fans/followers, they put out videos and do seminars and workshops, they use photos of themselves, and they know how to let professionalism go when necessary. Don't get me wrong, I'm no square, and can be as ridiculous as the next guy, but I think I'm still trying to find my public voice.

Zack Arias, one of my big influences and photographic role models, just released 2 videos that I personally find hilarious. I start to wonder if I'm using the wrong approach to my self-promotion. What do you think? Take a look at these videos and you be the judge.

Workshop World
Sucksessful Commercial Photographer

Don't forget to leave some comments, I would really appreciate feedback. You can also find me on Twitter

All Hope is Not Gone

So since my last blog post about Peter Steele I haven't been able to whip up any new writing. I wanted to stay on a more frequent blogging schedule this year, but it's hard. I'm trying some new things now and hopefully I can deliver more content, quality content, more frequently.

But, it would be very wrong of me to continue on from this point and not acknowledge 2 more great losses felt by the Metal world. Since Peter Steele's death we also lost the great Ronnie James Dio, and Paul Gray of Slipknot.

I do have to admit, I wasn't always a big Dio fan. As far as Black Sabbath was concerned it was always Ozzy and that's it, to me. It's not that I didn't appreciate what Dio and the other intermittent vocalists contributed, but the Ozzy lineup was always my favorite and there couldn't be another. But about a year ago I got to witness what nobody could have expected to be the last concert Heaven and Hell would ever play in New York City. It was at that show that I truly felt the power and talent behind Dio's voice and stage presence. I was a changed fan as of that night. I got some good photos of the band and was able to check Tony Iommi off the list of guitar greats that I want to photograph. I wasn't given a ticket, so I only got to witness about 3 and a half songs. The last one, "Bible Black" is the one that really changed my opinion of Dio, since then I listen to it constantly. Just a few days before his death there had been rumors that he already died, to which his wife and family responded to as being false. Unfortunately merely a few days later it became truth. The Metal world will miss you Dio, I only wish I had grown to appreciate your voice and style sooner.

I have been a fan of Slipknot since I first heard them back in 1999 at Ozzfest. I really enjoyed hearing the band's sound evolve over the years. They'd come a long way from the arguably sloppy first major label album (there was an album before that, but I think they only had about 5 guys at the time). Being a bass player myself, I always liked Paul's style. Slipknot changed the scene, whether you liked them or not, and that's a powerful feat for any genre of music. At this point it's unclear what will happen to Slipknot. Some bands slink away after a member's death, and others continue on with the "He would have wanted it this way" attitude. As a fan, I support any decision the band makes, as I understand how hard it is to replace somebody when your band's image as a whole is just as important as your sound.

I was lucky enough to have shot Slipknot when Subliminal Verses came out, but unfortunately it was on my old Olympus point and shoot camera (I shot in manual mode, but it just wasn't a great camera) - I have to dig and see if I have any decent shots of Paul, if I find any suitable for posting I will add them here.

I tip my hat to all the great musicians we've lost this year. It's a sad year for music, and actually, it's a sad year in general. So much loss this year all around, it seems people are dropping off left and right all around me and everyone I know. I hope it stops soon, for everyone's sake.

Well, that's all for now, I should be back with more frequent posts, until then, enjoy the photos, and don't forget to come on over to Twitter and follow me there for daily updates and general stupidity.

More soon,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

He Was The Green Man

Wow, 2010 has turned into a lot of death. Between the earthquakes and people in my every day life, I've already heard of more deaths than I can count since January. But there was one I was not prepared for.

(this might get long, just warning you)

Peter Steele of Type O Negative left this world yesterday, at the young age of 48. Everyone has their own beliefs, some believe in an afterlife, others don't. I am of the opinion that none of the fairy tales are the way they tell them, but there also has to be more to existence than a bunch of random equations involving carbon atoms. So yes, I do believe in an afterlife, just probably not the same kind that most people believe in. Regardless, that's not what this is about.

I remember the very first time I saw Type O Negative. I was in 8th grade, and my dad took me to see Ozzfest '97. That was one of the best lineups ever for that festival, but also probably the best lineup ever, period. One of the biggest highlights was Type O Negative. October Rust was out and they were supporting that album. I wish I could say I still remember the performance, but sadly I do not. I do remember that at the time I was so blown away that I went out that same week and picked up Bloody Kisses. I also picked up Cowboys From Hell, because it was also the first time I'd ever heard Pantera. (Should there really be an afterlife, Dimebag just got himself a monster bass player to jam with)

TON changed my life, and I can say without a doubt in my mind, heart, or soul, that had it not been for Peter and the gang, I would be a very different person. In fact, I'm throwing away my inhibitions right now regarding sharing too much personal info, and I'll even say I may not even be alive.

