“Don’t be dumb!”  My dad would sling that doozy at me a lot when I was a kid.

I was staring at a jug of coolant being carried around by a lug covered in muscles, moving from one workout to another inside the gym, when my dad’s words of wisdom shot into my head.  An incident had occurred earlier that day and somehow this jug of red workout juice was forcing me to think about it.

Back in 2008 I had been dumb once again, this time in my professional adult life.  A colleague recently reminded me of this when I was trying to connect with him on LinkedIn.  He kindly accepted my advances to connect, but not without reminding me of an embarrassing exchange of words, forever captured in the forum section of a rather popular sports photography website.  Until the other day, I had selectively forgotten about my dumb remarks.

I used to shoot pictures for a large picture agency.  Over the summer of 2008, some of my invoices started to become extremely past due.  The people who handled the invoice process kept dropping the ball.  When I tried to discuss the issue, they would blow me off.  This made me feel of minor importance to them, which is ironic considering how much they rely on their freelance base for content.

At that time, I was fresh off a layoff in an industry that had (and apparently still has) a heavy case of the flu (metaphorically speaking).  A lot of the other newspapers were laying Photographers off as well, thus, I was freaked out about my future.  Money was tight and I needed to pay my bills.

I posted a query on this popular sports photography website, asking if other freelance photographers had received the same treatment from this company.  The feedback started to get heated, in my favor.  I got caught up in the online mayhem and started to type inappropriate comments.  That’s when the momentum changed direction.  Comments like “I smell a bridge burning!” started to appear.  This combined with all kinds of professionals reprimanding me for my choice of words.  My initial point was fair, however, the direction I took it in was a total idiot move.

“Embarrassing” is the word that completely describes how I felt when I re-read this old forum.  I know I burnt a bridge with this company due to my words.  Who knows how many other jobs I missed out on, due to the way I handled myself.

The message of this tale my friends is think about what you type, think about it some more and then one more time for good measure.  Carelessness can live on forever in the Internet, causing embarrassing items to pop up and haunt you.  Think before you hit “send.”

in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, on May 6, 2009.

“I come here every Wednesday for Art, to be Art,” said Jeremy Boatman, also known as “Little Orphan Tranny.”  Like a famous exhibit at a big-time gallery, Jeremy was certainly getting attention that night I followed him around the club scene in San Francisco’s Castro (Gay) District.

The idea for this project appeared in my mind back in 2009, while in graduate school.  Someone showed up to class one day with a picture from the “Sunday’s A Drag Brunch” show.  That’s a drag show that entertains people every Sunday inside the Starlight room located atop the Sir Francis Drake hotel in San Francisco, California.  I am a huge fan of observing human behavior.  So being the curious type that I am, questions started bubbling up.  Simply put, I wanted to document a day in the life of a cross-dresser, complete with the transformation process.  Then create a short video slideshow and set the images to music.  Once I gathered all the content, I spent half-a-second trying to learn video editing software.  Life happened and I shelved the project.  It kept gnawing at me all these years to finish, especially when I would pass by the project folder in my archives.  So, last week I made it my priority to learn Final Cut Pro X and finish the Drag Queen project.

I met Jeremy through a friend at school.  He agreed to let me photograph his process and then follow him around the Castro club scene on a random Wednesday night.  I have to admit, it was a little abrasive to watch a guy morph into a girl.  In addition, there’s the Gay club scene in the Castro District.  Being heterosexual, the whole night was a bit awkward for me.  I felt like that one girl, surrounded by a group of guys at the keg-party back in High School.  I’m going to assume most of you have witnessed this kind of hunt.  Six-to-seven young, puberty-charged teenagers, all trying to jockey into position for a shot at the one chick at the less-than-popular High School keg party.  I’m guessing she felt a bit like a piece of meat.  Allow me to back up; there weren’t a lot of homosexuals where I grew up.  So at that time, I was a little foreign to Gay culture.  That’s likely the reason I was so curious about cross-dressing.  That’s also why I felt like a piece of sexual meat that night photographing Jeremy in the Castro.  There were a couple of times while shooting pictures, I suddenly felt a hand caress my back in a loving way, followed by a dude suddenly appearing before me with an ear-to-ear, flirty grin.  I couldn’t have launched the words “I’m not Gay” fast enough.

