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I just stormed into my bedroom in a huff. I didn’t exactly slam the door, but closed it demonstrably, and then turned the lock.
Obvious message: Do Not Disturb.
From whom was I fleeing? My beautiful family, of course. We’re well into Summer, by now, and the kids have been out of school for seven weeks. Which means we’ve all been together, seven days a week, since then.
As I suspect you’ve surmised by now, I love my family more than anything. My two children, 7.5 and nearly 3, are fantastic human beings. Sugar and spice we call them. I could not love them more.
But everyone needs some space to think, much less write book reviews, and I’ve had little of either for quite some time now. It’s mostly a pleasure and a privilege, to spend so much quality time together, but there is an element of claustrophobia as well.
I’m a Jewish guy from a good background with a very solid education behind me. Despite the facial hair, and perhaps because of the lack of tattoos, I know I look the part of a doting middle-class father.
When people see me holding my daughter’s hand in the supermarket, they smile. When people see me cheering at my son’s soccer game, they nod in approval. When people see me walking down the street, alone, they don’t recoil in fear.
It’s a freedom that so many people in the United States lack. The ability to be out in public space, and not seem a Menace to Society. I don’t know what it is like to be African-American, or Latino, and I clearly never will.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with the impact of racism on the lives of men of color. Racism is an inescapable conversation in this nation at present, for good reason. #BlackLivesMatter
It’s quite the conundrum. The stories are everywhere, and impossible to avoid. And yet the experience of living in someone else’s skin- skin that doesn’t look the same color as mine- is something I will never know.
Thankfully, I just finished looking at Zun Lee’s book, “Father Figure,” recently published by Ceiba, and it’s been the catalyst of the musings above. Given how cleanly this production shows us something we haven’t really seen, I’m sure you’ll be interested in the photos below.
This is one of those books that seems to support all the advice I’ve tried to give out here of late. If you want to make something original, and perhaps important, you’ve got to start from your own lived experience. It has to be personal. And the more honest, the better.
Apparently, Zun Lee was raised in Germany, with an abusive father. He took comfort in the home of American GI’s stationed there, in particular with a changing roster of African-American families. They offered him the support and nurturing he lacked, and craved.
Fast forward many years, and Mr. Lee learned that his biological father was in fact an African-American, (who deserted his mother,) as opposed to the man who actually raised him. Quite the Mind-Fuck, I’m sure. It troubled him to feel like one more statistic with an absent Dad. One more piece of kindling on the conflagration of stereotype.
So he decided to use his photographic practice to learn more; to see for himself what “proper” loving African-American fathers looked like. To search out the type of environment he wished he’d had, and in the process, provide ample evidence that what we think we know is far from the complete story.
I like these pictures. They’re really well-made, but surprisingly, they didn’t touch my emotional core. My eyes never teared, and my breath never left my chest for long periods of time. I’m not sure why that is?
Could it be that I’m callous? Or that my lack of understanding for what these men’s lives are really like clouded my heartstrings? I don’t know, but I always like to check in and see what I’m feeling and why.
The book contains some excellent writing, in particular Mr. Lee’s opening essay, which overshadowed the brief piece by Teju Cole that preceded it. If you want to learn how to share your secrets with others, reading his story will give you a boost.
But there are also interview blurbs spread throughout, on pages opposite the photographs. Each was poignant, giving solid parenting advice that resonated deeply with my own acquired knowledge. It was Universal, I felt, and in a way undercut the notion that races are inherently and irrevocably different.
Even though we are, to a degree. I can wear a hoodie without being shot.
I’m not surprised these pictures are popular, nor that they’ve gotten support from major African-American photographers, and photojournalistic power-brokers. (Including my editors at the NYT, apparently.) This is the type of messaging that people are desperate to see, because it’s real, and it’s a giant, bony thumb in the eyes of the Fox News assholes who demonize men like this, 24/7.
This is an excellent book of solid photographs, showing us something we really ought to see. As such, I’m happy to highlight it, and would not be surprised if many of you wanted to buy it. The more people who see these pictures, the better.