I've struggled with some serious depression from a young age. I hid it well for the most part, but it's still something that still keeps me up at night from time to time. Had it not been for the way I could relate to the music of TON, I honestly don't know if I would have been able to hang in there through it all. I looked up to Pete in so many ways, but most important was his ability to take the most depressing things and make something beautiful out of them. Funny guy, too. He would not only make beautiful music from his own depression, but he would make it funny. I remember summer nights, sitting in my bedroom with my windows open, the lights off, candles lit, blaring TON through my stereo until my mother would knock down my door to tell me it was too late at night to be blasting my music. I'd then retreat to headphones. I remember, distinctly, being the music obsessed kid that I was, standing in front of my mirror for hours with my bass guitar, mimicking the music, pretending to be playing a live show. But not low-key at all. I'd put on black jeans, a tight green t-shirt, tucked in (to give my fat ass a slightly slimmer appearance), sleeves rolled up, hair slicked back.. ok, ya know what, I'm done with these details, I can make an ass out of myself some other time... But yeah, it's all true, I was obsessed. Listen, fat kids often look up to people who have body types they can never have, it's the same chemical reaction that average-weight women have when they see a Victoria's Secret model. There may be nothing wrong with you, but you think there is.

Over the years, as I began to appreciate the deeper aspects of music and art, TON was always there. They had a way to put out masterpieces of music every 4-5 years without ever repeating themselves, while also keeping true to their signature sound, AND, they never got big heads. Talk about a balancing act! Most bands these days don't make it past their sophomore album before they're stale (some can't get through the first half of their debut album!) - but TON knew how to do it. they didn't just write songs, they didn't just get a riff in their head while taking a shit and throw it on an album. They carefully constructed epic soundscapes that wove seamlessly into themselves and created an entire experience. I think the key word, actually, is experience. They weren't just a band, they were an experience. Kind of like the groups of old, like Pink Floyd. They didn't just make music, they made an environment, their live shows had a feel all their own, their album artwork was carefully structured around the theme and vibe of the album. The whole thing would make even DaVinci jealous.

I related to their music in such a way that it helped me get through not only the itty-bitty "disasters" of going through those awkward teen years, but also the genuinely hard times that life would throw at me. Even as of lately, with Peter having gone all born-again Christian, and making it blatantly obvious in his music, I still found ways to admire the man. Probably one of the worst parts about this is that he had finally cleaned up his act and got sober. He gave himself a second chance, but life, or fate, or God, or what-have-you decided his time was up.

This isn't just the death of one man, this is the death of Type O Negative. Some of the last true stick-to-their-guns pioneers of music. They never cared about trends, they didn't care about serving up the flavor you liked best. They made music that made them happy, they recorded songs that they would want to hear, and if they sold a few records, great, if they sold a ton of records, even better. If they sold not one single copy, I'm sure they'd still stand by what they put out. They had an integrity that most bands can't even imagine. Which is another thing I admired about them, their integrity.

When me and my now-fiancee started Paragon Music Magazine, there were 4 people I desperately wanted to eventually land in-person interviews with. They were Dimebag Darrell, Peter Steele, Zakk Wylde, and Ozzy Osbourne. I'm 0:4 on that goal, and only half of them are still alive. Of course, aspirations change over the years and now there is a bigger list of people I'd love to talk with, but those 4 guys, man, those 4 guys I wanted to sit down with, shake their hands, and thank them profusely for all the strength and inspiration they've given me over the years. I may not be me, and I may not be alive, had it not been for what their music means to me.

TON were famous for playing concerts on Halloween. I never thought I'd get to see one, but then back in 2007 they played NJ on Halloween, and I got to go. Not only that, but I got to shoot the concert. I have to be 100% honest, it was great and not-so-great all at once. It was great because it was TON, so that was always great. It was also great because it was Halloween. Yet another great thing was the set list. I could go on and on, who doesn't love a concert featuring one of their favorite bands? The not-so-great stuff was really just that Pete had been hurting that day, and so he didn't put as much into the performance as usual, he was a little off. But still, he was up there, in his usual ironic humor, doing what he did best.