Looking back, I laugh at how skittish I was that night.  I was in their club, thus, the guys obviously thought I was Gay.  Everyone was really cool.  Plus, the clubs weren’t really all that different from heterosexual clubs.  I compare the two because while at the clubs that night, there was a pretty thick sexual vibe in the air.  At the time I thought this was a “Gay” thing.  Then after a few years of continuing my quest to maturity and further experience shooting inside other, heterosexual nightclubs, I realized what I observed that night in the Castro wasn’t any different than any other big-city club.  I’ve seen some pretty seedy shit while on assignment photographing hotels night clubs in Las Vegas.

I’m stoked I got to experience the process.  It helps shed light a subculture I normally don’t hang out in.

During the first three weeks of February I was in Europe visiting prospective clients.  The purpose of this trip was to connect with select people who I would like to work with on future editorials and/or advertising campaigns.  This trip was well researched and organized.  I met a lot of really cool people and learned a lot.

It was my first time in Europe, so I decided to document my thoughts during the trip.  I had meetings in London, Hamburg, Paris and Zürich.  I also visited a friend in Brorup, Denmark.  Here are notes of an American’s observations in Europe.

LONDON

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A Cowboy-boot wearing, 92-year-old, rock-n-roll-looking taxi driver with a face like a Catcher’s mitt gave me an unsolicited tour of London after picking me up at Heathrow airport.  That was the most expensive taxi ride of my life.  He played dumb like he didn’t know how to get to where I was staying.  Using my iPhone, I tracked his route versus the most efficient path to my apartment.  Lets just say he took me down a few more one-way streets than necessary.

On my first day, I plugged my cell phone into the power outlet to charge, via a certified U.K. – U.S.A. adapter and blew the fuses in the apartment.  ARGH!!

London is a clean town considering how populated it is and there aren’t many Police officers present, unlike NYC where you see them everywhere!

People MUST walk at a running speed (yet still walking) when anywhere near the London Underground.  I considered stopping in the middle of the herd, then the thought of a lawn mower rifled through my mind. (I would be the blade of grass)

I realized that I struggle to like Modern Art after visiting the Tate Gallery.  I kept hearing myself quietly say “fucking goddamnit! REALLY?”  It just seems like a lot of Intellectual masturbation!

SHIT!  It’s COLD here!  Feels like it should snow; yet water still seems to fall.

People are not very social here. When you walk by Londoners, all eyeballs are down or straight ahead.  Rarely do you get a “hello” or even the opportunity to offer up a “hello.”  Then, when you force them to pay attention to you, in my case it was a semi-aggressive “Hello!” with my face entering their personal space.  All of a sudden Londoners become the most polite people on the planet.  No joke!  It’s all smiles and very polite behavior.

Word to the wise: Ralph Lauren gloves from Nordstrom’s are not worth a wooden nickel!  My gloves are already ripping.  LAME especially when it’s colder than Witch’s tit!

When you tip at a pub, you become a rare and exotic animal on exhibit. All the bartenders start staring, pointing and talking. I found out after the fact that I shouldn’t tip at pubs, only at restaurants.

These people pack on to the train during the morning commute!  I’ll probably begin mutating based on all the DNA attached to me from so much human contact!

Had an epic dish of Pork Belly at the Old Dairy in London.  Learned what Dukkah is, lots of crushed nuts – peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, Etc. – mixed with herbs and spices.  They added it to the salad.  DEEE-LISH-EEE-OSO.  Old Dairy = Cool gastro pub.

HAMBURG

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I’m staying with a really cool family.  They are close friends of my girlfriend and her family, so it makes me feel more at home.

