Please introduce yourself and tell us where you are from, and how you would describe yourself.
I’ve been known to call myself a most outgoing hermit. Maybe a thought shared by other artists, I don’t know? I do love people and being around others, but I also cherish my quiet time to reflect and simply observe the world around me. I do stay informed with news and current culture and events, but am the kind of person who likes to talk first-hand in working to know what is real – the under the skin feelings, and in the heart stuff, that drives us as individuals. So yea, I like to listen as much as I like to talk and create.
Perhaps it’s an outcome of an adolescence where I never really fit into any one group. I bounced from clique to clique in wanting to find myself (I guess, a normal thing for many teens). Or maybe it was the carry forward from a 20s when I was in demand and labeled a wiz-kid artist, my eye for fashion and special effects feeding my ego in my quest for approval. Or could it be the subconscious of a somewhat emotionally suppressed upbringing? Not that there wasn’t affection or that I faced any abuse in my childhood. I had parents who took good care of me, even to the point of spoiling and supporting me in just about everything (yep, even the police raided high school parties and all). But with all dignity recognized to my parents and sisters, deep emotional or spiritual conversations where a rarity in the home of my childhood. And not putting you in the shoes of a therapist, and for the integrity of sharing what makes this creative mind tick, something inside me has pushed me to share this in defining my origins of why I am so fascinated to better understand the dynamics of human connection, and I’m guessing the reason why I got into arts in the first place.
You are an established photographer in the fashion industry and entertainment world in LA, where and when did you start your journey?
I’m the youngest child with two older sisters, one 8 years, and the other 11 years older. There was always a distance between us because of the age gap. Plus, they both left home by the time I was 13, so, in a way, I spent a big part of development years kind of like an only child in a British household (sarcasm, humor, table manners and all). My father was a dreamer and survivor, who as did my mother, lived through the blitz and mid-century anti-Semitism. Their example to me was a blend of move forward care taking, stiff upper lip thinking, and keep-it-quite intimacy. So I learned early to dream quietly, to push through whatever was in front of me, and to be independent. I know… a strange way to answer a question of how I got into fashion and entertainment, but relevant for defining what I do, how I live, what I see, and why I create.
So per that fashion thing? I don’t really consider myself a fashion photographer… probably more of a portraitist, beauty, and observational photographer (and I’m not describing myself as a fine artist for a reason. I’ll get to that in a minute). To start, I’ve always been driven by emotion, spiritual connection, and, for better or for worse, the feelings I absorb from others. Scary at its worst; a rush beyond all rushes at its best. So to talk about my journey is to expose both the blessings and phantoms that drive me in all that I do. If you had to define me in a simple phrase, you could describe me as an openhearted wall dropper– more interested in who a person is and how we relate, rather than what they do or how deep their resume is. It’s weird; I even look at inanimate objects with the same perspective.
Regarding that “I’m not a fine artist” statement, well, it just feels too constrained and limiting. A lesson I’ve learned throughout my life and career, that being, every time I try to categorize myself, I lose myself. And the result, my work becomes forced, and my imagination becomes replaced by looking at category rather than into my heart, or better yet, toward the heart of others. Most likely, (that besides my subsiding hairline); is the stuff that keeps me young and breathing. Never wanting to stop my quest for the unexpected discoveries of life and intimacy in trusting my relationship with others. An outlook that prompts me to reach into my fears and comforts to face, and own, what I intake, see and feel in every chapter of my evolution. The stuff that comes at me becoming the literal source material I harness for all that I do, and in how I communicate with those I work with.
So here’s the strange artistic dilemma, the conflict that never fails me to see and feel the world around me, and better yet, trust and own emotions within myself. As I see it, the greatest key to vulnerability with others, as well as the hangman’s noose I’m always muscling through. It’s not an easy thing to be in the moment in expressing what’s in my heart. I’ve had some pretty amazing moments with people, as well as some painfully embarrassing slip-ups. But I accept this life view with open arms, for I believe that living on the edge of open-heartedness, is where branches to honestly create can grow to their fullest. Best I can explain it. All in all, it just happens, but as I sit here thinking about it, I guess it’s all about emotional integrity (not genius, concept, bravado, or over-production), and with this acceptance, my feeling is, the purest place for art and expression to happen has to come from trusting ourselves. Like I said, not so easy a thing to do, but a discipline I am now just starting to fully realize and own. And per that journey thing, I’m not sure if it ever started for me, or will even end anywhere in the near future. It’s more like a soulful thing that is simply part of me from the inception of who I am. And in that, even when life sucks, I still feel purpose in what I see, do and create. So, I’ll simply say this, The journey is truly the present. I know, sometimes I sound like such a guru!
