In the early 2000’s, I was a Senior Photographer for Gap Inc., in San Francisco. One of the great things about working for such a large corporation is the opportunity to experience things that you might not otherwise be able to.
Gap was heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity and sponsored a few trips each year for employees. Individuals that had volunteered for local non-profits would be invited along to work on building houses for a week at a time. I was lucky enough to be invited on one of their trips to Guatemala.
As part of the trip, a tour of one of the denim factories that Gap worked with was arranged. I was extremely excited to be able to see one of these factories up close…..but pessimistic about my chances of photographing (based on the horrific stories we have all heard about manufacturing in 3rd world countries). To my surprise, the owner of the factory actually encouraged me to take photos as we were shown around (In the end, I figured out that we, as Gap Employees, probably weren’t going to be shown anything that would remotely look bad).
The factory itself was huge, occupying an entire city block and employing over 10,000 people. As we toured, interesting facts surfaced. Things like – Factories around the world all pay the same – so this Guatemalan factory competed with factories in China, India and other places where wages were rock bottom. This meant that the place that they were really able to make money was on minimizing wasted cloth. The only computers in the entire place were used for laying out patterns on the rolls of fabric, in order to cram as many pairs of jeans as possible onto the denim.
We also asked lots of questions about minimum age requirements for the factory. It was explained to us that they were forbidden to use underage employees, but sometimes it was next to impossible to establish the age of applicants for the jobs. Most people in Guatemala didn’t have birth certificates, so Gap actually had a person at the factory that would travel out to the villages that people were from and question family members and neighbors if there were any questions about the age of an applicant.
As we were touring the facility, I was using two film cameras. One for color, and one for black and white. As I finished a roll in the camera with color film in it, I pushed in the rewind button and attempted to crank the film back into the cassette. To my astonishment, the film wouldn’t budge!!! Something had malfunctioned and the film wasn’t able to be rewound into the cassette, which meant that I couldn’t put a new roll of film into the camera. I was in a slight panic, and couldn’t stop and figure out what might have happened as we were continue walking through the factory and I needed to keep shooting with my other camera (in the end, I ended up losing the entire roll of film).
I kept shooting with my black and white camera, which had T-Max 3200 film in it. Closer examination will reveals huge grain in the image, but back then it was the only way to shoot in the low light conditions of the factory.
The image above shows a pair of jeans being sanded by hand. They are attached to a rubber bladder that is inflated into each leg. I had always assumed that the finishes on a pair of jeans were all done by machine….but they aren’t. Stone washing is exactly what is says – large industrial washers with stones in them are filled with jeans and ran through a cycle. Jeans that look “pre-worn” are actually hand sanded like in the image. “Whiskers” are added the same way. Sandblasted jeans are actually sandblasted. It’s all very labor intensive. And fascinating to photograph.
Thanx for listening.
I remember creating this image as if it were yesterday, although it wasn’t meant to happen, strange things occur out in the desert. It was March 1995, almost 20 years ago. I was on day 15 of a 20 day photo trip in the Arches and Canyonlands area, I hand been photographing Arches National Park for the last 3 days and was ready to head home and spend a Day at Goblin Valley. I waited that night for a sunset at Arches but it never happened, some rain moved in and the clouds never opened up. Checked the map and it looked like I could cut over on Willow flats road on the north side of the park to Hwy 191 (Back then I had my 1991 Isuzu Trooper…… Damm I miss that truck!). By then it was pitch black, I was crawling along this dirt trail when I saw water running across the road and decided I better not try to cross. Ok I thought to myself, just sleep in the back of the trooper and head back in the morning…..and if the light looks good stop at North Arch. I woke up 1 hr before sunrise and drove back to main Arches road and headed over to North Arch. Parked at the lot as dawn started to show. I grabbed my backpack and tripod, back then a Wista metal 4×5 with 5 lenses and 10 4×5 film holders loaded with Velvia, and a heavy ass Bogen tripod. The morning light ight was coming up quick as I climbed through North Arch to the back side. It was shaping up to be sweet, I spotted a little shelf where I climbed up to and started setting up as fast as I could.
“Holy crap its happening the light going to be great” I remember telling myself. Turret Arch behind North Arch has started to light up, gotta make quick decisions 135, 90 or 75mm. Decided to go with 90mm to get some foreground in the image. Put the dark cloth over the camera, a little rise on front element, I am talking to my self at this point, “this is freaking coming together” I start to get the shakes, grab the loupe, ok a little tilt and I am all in at f16 , as I am checking focus with loupe I see the rainbow over Turret Arch ” Oh Sh*t” gotta move faster. Spotmeter on highlights turn the knob to get correct exposure. I expose 2 sheets of Velvia, then as I insert another film holder and rainbow gone.
This image is from a tent shoot at Vasquez rocks. Vasquez Rocks is located in northern Los Angeles County, and has been used in numerous movies and television shows. The prominent rock formation has also been nicknamed “Kirk’s Rock” due to being featured in several Star Trek episodes, each time representing a different planet. The use of the rock as a place to struggle with an enemy was echoed in the film Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey twice, once replaying the Gorn Star Trek episode on the TV, and again when title characters are murdered by their doubles at the same location.