The people in Hamburg get to the point very quick.  There’s ver little unnecessary chitchat.

Hamburg is a very clean city – barely a spot of trash anywhere.  Their bathrooms are so clean you could lick the urinals and come away feeling minty-fresh!

The Hamburgers are very beautiful and natural looking.  Obesity is not a problem there, unlike in America.  Ironically, there seems to be bread shops every 100 yards.  Odd!!  And to top it off, these pastries will make one achieve a 6000-calorie diet, per day, in no time at all.  And it doesn’t suck achieving that either because these little buttery Batards are a symphony for the mouth!

It is WAY TOO cold here!

I almost got beat up today (laughing).  I shot a picture of this young guy and his grey-muzzled dog and he got ANGRY!  He yelled something I didn’t understand (if you’re wondering, I don’t speak German).  I turned around like a dopey American, with a surprised, dopey look on my face.  I think at that point he felt he was dealing with an idiot.  He yelled something like “Fuck off!” waved his arms violently and walked on.  I thought an international incident was about to occur.  I need to get the U.S. Embassy on speed-dial!  I’m pretty sure I would’ve taken his dog.

I have to take a shower sitting down in the tub. No, I’m not lazy! The shower at the home I’m staying at doesn’t have a shower curtain. I believe this is common in Europe. This is not common for me. However, I have to say I really don’t mind it. Lots of activities should be conducted sitting down.

Took a taxi to the train station this morning.  GOOD GOD that was the cleanest and friendliest taxi ride of my life.  The guy loaded my luggage into a new Mercedes-Benz.  It was so clean inside that a surgeon could conduct surgery on the upholstery.  There wasn’t any clunky-looking taxi fare machine commonly found attached to the dashboard.  My taxi fare was broadcasting digitally from the driver’s rear view mirror (the one attached to the wind shield).  Germans, they’re always coming up with cool shit!  Of course my fare would be broadcasting from the Driver’s rear view mirror of a Mercedes-Benz.  Anything else would be stupid!!  The driver was so nice.  He kept telling me about the history behind all the cool-looking old buildings.  I felt like I was on a guided tour through Hamburg.  And unlike in London, this taxi driver was taking the most efficient route.

It was my first time taking a train through Europe.  I was going to Kolding, Denmark from Hamburg, Germany.  Train travel in Europe is a cool way to travel, but shit it’s expensive!  This type of travel is more expensive than flying and it takes longer.  That’s a weird conundrum!  I mean if you’re constantly in a leisurely, Sunday-drive sort of mode, then train travel is great.  But if you got to get someplace, jump on a jet!!

I almost missed my train.  I stood at the train station waiting for train EC 386 to Aarhus, Denmark to show up.  Turned out the train was sitting right in front of my face staring at me.  The train probably thought “what a dumb American!”  But I wouldn’t have known what the train was thinking because I don’t speak German, so my feelings weren’t hurt!

BRORUP, RIBE & AARHUS, DENMARK

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The Danish are very friendly and willing to speak English (when asked).  Like the Hamburgers, when the Danish found out I’m from California it was all smiles and lots of “Super-Cool!” thrown around.

The countryside is really beautiful and really cold.  There are a lot of very old homes littered throughout the countryside.  In fact most of the buildings with people living in them are older than America itself.

I went to a cool old town called Ribe.  It dates back to the tenth century.  All the buildings have the year they were built above the front door, either carved in the wood or with wrought iron-looking numbers.  I want to do that at my brother’s house – “Built in the Year of our Lord 1970”…(laughing)…that sounds so feeble compared to the buildings in Europe.  Oh well, we all have to start somewhere.  Now, I just have to convince my brother this is a good idea!