I never even edited those photos until this morning. At the time, I didn't have the most up-to-date editing software, and my camera didn't have the same capabilities as the one I use currently. So I kind of looked at the previews of the shots and pushed them aside, thinking nobody would ever be interested in these.

Last night when I saw the news, I realized those photos were the last ones I ever shot of the band, and the last TON show I'll ever see. So I started pecking through them this morning and posted them on my site. You can see the full gallery here.

I am beyond words right now (though you wouldn't know it) - All that I'm saying here is what I've been saying over and over again in my head, but I don't know if I can offer anything really elegant regarding this. I can only share my own personal experiences and stories of TON.

Everything for me is music. Every little thing I do, revolves, in some way or another, around the only constant I've ever known: music. Without the music that this man made, things could have gone in an entirely different direction.

We don't often think about how short life is (or maybe we do, but I know I don't) - we're usually worried about whatever the next big hurdle will be. We don't stop to think that there might be someone out there that admires us. I mean, most of us are not celebrities, why would anyone look up to us? Why would anyone look at me, and what I do, and say "wow, I wanna be like him" - Hell, most of the time I don't even wanna be me, why would anyone else? But the truth is you never know who you touch, or in what way. Peter Steele, for all his fame and success over the years, just kept doing what he did because he liked it. He knew he had some die-hard fans, but I wonder if he ever really knew, even partially, the impact he had on so many. It often happens, when someone famous dies, that the tears pour out from every corner. You see it a lot with mainstream stars. But for someone so relatively unknown to the mainstream, he had a cult following that surprises even the people that were a part of that very same cult following. So I wonder, did he ever know just how much he meant to all of his fans? Did he know what he did for music on a whole? Would he ever have given up, would he ever have retired from making people laugh, from inspiring people, from putting that comedic edge on all of life's little sucky things? Probably not. That's the part that hurts, probably the most. The fact that he wouldn't have given up on this, that if he lived another 50 years, he would have been entertaining people in some way or form, for the duration of that 50 years. This is just what he did, and he liked doing it.

I could only dream to be half as inspirational to people as Peter was.

Being that I felt so connected to him and his music, a little part of me died along with him. So I'll raise a glass of red wine (grape juice, for you that don't drink) and toast to him tonight. But for right now, I'll be unsuccessfully coping...

By the way, my good friend Mike Grosshandler had recorded a cover version of TON's "Die with Me" a few years ago. You definitely should check it out.

More soon,

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Goodbye, Jim

Yesterday the overlapping worlds of photography and music got some very sad news. Legendary Rock and Roll photographer Jim Marshall died in his sleep.

For anyone who is into Rock music and/or photography, even if you didn't know this man's name, you knew his work. His iconic images included those of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, and many more. I will have to admit that I wasn't as familiar with his work as I wished I could have been, but I did know his most popular images, and I did know they were his, so at least I can say that much.

Jim was a game-changer through his skill and attitude. He really set the bar pretty high for guys like myself, and in fact, he set it impossibly high because nowadays you just cannot get the kind of access that he would demand. He would not shoot a subject unless he could be around them 24/7 and these days you just don't get permission to do that. So many artists these days are overprotective of their image, which is understandable, but also makes it very hard to get more than 5 minutes with them, and forget about actually owning your work. Most music celebrities these days have you fill out paperwork signing over your work to them so they have the legal right to say where and when it can be used. Not everyone does it, but there are quite a few, and of course it's the bigger names that can get away with asking such a thing. But Jim never signed a single release form; he refused to. If he wasn't allowed to shoot his way, then he wouldn't shoot. He had a real "fuck 'em if they don't like it" attitude that probably got him more respect than grief; again, the opposite of how it would work today.

The thing is, Jim was photographing Rock and Roll when it was still relatively new, and although there always was and always will be Rock star egos, Jim knew how to break through and get to the person behind the persona.

His website displays some of his most well-known work. He's most famous for his classic images of Johnny Cash giving the finger to the camera and Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar on stage.

Jim Marshall did what we all hope to do at some point; he lived with his subjects, he followed their every move, he captured more than their image, he captured their essence. The man had an eye that makes most of us green with envy. With Jim it was more about knowing why to get the shot, rather than how to get the shot.

I will give Jim the respect, from one photographer to another, to not link his images directly here. They are displayed on his website and will be there until whoever is in charge decides it's time to take them down.

More soon,