To tie it back to this little run of reviews, in which I’m lecturing a tad more than normal, I’d also suggest that it’s an inspirational book. (Beyond the way you might think.) Most photographers don’t have the courage to use their art process to dig deep into their gaping wounds. It’s painful, and difficult.
But as the great Roger Ballen told my students this past Spring, the darkness is where the very best material resides.
Bottom Line: Excellent book examining the lives of loving, African-American fatherhood
As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at http://yodelist.wordpress.com. Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.
Today’s featured photographer is: Trevor Reid
How long have you been shooting?
I have been shooting for 5 years.
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
It depends on what skills we are talking about. I had a great photo teacher in high school and then attended RIT, both of which provided a solid conceptual and technical foundation. My assisting experience in New York City really taught me everything from large-scale production and lighting to talent management. I picked up business, marketing and personal skills on my own and of course learned a lot shooting for myself. I also had the opportunity to shoot side by side with one of my mentors for a few years, he taught me more than words can describe. You never stop learning, and there is so much to be learned from different people at different times.
With this particular project, what was your inspiration to shoot it?
This was the third time I went down to shoot spring training in Scottsdale, AZ and I had previously noticed that most players and clubs are very generous with their time and access. Along with the desire to shoot something unique, I wanted to give the players something tangible after they gave me their time or I stole a moment. Polaroid just popped into my head and I always wanted to shoot with an SX-70. Every time I photographed a player for this series, I would shoot two frames and give them one to keep.
How many years have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
Years?! Some things take time, others come together quickly. This one came together quickly. I was down in Scottsdale for three weeks and shot almost every day. By the end of the project I had around 350 Polaroids to myself for an edit. In today’s digital age, it seems like so few…but I think so much more when shooting film…and even more when shooting Polaroid. I have no doubt that I will continue to shoot Polaroid over the next several years and this project will continue to grow.
I have another personal project, USA Handmade that has been in the works for two and half years now. There’s a glimpse up online, and I’m excited for the project to continually evolve.
How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it is working?
Honestly, I don’t really think about if its working on not. It’s a personal project, ultimately it needs to resonate with the person who created it, if it does, then it’s working.
Since shooting for your portfolio is different from personal work, how do you feel when the work is different?
It feels great! When I do my personal work I’m not thinking about meeting my clients needs or looking to fill a gap in my book. I’m simply doing what I love to do in its purest form, taking pictures and trying to make beautiful images.
If so, has the work ever gone viral and possibly with great press?
Nope, I need to do a better job of getting it out there; it’s also impossible to know what will go viral when or where.
Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues such as Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook?
Frequently! It’s a great way to get unpublished work out there for the world to see.
Have you printed your personal projects for your marketing to reach potential clients?
I have some special plans for printing this project, and USA Handmade.
Trevor received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) where he focused primarily on advertising photography and production. Trevor has been working in New York City and Boston for several years where he has established relationships with HBO, ESPN The Magazine, Titleist Golf, Men’s Health, and Boston Magazine, amongst other editorial and advertising clients. His work can be seen in several publications and advertisements nationwide.
The Polaroid project is an ongoing personal project by photographer Trevor Reid conceptualized to give back to the people who help create the moments Trevor captures. Each time Trevor photographs a person with his Polaroid SX-70 he shoots two Polaroids and gives one away to his subject. “In some ways, I feel guilty about capturing moments and feel the need to immediately give back. This project provides a way for me to do that.”
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be driven by a brand and not specialty. Follow her on twitter at SuzanneSease.
There are photographers who can juggle these two impulses, but most fail. Better to either take the path of making money or making art. In my case, I didn’t plan on making a living with my art. I had a job at an art museum and figured that would be my future, but kept doing my art as a separate activity. I’m glad I kept it separate. Had I tried to become a commercial photographer, I couldn’t have kept my focus.
How often to you work for Popular Mechanics? Was this your first assignment for them?