When I was told the exchange rate of the Danish krone to the U.S. dollar is about 5 to 1, I was stoked!  Ok, all you Finance and Business Gurus turn your thinking caps off for a moment, I’m gonna get dumb!  So where was I?  Ah yes, that sweet exchange rate.  So there I was, all stoked on life thinking (from a simpleton’s point-of-view) that I could buy a bunch of this and a lot of that!  WOOOO-HOOO!  Then I got the bill for one espresso, one cappuccino and a cookie.  84 kroners!!!!  That’s around $16!  Shit, an order like that only costs a little over $5 in the U.S.  Then, I saw a pair of men’s boots for 5000 kroners!  REALLY?  That’s about a $1000.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!!!  I better get Unicorn leather for that amount.  The lesson of this story is that it’s expensive in Denmark!

The family I stayed with has a really cool, Danish-designed home (I know, “brilliant Sean! It is in Denmark and all”).  The refrigerator is built into the wall.  If you walked into the kitchen, you wouldn’t have any idea where it was, then BAM there’s the refrigerator on your right-hand side (unless you were standing facing the bathroom, then it would be on your left-hand side).

There is endless countryside surrounding their house.  BUT DO NOT go tear-assin’ out into that countryside on a motorcycle, bicycle, horse, or on your dad’s shoulders because you can end up in jail, warned Anja (the mom of the family).  Apparently there are a lot of farmer’s fields and other pieces of land protected by the government.  They catch you cruisin’ and campin’ and it’s off with your head – metaphorically-speaking!

PARIS

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The Louvre is outstanding, yet overwhelming.  It’s the Holy Grail of art!  There is so much good stuff inside.  The place is huge. I swear it’s the classic Bugs Bunny gag – enter into a building to find that it’s much larger inside than what it looks like outside.  It’s a labyrinth of hallways and rooms that open up into more hallways and rooms.  It must take two-to-three days to see all that art, unless you are a Champion Speed-Walker and Looker.  However, I doubt that you have these abilities because last I checked Champion Speed-Walkers and Lookers are extremely rare.  I think there’s only a handful in existence. To sum up, you better plan on two-to-three days.

People are chompin’ on a lot of bread around Paris. I see people gnawing on hunks of bread in the morning without anything on it.  No peanut butter and jelly, no Nutella, just going at it raw.  I like a good spread on my bread!

Like in London, the people really pack themselves on to the trains in Paris!  I had to take the train from the airport to my apartment.  The only difference between London and Paris is that they’re more savage about it in Paris.  They push their way on.  In London, they’re a bit more civilized – no room, wait for the next train.

There was a couple of old ladies pushed up into my personal space.  Every time they talked, I kept getting wafts of old-lady-denture/afternoon-wine-cheese breath floating into my nose and mouth.  I could taste it.  I kept thinking about toothpaste.

The apartment I rented had paper-thin walls.  The first night I got there, my neighbors started fucking like rabbits in heat!  This occurred on a regular basis!  Sometimes at 10:30 in the PM.  Sometimes at 2:30 in the AM.  It was audio porn!  They would turn the TV on to drown out the noise.  But those walls are way to thin to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.  I could practically hear what they were thinking!

All the setbacks big tobacco companies incurred in America have been made up in Europe, especially in Paris. Old guys cough up parts of their lungs, chew it and send it back down with delight. Then they follow up with a smoke…after a beer…at 8:30 in the AM!  This must be the land of tough guys!  The Marlboro Man would be proud…if he were alive…but he died of lung cancer.  Can you guess from what??

There’s finger-licking food on every corner and people playing harps with beautiful views of the city.  The way they speak is with such grace; even the drunk guy on the train spewing nonsense made me a believer in his cause.

ZURICH

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Cobblestone streets that serpentine back as far as the eyeballs can see. Cool-looking buildings older than America.  Beautiful people.  Overpriced coffee and chocolate.  Super clean streets and bathrooms.  The nicest taxi drivers.  Freezing cold.  Blah, blah, blah…seems like I’ve done this before.  Oh ya, in Hamburg! Makes sense considering that the majority of people here are German (or so it seems).

