Who Wore It Better?

If you’ve ever met me or read any of my blog entries, you probably know that I believe photography is one of the best jobs in the world, and that I consider myself seriously lucky to be doing it professionally. Sometimes a portrait subject will ask what I’d do for work if I didn’t make pictures, and I honestly don’t know what to say. I can’t imagine breaking up with photography, or cheating on it with some floozy of a tech job. That said, however, it’s also true that like any relationship, the light can go out if you don’t occasionally stoke the fire. I don’t know any photographers, regardless of how much they love creating images, who don’t need to recharge their creative batteries from time to time with a personal project. So, it was in that keep-the-fires-lit spirit that I undertook the surprisingly entertaining extracurricular project of ruining classic paintings by inserting my face into them.  The process is pretty simple, but requires lots of attention to detail:

1.  Settle on a painting you'd like to debase. If you’re like me, the problem won’t be finding a painting you like; it’ll be narrowing it down.
2.  Photograph yourself. Obviously, it's crucial that the position of your head match the position of the portrait subject's head.  If you're off by much at all, you'll have problems when you get into Photoshop.  It's also necessary to match the lighting in the painting as closely as possible. Your facial structure will almost certainly be different than the portrait subject’s, so the shadows may not look the same and you may have to cheat the light around a little, but make sure the quality of the light is as close as you can make it. Last, try not be wildly amiss with your camera angle and lens focal length.
3.  Cut your face out (in Photoshop, I mean!) and put it into the painting.  Because everyone's head is shaped differently, odds are good that your face won't map perfectly over the existing one.  Parts of the face from the original painting will likely peek out from behind yours, so expect to clone the painting a bit to make it look right.  Color, contrast, etc. won't match either, so that will all have to be adjusted.  You'll also need to steal some texture from elsewhere in the painting and lay it over top, and you'll need to run some combination of filters (and probably the smudge tool) to make your face look less like a photo and more like it's part of the painting.  Frankly, I haven't done a perfect texture job on any of these images, but I've done it well enough to be happy.

And here are the images!  As always, click on any you'd like to see larger.
First is Ingres's 1811 portrait of Charles-Joseph-Lauren Cordier.  This was at the top of my list to try because it’s the cover image for my well-worn, unabridged copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, which I have fond memories of reading on trains while passing through Europe at the tender age of 19.  It's a pretty thrilling story. A sailor is arrested on his wedding day and falsely imprisoned in a grim island fortress for fourteen years, at which time he’s finally able to make a daring escape, recover the vast fortune left to him by a fellow inmate, and exact revenge on the men who conspired to destroy his life. You haven’t read it? Then what are you reading this for?! Get off your ass, get down to the library, and get back on your ass and read it.  And don’t try to cheat and watch a film adaptation, either—they've never made a good one.

The book begins during Napoleon’s exile, just before his return to power, so naturally I started looking at Napoleon.  This romantic portrait by Jacques-Louis David in 1801 was the first of five versions of Napoleon Crossing the Alps, and it's the one I liked the best. It strikes me as gleefully over the top.

That, of course, made me want to tackle the realistic version of the scene, as painted by Paul Delaroche in 1850.  In 1849, Delaroche was visiting the Louvre with a nobleman who had a large Napoleonic collection, and who commented on the implausibly grandiose depiction of the scene in David's painting. That’s right—he thought it was OTT too.  So, he commissioned Delaroche to paint a more likely representation of the crossing, with Napoleon on a mule.  (Incidentally, Delaroche didn't intend for the image to be at all belittling.  He was apparently a Napoleon fan, and didn't believe that his depiction in any way takes away from the achievement.)

Ingres again.  I came across this one while looking for the portrait of Cordier, and I'll be completely honest—I was drawn to this painting because of the hair.  Well, yeah…the sword too…but mostly the hair.  Mine is so fine and lifeless (like Scarlett Johanssonsnap!), but Ingres' childhood friend Amédée-David, le Comte de Pastoret?  He had some of the best hair I've ever seen.

Fun, right? Yes, it absolutely is, but In all seriousness, it’s also quite a useful technical exercise. Photographers have studied and emulated and just plain ripped off classic paintings by Old Masters since the inception of photography, and for good reason. Because if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best. I was delighted to look through centuries-old European paintings again—reacquainting myself with some, discovering others—and it’s edifying to examine lighting to the extent necessary to recreate it. If you’re a photographer, I’d recommend it even more than reading The Count of Monte Cristo.

Portrait Shoot: Artefact

A few weeks ago, I returned to Artefact's office to photograph new employees.  I'm not sure how many photographers they've used in the past—I haven't done all their photos—but it was the fourth time they've had me, and as ever, the shoot was a total pleasure.  I do standard headshots for them, but every employee also gets a unique, quirky photo that showcases his or her personality and/or interests.  It is SO much fun.  The people are great, totally game, and their ideas for their personalized portraits are fun and creative and an absolute joy to bring to life.  Here are a few of them, and of course a couple obligatory photos of me taking photos.  Feel free to click any you'd like to see larger.