How do you like to work with models and other creative minds?
Most importantly, I do my best to divorce myself of all preconceptions and predictions. To realize that everyone I work with, just like I do, brings to the table more than what is first viewed on the outside; regardless of what may seem apparent. I like to be organic, spontaneous, and live by the mantra of Less-is-More. Especially when it comes to photographing a person. I think we all have hidden children dwelling within our hearts, and each of us are carrying so many joys and pains that we are dealing with; and, to be able to tap into the intimacy of a quiet moment with another person, is something that I am at a loss to fully explain. I’ve had a lot of people open up to me in the most humbling ways. So in honor of them, I feel it my responsibility to do the same.
Photography is a very powerful drug. I think that’s why it gets abused in so many ways– the “can you drop your top a little bit” stuff that really infuriates me. My role, as I see it, is to build trust and protect all those in front of my lens, in my life, or under my pen. And if I broke that rule, I know I would not sleep at night, and the integrity of my work would cease. For me, it’s all about sincerity, empathy, and honor in viewing others. Models, Creative minds, the guy at the supermarket who screamed at me, whoever; and in that, is the place I find the deepest creativity, peace to openly interact, and ability to be in the moment.
Would you please describe for us the different seasons/phases you have been involved in with your photography? Where do you see the evolution of photography progressing towards?
Boy, you do ask the probing questions. I’m going to take a second to look at this from an external perspective. Promise I’ll get back to the direct answer, just feels a little less self-serving, and maybe a better way to get to the truest answer. I get the opportunity to talk to a lot of artists, students, and creators, in that, 35 plus years of countless conversations and dealing with a vast set of perspectives, lifestyles, and personalities. The full range of what can be expected within the artistic community. From the kind and fulfilled to the lost, depressed, angry, and disenchanted. So when I share my perspectives, know that they are a mix of my own personal observations of other artists grounded by my quest to find my place as a human and creator. I’ve been rich and in demand, I’ve also been homeless and forgotten. Weathered through a lifetime of swinging doors in navigating my own set of personal, economic, social, political, cultural, and professional challenges. Each phase affecting me in all areas of who I am, how I feel about myself, and my dreams of where I am going. Being a creator is a fragile thing, we live in an A plus B never equals C, or anywhere near the same outcome vocation. Add that to the pressures put on us by our own fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams, the opinions and prejudices put on us by the critiques and attitudes of others, and it becomes easy to find ourselves wandering in the weeds. Yep, I’m one of those philosophical guys. The talker and presenter, but still, the social hermit I trust to keep me centered. But here is the silver lining of it all. A consideration brought to my attention by a stranger I once photographed and interviewed on a Los Angeles street. A clinical psychologist, she asked, “how much of what you do you consider therapy?” I’ll leave it at that. If you are truly a creator, you know exactly what I’m saying. So there it is, Again, back to my earlier thoughts regarding the journey. For me, the season is never-ending, and in looking back, all the feelings and knowledge of what I’ve personally been through are all equal subtexts to all that I create now. Per the future, well, that’s an organic thing that only time will prove what will come to be.
You are currently expanding your art to the new horizons of fine art. Would you please tell us more about this expansion?