There are a lot of Starbucks in Zürich. I think I counted four in one-quarter of a square mile. And they’re busy!  That guy who started Starbucks must have made a deal with the Devil because this company is crushing it in America and Europe (and probably other less important lands too).

NOTE TO LESS IMPORTANT LANDS: I was joking about you being less important. Don’t get your knickers all twisted!

Oi, I need to get back to California. I’m starting to sound like a douch-ee tourist, spewing out hybrid-speak from every country I’ve visited.  That’s it! I’ve had enough Euro, time for some beach culture and Dea.

“You have a hair growing out of your forehead,” Dea says to me as Los Angeles’ Fabulous and Glamorous seem to glide by in a Gumby skate-walk-like movement.  “It’s much lower than your hairline,” she goes on to tell me.  I guess some rogue hair sprouted on my forehead, half an inch lower than my hairline.  “Can you pull it out?” I ask with panic in my voice, as I start to imagine myself slipping into a Neanderthal shape.  “Got it!”  Thank God for girlfriends.  I didn’t come here for a robust discourse about my hairy forehead.  I’ll leave that discussion for my High School reunion.  I came here to talk about pricing Photography for Art Shows.

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A couple of Sunday’s ago I exhibited some of my framed prints at an annual underground indie art show in Los Angeles.  A couple thousand people came out to look at a select group of creativity.  In addition to Photography, there were Paintings, Illustrations, Sculptures, Jewelry, Hair and Makeup artistry, Fashion shows and live music.  There was a lot thrown at public that night.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time.  I received a lot of compliments and some questions about the price of my art.

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As I walked around, admiring everyone else’s art, I started to realize that my framed prints were priced way too high – for that show.  People were selling paintings, almost the same size as my prints, for under $100.  Let’s just say that I wasn’t even close to that number.  I started to wonder if I should lower the cost of my art.  Then I remembered walking through the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica, California.  The least expensive picture in there was a 4”x6” black and white print, with white matting around it (no frame), costing more than $800.  There was also a 50”x50” framed piece going for $50,000.  The Photographer wasn’t anyone ultra famous.  I asked the front desk attendant how many 50”x50” pieces they’ve sold.  “We’ve sold two so far,” he tells me with a straight face.  I try to hide my shock and awe.  “We sell more than people think!”

To start, I am not well versed on the topic of pricing Art.  However, I do understand how to figure out my raw materials cost.  This is the starting point I use to price my art.  Regarding my framed prints at the show, I wasn’t selling them anywhere near $50,000.  However, I started to wonder if I should price my art based on the venue of a show.  If I ever have the opportunity to grace the walls of Peter Fetterman’s gallery, would I charge more than what I was asking at the indie art show?  My Economics degree winces at that thought because that seems so inconsistent.  To artificially inflate or deflate a price based on venue seems like an inaccurate way to conduct business, especially if the demand for my artwork stays the same.  Thus, inflating or deflating prices should be based on the demand for work, not the venue.

Thoughts?

“Dude, we have the perfect model for your shoot,” said Miles (one of the barbers at Syndicate).  “She’s got a chin strap!”  A confused look must have washed over my face because Miles went on to explain.  “She’s got a Goatee!”

“Ya, and Miles made out with her when he was drunk,” yelled one of the other barbers.  They all started to laugh.

The cast for the Syndicate shoot was a surly bunch.  Chin Strap and Rug, nicknamed that because of his super hairy torso, were pulled in off the street.  (There is question as to where they permanently live.)  My assistants and stylists pulled the rest of the guys in from the bar next door.  I was dealing with a band of murderers, thieves and Punks.  However, a more perfect selection of models couldn’t have been picked for the concept of the project.

Ok, that last sentence is probably a lie.  No one is a murderer…at least I don’t think so!

