Silent Beauty – by Todd Young

silentbeauty

Silent Beauty

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.

Canon G10

1/125 second

f/4.0

ISO 200

28mm (equivalent)

Adobe Bridge / Camera RAW, Adobe Photoshop, Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

 

Todd Young

www.ToddYoungPhotography.com

www.YoungStudios.net

Portrait of Woman at LifeCycle Ride.

Lifecycle_woman

I have been an avid cyclist since the early 90’s. A couple of my most memorable rides have been during the Aidsride/Lifecycle rides – week long fundraising rides that started in San Francisco and ended in Los Angeles.

In 2002, the ride was transitioning from “California AidsRide” to the new “LifeCycle Ride” (the change was due to disagreements between the principle organizer – a for-profit company – and the recipient organizations, and is a story in itself).

I volunteered to photograph the event. I had done the ride twice in the past and felt that I could really bring out the stories of both the ride and the inspirational people that participated.

On third or fourth morning of the ride, I wanted to set up and do a number of portraits before the riders left for the day, and again when they finished.

I awoke to find low overcast clouds, and a slight mist in the air. The low angle, early morning light that I was hoping for was nowhere to be found. Deciding to make the best of the situation I took my photo gear over to where the bicycles were parked each night and waited for riders to come over and start saddling up for the day.

I had brought a Norman 400B battery operated strobe with me, along with a small/medium soft box. I set that up camera left, and adjusted it until my meter (this was back in Analog Times) told me that I had a 1:2 ratio.

The strobe was set fairly low, as I just wanted enough to give me a bit of ratio on the people, but I wanted to use a small (numerically) aperture thereby allowing the background to go out of focus.

I photographed a few people as they were getting to their bikes to start the day’s ride. As I was in the middle of one of these, I saw a woman in the background that I knew I had to photograph. I quickly finished up with the person that I was with, and jogged down to where this woman was rolling her bicycle out towards the finish line. After quickly explaining who and I was and what I was doing, I asked her if I could photograph her.

In the crustiest of voices, she replied “As long as it doesn’t take very long”.

I thanked her profusely, and led her over to where my camera and light were set up. I immediately knew that I wanted to use black and white to really bring the focus in on her face. A color image would have been too distracting, and brought the viewers eye’s to various splotches of color rather than where I wanted it. I switched out cameras (I had been shooting color for the earlier portraits), and had her stand in front of my camera.

“What do you want me to do?” she asked.

“No smile, look straight at the camera, and tilt your head just a touch this way” I replied.

I took one exposure, and without saying a word she turned and walked away.

 

Thanx for listening.

AL

Glacial Fragments at Jokulsarlon, Iceland.

This image represents how exciting, and how exasperating photography can be…..

My wife Jennie and I had quickly planned a trip to Iceland over the upcoming Christmas holiday. In researching places that we wanted to visit, I found a few cryptic references about a place called “Jokulsarlon”. Most of the images I could find showed a small bay with a glacial tongue entering the water on one end…..but every once in a while I would come across a piece of ice sitting on a black sand beach, with the ocean in the background. However, I couldn’t find any info on whether or not these two wholly different scenarios were happening in the same spot or not.

As out trip got closer, we were able to schedule some time at Jokulsarlon on our way to the east side of the island, and maybe some additional time on our way back to Reykjavik. We were only going to be in the area for a couple of days, and our lodging was going to be a couple of hours away. I felt that I had a pretty slim chance of getting a chance to shoot there. Along with those difficulties, we were only getting about four hours of daylight, and the sky was normally dull and grey all day long. I put my chances at around 20%…..

We woke up in the morning and had breakfast, then loaded up the car to continue our trek east across the southernmost coast. We made a quick stop in the town of Vik where we explored their black sand beach, along with a red roofed church that overlooked the town. From there, I figured it was only about an hour drive to Jokulsarlon.