This was my first assignment for Popular Mechanics, I have done another since then which is great. The whole way the shoot came about was quite crazy when I think about it. Allyson Torrisi called me the day of the shoot pretty much, asked if I was available and asked if I would be interested in shooting it. I immediately said yes as I had been eager to shoot for them. I was actually shooting another assignment when she got in touch with me so I immediately wrapped up that first shoot, went home only to pack another bag, upload my memory cards and book a hotel room since there was a driving ban in effect starting that evening. All of this happened in a matter of a few hours, I can’t thank Allyson enough for putting that trust into me arranging for all of that happen and shooting the assignment as it was my first time being thrown into that kind of situation.
Are driving bans common in Boston around that time of year? And is that a regular line item on your checklist: Can I drive?
Driving bans, absolutely. Especially when there are anticipated snow storms like the ones we had this year. Boston has such small and windy roads that it makes it almost impossible to plow and have things run smoothly at the same time. It really becomes a mess. Luckily though, the city makes good calls during those times as the whole place is running back to normal in a day or so after just getting 3 feet of snow. As for driving, no, not at all. I usually carry 3 or 4 bags when I go on a shoot so a car is good to have and we do have public transportation but fortunately, I only needed one bag for this assignment.
What are your best tips for shooting in freezing conditions?
Hand warmers for your batteries and snow pants paired with good boots. I was constantly in knee deep snow trying to keep up with Jim since he’s a pretty active weatherman. He would randomly turn around while he was on set and go jump in the snow, snow show and make snow angels, I would then follow – I couldn’t have done that if I wasn’t wearing snow pants and boots. I also brought multiples of gloves to swap out, when one pair got wet, I would let them dry in the news truck and rotate them throughout the day.
Was it hard to light Jim for the portrait and did you use any of their lighting ( when he was broadcasting the news… )
At times it was but you make do with what you have and think on your feet about how to apply the supplied light to the picture you’re trying to make. This type of shoot lent itself to a faster paced type of shooting so I had a flash on a bracket the whole but I also utilized the lights the camera crews use which were great and a lot of fun as well. Since the shoot started at 3am, I got to see the light temperature change dramatically and was able to bounce off of that throughout the day. Other times, I would ask Jim to move in a different spot or shift him to the other side and so on and so forth. For the most part, he was in front of the TV-camera being lit by their lights or in the truck tweeting his heart out.
How did you protect your gear and try and keep your fingers warm? I’d imagine adjusting cameras is hard if you have gloves on.
The night prior after checking into the hotel, I went down to a store and bought a bunch of plastic bags and rubber bands. I kept those items in my jacket along with some gaffers tape and would cut holes in the bags and tape/use the rubber bands to make seals around specific parts of the camera. I don’t have one of those fancy camera covers so it was super lo-fi but it worked. The thing I realized also was that after a certain temperature, the snow would just bounce off the front of my lens, once it started warming up – that was when things started to get wet and cause problems. Fortunately, since the news casting truck was only a few yards from where Jim was reporting from, I was able to retreat and dry off, warm up, have a snack and put a new bag on the camera if I needed to. I also used those gloves with the detachable fingers, but again, I only had a few hours to really prepare so I took out all the winter gear I had and brought it with me.
Why was the call time 3 am? and was it clear you’d be shooting for 12 hrs?
Jim and his crew were traveling to boston the day that I got the call about the assignment and since the storm was scheduled to begin that following morning at around 2am, it was only obvious enough to begin then. When Allyson briefed me on the shoot, we both knew it would be best to begin shooting as early as possible to catch Jim in his prime. Since Jim is also notorious for jumping into the thick of when weather gets intense, he wanted to be the first one out reporting on the snow before anybody. That said, I knew I would be shooting for a good deal of time but I also wanted to spend that time with Jim since I had seen so many videos of him on Youtube. All that said, we ended up walking back to his hotel together, had a good lunch together and said our goodbyes as he went back up to his room to sleep and rest back up before his next segment. It was a fun way to see both sides of Jim and make pictures of it all at the same time.
Some additional images form the shoot