Syndicate is a total guy’s joint, in the most heterosexual sort of way.  Which is ironic considering that the shop sits in Long Beach’s Gay district.  All the barbers have an abundance of tattoos displayed (face included).  The shop’s walls are riddled with framed Tattoo art and band posters, along with unused skateboard decks, a vintage motorcycle and a deer’s head.  Playboys, Rolling Stones and other such magazines are offered up as reading material.  The vintage furniture is ripped and tattered, yet comfortable.  The radio blasts a healthy dose of obscure Punk Rock.  It’s as if the shop itself is permanently shooting a giant middle finger up at the world.

Syndicat Mood Board

The Creative Process

I wanted to capture this vibe for the project.  To add, I told my stylists to give the girls a burlesque theme, while trying to keep it fashionable.  The girls did a great job displaying their deviant personalities.  The mood board above illustrates the inspiration for the project.

MERV:  “I’m gonna light it!”

ROBERT:  “Go ahead.”

20 seconds later we all watched the bottle rocket arc over towards the large, white van sitting across the street.

ROBERT:  “Oh fuck!”

This was no ordinary bottle rocket.  This sucker packed a quarter of a stick of Dynamite…allegedly according to Merv’s older brother.  It was called the Earthquake.  Well, the Earthquake was about to blow up my neighbor’s van.  Our poorly planned ceremony, which commemorated the completion of our skateboard ramp, turned to shit in a matter of seconds.  That was over 20 years ago in front of my dad’s house.

When my dad passed away in March (2012), Robert and his family came to the wake.  We hadn’t seen much of each other since our days of bottle rockets and skateboard ramps.  While at the wake, Robert and his dad, Gil, commented that they really dug the “Jack” series.  (I hung framed prints from the Jack series at the wake.)  Robert approached me a couple of months later asking me to create something similar for his dad.  Thus the Gill project was born.

An important theme I wanted my stylists to execute for the “Gil” project was pretty much anything Mexican / Spanish.  Robert’s family comes from both Spain and Mexico.  I told Shifteh, my wardrobe stylist, to think about patterns, textures and colors that represent Spain and Mexico.  The same direction was given to Bethany, my hair and makeup stylist.  Another on-going element in the “Gil” project is Jonah, Gil’s four year-old Grandson.  Jonah is practically attached to Gil’s hip.  He’s always helping Gil with the household chores.  That reminded me of Mini Me from the Austin Powers movies.

Gil Project Mood Board

The pool shot is based on a conversation I had with Gil’s wife Carol.  Apparently Gil compulsively cleans their pool all the time.  He’s retired, so I guess he needs to stay busy.  The shot is also based on an idea I had regarding Robert and the pack of women that follow him around town.  I had this thought that Gil lived vicariously through Robert’s deviant lifestyle, always suggesting to Robert that if he and “his friends” wanted to go swimming, his pool was clean and available. (DISCLAIMER:  This is just my over-active brain at work.  Robert is in a relationship with a great girl.)

The car shot is paying homage to Gil’s love of Hot Rods.  He has always rebuilt old cars into Hot Rods for as long as I’ve known Robert.  The girl is all revved up and hot for the blue beauty.

The kiss image is based on Gil likely bearing witness to the awkward end of dozens of dates his two daughters went on when they were younger.

The Christmas Light image is loosely based on a story I heard about Gil almost hanging himself.  He tried to load the hood of his Hot Rod up into the rafters of his house.  Somehow, while trying to do all this, he caught his chin on a wood beam, slipped off the ladder and momentarily hung himself without any support.  His wife walked into their garage to find Gil hanging by his chin.  Gil managed to get himself down and walked away with a bruise.  I thought the story was funny and the perfect metaphor for all men and our often shitty decision-making, based on pride and ego.

The Hot Rod and motorcycle image was Gil’s idea.  He wanted a picture of a sexy lady working on his Hot Rod.  Why not throw two ladies into the mix?!

PS:  The van never blew up 20 years ago.  However, the cops did show up and my dad dealt with them in a perfect Jack DuFrene-sort-of-way.  You can ask me about that another time.

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