The night before, I had gotten on Google Earth and investigated the area where I thought I might find what I wanted. The glacier calved into a small bay, where the icebergs floated around before flowing out a very short river to the ocean. I could see that the beach along the ocean here was indeed black sand, and assumed that the melting icebergs would sometimes wash up on shore. That would explain the few images that I had found of beautiful white/clear pieces of ice on a black sand beach.

Much to my dismay, our one hour drive turned into almost three. The sun started to dip below the horizon and I came to the realization that it was not my lucky day. Soon the sun would be down and it would be too dark to shoot anything….if I could even find what I was looking for. Jennie offered to drive, and I took her up on it and sat in the passenger seat dejectedly.

About thirty minutes later, we started to see signs for Jokulsarlon. I perked up a little as dusk lasts a lonnnnnnggg time during this season in Iceland. The sun doesn’t drop perpendicular to the horizon, rather it skims along just below the horizon for a while. Jennie looked at me a little suspiciously when I asked her to turn right towards the beach, and not left into the parking lot when we arrived. It was all snow, but there was a rough pathway with other tire tracks that headed towards the ocean. One hundred yards later, I jumped out of the car to be greeted by a number of gleaming pieces of ice reclining leisurely on a black sand beach. There were a couple other photographers on the beach, and I quickly got my gear out and joined them.

I was totally blown away. The ice seemed to shine like diamonds and had tremendous inherent contrast with the black background of the beach.

It’s a really tough situation to be in…… amazing photographic subjects everywhere I looked….but the sun was already well below the horizon making the amount of light low enough that I needed a tripod for all exposures. My brain went into overdrive as I scurried around the beach and picked out angles to photograph. It was a delicate balance. The ice emitted the best light if you were facing the sunset, but there were other people that were also there and sometimes in your background.

I had been thinking of something similar to the above photo, and was keeping that in mind as I was looking over the various pieces of ice. Some were too close to the ocean, and would move as waves hit them (thereby ruining my one to four second exposures). Others were too far from the ocean, and resulted in beautiful, but not quite stunning images.

When I found the piece above, I set up my tripod and tried to guess how far up the beach each wave would travel. The ice was perfectly positioned, but it was really hit and miss on the waves. In the end, I spent probably ten minutes photographing in this spot. I have a number of images that have different blurs of the incoming wave. In some, the wave is barely evident, and in others it is too overbearing. This image, I felt, had the perfect amount of movement.

Thanx for listening.

AL

Racetrack in Death Valley National Park

What better way to launch this rocket than to go back to the beginning? In my case, this is the first image that I made that had any real meaning to me….

Racetrack

It was 1990, and I was fresh out of Brooks Institute of Photography. I had landed a job with an inhouse studio for Robinsons Department Stores in Los Angeles. I had sold my big studio 4×5 camera, lens and tripod that I had used through school, and had used the money to purchase a Calumet Wood Field Camera and a smallish tripod.

After “borrowing” a lens from the studio for the weekend, I tagged along with Senior Photographer Ken Reece as he drove up to Death Valley National Park (it was most likely still a National Monument at that time). He told me that he wanted to show me this really wild place called “Race Track”. It was my first time to this part of California, and I was really stoked to be exploring.

Race Track is a couple hour drive on a rough four wheel drive road from the campgrounds where we were staying. It was hot and dusty, and my initial excitement had began fading long before we even got close.

When we finally arrived, I was blown away. I had never seen something so strange…..a perfectly flat dry lake with concrete hard mud for a mile in any direction. After walking around for a while, I found the rock in the foreground, and decided that I would use it as an anchor to balance out the mountains in the background.

This was back in the film days, and describing the act of actually taking a photo with a 4×5 camera could fill up a few pages of this blog. Suffice to say, after 10-15 minutes of preparation, I was able to expose two sheets of film. Once I was back in the lab, normal processing produced two identical negs that printed easily. Our vehicle was visible as an extremely small bright spot at the base of the mountain in the background, but a quick spotting job took care of it.

I’ve printed this image as large as 20×24, and it holds up beautifully. It has always had an emotional place in my heart, and I still use it in my Landscape Portfolio to this day…..

Thanx for listening.

AL

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