First, thank you for calling my work art. Some don’t view the photographic process quite that way. And please know how thankful I am for all the commercial projects I have been, and continue to be, commissioned to produce. Also, gratitude to the creative minds, and friendships, who have trusted me with their vision, reputation, and livelihood. But the rawness and vulnerability to create wholly personal works is a truly remarkable therapy that is beyond assignment, storyboard, or layout. And now pushing into my 50s I have so much emotional history to pull from. A gift and responsibility to care for after having spent a lifetime honing the creative skillset I’ve evolved. So in this opportunity of fine art, I have walked into a rebirth of sorts. A release to put my rubber to the road in listening away from all expectations; the ones of my own making, and those programmed into my head based on the compliments and rejections that come my way. And being a glutton for self-growth and a good old emotional shake-up, expanding into the world of fine art is a natural progression for me. I’ve dabbled with it over time, but never with an honest effort. But something about now feels so not forced. And to be the creator I’m claiming to be, to ignore the promptings of my deeper self would be a sin against my evolution. It’s an exposed and financially risky place to be. Yet in the challenge, I have to admit this is probably the purest and most honest heart-set I’ve felt in a long time, and in looking back, I can now clearly see, why I had to wait until this point in my life to start this journey toward what I hope will be a valuable and meaningful chapter.
You are creating a new series of work, called HEAL. Can you share with us what inspired this new series of work and what you hope to accomplish with your message to the world?
I’ve always been inspired by music, something I can see when I relax my mind and close my eyes. I know, sounds so cliché. But it’s a real thing for me, and in opening up in this interview, a part of my psyche I feel compelled to expose. It’s a bizarre thing that happens in my head, it’s not like feeling the rhythm, beat, or cadence of a musical piece, it’s a visual experience. At its fullest leaving me dream like control to create, view, and move dimensional pictures in my head. And per the music itself, I’ve even awoken at night with fully composed symphonic orchestrations building in my head, but without the musical skills, they are trapped there. So with this reveal, can I put the question so many ask on the table? If you could do it again, what would you do? For me, knowing what I know now, I might have studied musical composition. Perhaps I’d be a composer or conductor now. But, no regrets here, love where I am and what I do. OK, onward to “HEAL.”
It started very vicariously as being a father to an emerging and very disciplined ballet dancer; I’ve been graced to meet some amazing artists. And in this experience, I’ve fallen in love with the movement, emotional depth, physicality and musicality of traditional and contemporary ballet. A trust that is allowing me to connect my emotional self and musicality in a profoundly sensory, emotional, and spiritual way, and the deeper I push into letting go to the project, the more organic and personal the project is becoming.
HEAL is a double meaning title, one part reference to the physicality of dance and reference to foot position, but more passionately, the emotional implications of the title. For it is, that in all of us are hidden, unexpressed or dreamed for feelings, and yes, even reason for healing. And who better to emote the fullest depth of human emotion and relationship than a dancer, who in a most touching way, can own and emote a feeling from head to toe. My hope is, that as more-and-more take the time to look into the frozen frames of the Heal photos, that they may too reflect on what they see in that photo. Perhaps better yet, to relate to what they feel from that photo, and from there, to reflect on how they treat themselves as well as those around them. As the title suggests: to HEAL whatever is in need of forgiveness, to accept the reality we are all dealing with a unique set of inner joys and pains, and to be released to our own calmness by knowing that not one of us is alone in dealing with our feelings and relationships.
And as per what the most amazing choreographer, dancer, and my good friend, Shamika Jones suggested as she helped me conceive the project, “There is grace in that.”
What do you like about photography?
A still frame, if not overly manipulated, is about as honest as artwork can become, especially in regard to capturing a human portrait. There is no cover-up for misplaced technique. No secondary chance to replay a moment. And in the telling of emotion and form, there is nothing like the pureness of an honestly captured photograph, and the larger that photograph is reproduced, the deeper it can be examined. The harder it is to make it lie. But that’s just the final destination. What’s most captivating is the process of making that photo. Now, I’ve directed film, produced, and photographed large commercial productions. Told a ton of stories through both still and moving picture. Processes and adrenaline rushes for sure, but again, to create a meaningful still frame is an experience like no other. For me, as you might presume from what I’ve shared so far, the emotional and spiritual part of photography is the drive for why I create. The self-growth and listening to others all a big part of why I make pictures, and admittedly, a selfish therapy. An important corner stone to the person I am, the human I want to be, and my link to a medium that has, and continues to, guide me to openly and deeply look at the world and people around me.
Who is your audience for your photography?
OK, here you go, and perhaps a welcome surprise. A short answer, I don’t know. Like I’ve framed, I’m a work in progress.
Black and white photography vs color photography. Do you have a preference? And if so, which one and why? And what does the choice depend upon?