This was the last shot of an extremely long day. It had started sprinkling when we were setting up but the Art Director wanted to push on and finish the shot. By the time the tent was set up, the shot was propped, and we were ready to shoot it was raining pretty hard. We waited in the production RV for about 45 minutes to see if it would stop, but it showed no intention of letting up. Rather than can the shot, we decided to make the best of it and prop the shot as if we intended it to rain. We added some rain boots and had one of our assistants put on some rain gear & walk through the shot.
This image was captured during a shoot for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.
We arrived at the Fairmont Heritage Place, Franz Klammer Lodge in Telluride Colorado smack in the middle of mud season. Have you ever been at a ski resort during mud season? Nothing going on at all. So quiet…… no restaurants or bars open, town dead, just maintenance going on during the day.
We arrive at the resort for a 5 day shoot of rooms, pools and overall amenities, etc… We meet with the General Manager and marketing person and go over shot list, and at this time they tell us we are the only ones staying there. Ok….. shades of the Stanley Hotel and Redrum run through my head, especially after hearing a few spooky stories from the night manager. We wanted to get this image at sunset but weather wasn’t going to cooperate, so we had to do a sunrise image. We had to go in every room and pull shades and turn on every light on at 4 am in the morning, could have sworn we heard a big wheel running over carpet and hardwood floor.
Landscape and seascape photography has become an addiction for me and I love to seek out interesting places to explore and shoot. This image was taken in La Jolla California, a place I have shot many times but each time I find something new. On this day it wasn’t looking too promising and I almost left early, fortunately I didn’t and the clouds broke just enough to let the light thru. I found this foreground shape in the rocks and knew this would be the shot of the day.
Sometime around 2005, I drove out to the Salton Sea with some a few friends. We didn’t have a specific plan…… just wanted to check it out and see what we could find to shoot. We spent some time at Bombay Beach, and had started to pack up to head home. While stashing my gear and talking with my friends, I kept looking past them at the shore line where I was seeing some amazing light. I stopped talking, grabbed my camera & tripod to get the last shot of the day. It was too dark for auto focus, and manual was proving to be a guessing game. In desperation, I had one of my friends go out on the point and had him stand there so that I could focus on him. As he stood there, I realized he was a very important element in what was to be one of my favorite shots. He held pretty still for a 15 second exposure!
In 1999, I had the privilege of going to Africa and photographing for Northrise University Initiative. At the time, there was only one college in Zambia, and NUI was just getting the ball rolling to start a second one.
I spent two weeks photographing around the country, and more specifically, in Ndola, Zambia. The sights and sounds that I experienced (and was sometimes able to photograph) are still with me to this day. Someone told me before I went that “if you go to Africa once, you’ll definitely go back again”, and I can verify that it’s true. I’ve been back once, and have plans for visiting few more times.
While there, we spent time touring various schools, nurseries, and hospices. It was a truly humbling experience, and I was lucky to be able to hide behind my camera as scene after scene of unbelievable poverty and sickness unfolded before us.
One morning, as we toured a grammar school I spied these kids through a doorway. As the small group that I was with was being introduced to the teacher, I stayed in the back of the classroom and approached the table where these students were sitting. I smiled, and slowly raised my Nikon F3 to my eye. The one student in the middle kept his stare locked onto me, and I was able to make one exposure before the teacher demanded everyone’s attention back to the front of the classroom.
While this photo is simply a picture of a student in a school….I can’t help but see so much more in his eyes.
Thanx for listening.
Culver City, CA – November 2008
This image is one that I get an enormous amount of comments on. Everything from, its “staged” to I can’t stop looking at it, to I like it but I could never own it or hang it on my wall.
I’ve been in the commercial photography world for over 25 years and consider myself lucky to have grown along with the technology. From before the term “digital” had anything to do with photography, or much of anything for that matter, shooting large format film through to today where DSLR cameras have as much or more resolution and tonal range than film ever did.
This image was captured in a side alley behind the Academy of Beauty in Culver City. This beauty school has been in Culver City for decades and has survived the gentrification of the downtown area. This side alley separates the school and my favorite Mexican restaurant and cantina. It was completely by happenstance that I walked down the alley after leaving the restaurant. I almost always have some form of camera with me, and thankfully I at least had my Canon G10. I thought about racing home and grabbing a different camera but knew there wasn’t enough time. The light was already very soft in the narrow alley this late in the afternoon. And, coming back the following day would not guarantee the “subject” would still be there. I knew I had a unique image, the beauty school practice heads stacked up in the window like that. The haunting eyes and the tape, the reflection in the glass of the building across the alley. Just out of frame are mops leaning against the building drying and the schools trash cans.
I enjoyed the image and was quite happy with my luck coming across it, and with the technical aspects of the capture. It wasn’t until a close friend saw it and commented to me about the meaning it had for her that I fully understood the power of the image. Our friend has a severely autistic daughter, she is 14 years old and has never spoken. It was our friend that titled the image, Silent Beauty.
Adobe Bridge / Camera RAW, Adobe Photoshop, Nik Silver Efex Pro 2