I should pause for a minute to give special kudos to Jefferson for his image, which was inspired by Arrested Development.  If you haven't seen the show, or have but didn't catch the reference, click here.  And no, we didn't have a sheep.  He added that later, and did a wonderful job.

Let it be known that I can, should the situation arise, be called upon to give juggling lessons!  Ultimately, Courtney opted for the balancing image above, but still.  We had fun.
(Thanks to fellow photographer Josh Huston, who assisted me and took these behind-the scenes photos.)

Conceptual Shoot: InfoSecurity Professional

Not long ago, I was contacted by InfoSecurity Professional Magazine about creating a photo to accompany an article about the proliferation of cybersecurity threats.  The idea was to play off the iconic Maxell ad from the 1980s.  You remember it, don't you?  The black and white photo of the guy in sunglasses slouching in his Le Corbusier chair, hands gripping the armrests as his martini spills and his hair and tie blow back from the massive sound from the speakers in front him?  He was known as the "Blown Away Guy".  Well, if you don't recall, here it is to remind you:

Of course you remember.  It's an ad referenced pretty frequently in popular culture, by everyone from P. Diddy to Family Guy.  So, the idea was to take the "blown away by music" idea to turn it into "blown away by online security threats".  Works for me!  I don't know about you, but data breaches always make my hair stand on end.

I built a minimalist office setup in the studio to echo the environment in the ad, and found a model with hair the right length to blow back.  The furniture was courtesy of IKEA.  As you can see in the photo below, I didn't have enough of one kind of flooring to build the set out as far as I needed, and buying more wasn't in the budget, so I had to use two different wood colors and do a little floor tweaking in post.  This wasn't terribly taxing, especially since the final file was to be in black and white.

The shoot was smooth.  We did an outfit change, and tried a few with glasses and some without.  When Rebecca (model) left, I shot a few papers in the air so I could composite them later.  I was super happy with the result, as was east coast art director Maureen.  Many thanks to her for bringing me along on the project!  I think the final page looks great:

Fun fact: the photo in the frame is of a coastal hillside in Ireland, which I shot on a recent trip.

Jewish in Seattle: Oscar Olivier

It was a privilege to photograph Oscar Olivier for Jewish in Seattle late last year.  He is a refugee from the Congo and an inspiring figure, and if you have a moment, you should really do his story justice by reading the excellent article by Emily Alhadeff. We made this portrait in Des Moines, where he lives.  Neomi, the art director, wanted something that looked dramatic but we didn't have a location and the weather wasn't cooperating.  It was a mighty bright, happy day outside (albeit still chilly—note the very stylish cardigan).

So we hit the beach—can't go wrong with water and a good sky as your background—and utilizing a little day-for-night camera and lighting trickery, we made it look a bit more moody.  I was really pleased with the result.  Below is my favorite image, along with Neomi's select as it appeared in the magazine.

I Don't Have A Gym Membership

Last week I shot some ads with a couple bodybuilders, and man was it a blast. It was our third shoot together over the past year and a half or so, and every time we just...kinda get to play. You might not guess it, but you couldn't ask for better collaborators. They're always energetic, funny, and game for anything, and perhaps best of all, they just don't take themselves too seriously. It makes for a fun day of shooting. So big thanks to Ron and Gabe for being reliably great in front of the camera, Sam for the fun concepts and choosing me to shoot them, Patty for her crazy good food skills, Jenny for her makeup magic, and Josh for being an ever-reliable facilitator. I can't share the images from the shoot yet, but here's some silliness we found time for:

Family photo.  Clockwise from top left: Gabe, Josh, Ron, Sam, Jenny, Patty, and yours truly.

You might be wondering if they're that huge or if I'm that small.  Answer's yes.

There may be two of them holding me up in this photo, but it really would have only required one of those four arms.

Kenya Callback

This past week I shot the keynote speeches at Build 2017, Microsoft's huge developer conference, which this year was held at the Washington State Convention Center here in Seattle.  On the giant screens in the cavernous event space, I noticed a favorite photo I shot in Kenya being used to inform attendees of Microsoft's work to extend internet accessibility to far-flung corners of the globe.  It's an amazing and transformative effort, and I'll always consider myself fortunate for having the opportunity to witness it firsthand and help tell the story.  If you'd like to learn about Microsoft's use of TV White Spaces to deliver the internet to rural areas of the world, check out one of the links below.  You can also head to my website and have a look at the Kenya page, which has a bunch more images and a bit of explanation as well.  Thanks for reading!

Microsoft News
BBC News
New Scientist

Wrapped in Detroit

Photo from the end of my work trip last week in Detroit, where I shot a couple days of environmental portraits and documentary-style images for Microsoft.  This is my tired but contented face.  It was a great trip, and I can't wait to share the photos and the story once it runs.  Stay tuned! Update, 06/01/17: The story is live—check it out here!