Without a doubt, for portraiture, Black and White all the way. It does not lie and if done right, captures the purest of emotion and expression. I do like color for drama, and for some of the still life work I’m doing. A little saturated color does a lot to deepen the depth and texture and history of an object (Yes, inanimate things have a connection to someone too. Hey, I can say that. After all, I’m a weirdo artist).
You must be thinking of some future projects. Could you describe them to us? Will these projects involve more fine art photography?
I’m one of those people who has a mind that never stops moving. The guy who writes into the early morning hours, or wakes up at 2 am to take a photo of a plastic gas can. Yes, the dude who can drive his family nuts with what if’s, and did you see that’s. Give me a Styrofoam cup, and I’ll turn it at different angles, look at it in different light, and then make a claim that the cup has a unique history and story to tell. I know, super nutty, huh? But that’s just me. Take it or leave it, and luckily enough for me, I have friends and a family that let me live in this world that I see. Per those future projects, whatever they look like, my guess is, most likely they will be centered around opening conversations which get us all to consider what might be in the hearts and minds of one another, or ideas that push us to examine ourselves, or at it’s least, to make some sort of statement per the impact we as humans have upon each other as well as the world we share. Stuff like my “Dreams” project, where I film people telling about the dreams they have in their sleep, or the photographs of “Rubbish” and “In•an•i•mate åbjekts” that tell of our human footprint and our impact on the planet. Even the documentaries I’m directing and producing focus on what is, “Under The Hood” in each of us.
You host a podcast called Sidewalk Ghosts. What is it about?
Got to say, I love you tons for asking about Sidewalk Ghosts. It’s more than a podcast, it is an effort of purpose that has reshaped my life for the better. And my most sincere hope is that it will do the same for all who the project touches. Bottom line, in 2011 I challenged myself, regardless of where I was, or how I felt, to interview and photograph a stranger every day for 365 consecutive days. Not one day missed as I blogged an essay and the photographs for the world to read and see. Three months in it caught fire as WordPress featured it as one of the top ten daily blogs to follow, and as comments and subscribers from around the globe flowed in, I fell in love with the world. Now, almost a decade later, 100s more interviews behind me, a book written, a non-profit formed, a speaking outreach and podcast growing, Sidewalk Ghosts has become a mission I hope will touch the hearts and minds of many. A community-forming advocacy based on three fundamental principles:
1, “There is an extraordinary story living within each of us.”
2, “If we seek to truly see each other and grow our connections from a place of sincerity, empathy, and acknowledgment of others; what we create, and the impact we leave, will have long-lasting reach and effect.”
3, “Every moment of every day… your individual impact truly does matter to someone else in the world.”
Now as I approach the 10th anniversary of this journey, I find myself grounded as an ambassador to what I feel a very timely and much needed message. One that, as an artist and human, has helped me to be more committed to recognizing what I have to contribute through and beyond my medium. The payoff (if I have to look for one), my life and work are becoming even more balanced and purpose-based. An awakening I have to consider when I think about just how far the works I am leaving behind will reach (ie, fine art, film works, books, articles, posts, speaking, podcasts, and outreach).
Leaving behind? I know, sounds morbid and maybe a bit self-aggrandizing. But in trusting you, here is my motivation. I’m not on a quest for fame or on a downward spiral toward my deathbed. I’ve got a lot of good years to go and am in my creative prime. So to the world, I pledge, “my friends, you’ll see no razor to my ear.” But here is the thing I wish to share with my artistic allies. A notion I wished I grabbed onto in my 20’s (but even then, I was doing all I knew with what I knew). And not standing on the guru’s soapbox, I’m humbling myself to be as vulnerable as I can in this written interview. So, I stand exposed (OK, I hear a snicker from the back of the room in that statement). On a course to do all I can to be true to the artistic, healed, and damaged voice within myself. My integrity on the line as I set an example to my family, and the sobering mirror to do my best to stand with credibility in all that I do and say; and knowing there are only two unavoidable obstacles, those being, taxes, and death, that when I meet my maker, I wish to be as close as I can to debt-free. And in that, to know, that I did my best to honor the gifts of art that I was given; and if lucky enough, to know I have forwarded the same to you. Pass it on at www.sidewalkghosts.com