Western Academy of Photography

Well I guess this is as good a post for “Throwback Thursday” as any.  Last night I found out that the school where I studied photography has closed its doors.  

In the summer of 2002 I left my Silicon Valley Tech job and moved to Victoria British Columbia (I honestly can't fathom how it was that long ago already).  I didn’t really have anything to do up there and I had randomly heard about a photography school; the Western Academy of Photography.  I wasn’t really into photography or anything… I had recently bought a digital camera on a whim (a newly released top of the line super high resolution 6MP Canon D60) and thought it would be interesting to go to the school as a way to pass the time..

I almost didn’t get in.  The Professional Photography program was completely booked.  It was the first day of school, my birthday as it turns out, and apparently someone didn’t show.  I got their spot.  I showed up with my D60 and was told that I couldn’t use it.  I needed a film camera.  So I went out an bought a Canon Elan7 or something like that and started from there.  

The program starts you out with the basics; black and white.  We learned to shoot, process and print on black and white film.  I loved it right away.  It didn’t take long before I decided to upgrade my camera to a Hasselblad 501CM.  Man I loved that camera.  Even as the classes moved on to color film, I pretty much stuck to black and white.  I probably shot about 3 rolls of color film… whatever the bare minimum was to pass the color portion of class.

I was a pretty bad student.  I was only there to learn so I didn't really care about passing or graduating.  If I wasn't interested in the subject I didn't bother with it (uh, those damn photograms).  When I started I didn't even know what I was interested in shooting.  I shot everything... flowers, trees, buildings.  Anything I saw.  But it didn't take long to figure out that I really liked shooting people, so that's what I started to focus on.  

When you look through the photos below you'll probably be able to clearly see who I was ripping off:  Avedon, Peter Lindberg, Nigel Parry, and Keith Carter.  I became obsessed with buying photography books, those photographers in particular.  I haven't bought many photography books in years but my girlfriend still complains about the space they take up and that's just the ones from when I was in Victoria.

I honestly always expected to move back to California and go right back to being an engineer.  But after getting in the program and falling in love with photography, I decided to give it a try when I moved back.  I can honestly say that my life would be a night and day difference to what it is now if it wasn't for the Western Academy of Photography.  So I'd like to thank everyone at WAP but most importantly I want to thank Andrea Kucherawy, who ran the program, for everything she did for all the students (and myself in particular) for all these years.  Andrea made it what it was.  Thank you Andrea!

Well, here are some of the shots from from that year at Western Academy.  As you can see, I loved my Hasselblad borders:

Dan Lanois' 1953 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop

Dan Lanois' 1957 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop

I was on a flight home from New York Friday night when I received an email asking if I was available to do a last minute shoot on Saturday for The Grid.  Talk about last minute. I'm glad for the email, because this was easily one of my favorite shoots to date.

I was told I would be photographing Dan Lanois' guitar.  I love guitars and have a couple of my own (down from more than four, and if you knew how bad I was you'd say I shouldn't have any).  I wasn't told what kind of guitar it was, although that was inconsequential.  When I arrived at The Warfield however, I found out I would be photographing Dan's 1953 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop.  This happens to be my favorite guitar;  I have 1957 Goldtop (a 2009 Gibson Custom Shop reissue of course).


If you don't know, Dan a legendary music producer and musician. Just head over to his wikipedia page to check out his accomplishments.  Dan was in town to do a show with Emmylou Harris at The Warfield.  It was a small performance where they played Emmylou's album Wrecking Ball in its entirety on the occasion the the albums 20th anniversary. 

Dan is Canadian and it shows.  I know stereotypes aren't a good thing, but when your stereotype is that you're really nice, who's going to complain about that?  Dan was more gracious and accommodating than anyone I've ever photographed; to me and everyone around us.  He went around and introduced himself to everyone on the stage thanking them for the work they're doing.

Dan Lanois at The Warfield theater in San Francisco California

Dan Lanois at The Warfield theater in San Francisco California

I had already taken the shots of the guitar alone before Dan got there so now I wanted to get some shots of him playing.  The magazine didn't really ask for them so this was more for me so I could hear the 1953 Goldtop.

Playing with Emmylou Harris:

The show was amazing.  This job does have it's perks.


Giulietta Carrelli - Pacific Standard Magazine

Giulietta Carrelli - Trouble Coffee, San Francisco

Giulietta Carrelli - Trouble Coffee, San Francisco

I was asked to photography Giulietta Carrelli for Pacific Standard magazine just before the end of 2013.  Giulietta started the local cafe Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club (most people just call it Trouble Coffee).  The author was started out doing an article on the rise of $4 toast and ending up telling a much more interesting and personal story about Giulietta.  Giulietta has a fascinating story and I recommend checking it out.

A Toast Story, Pacific Standard Magazine

A Toast Story, Pacific Standard Magazine

Levi Felix - San Francisco Magazine


Before the new year I was asked to shoot Levi Felix of Digital Detox for San Francisco Magazine.     Digital detox is a company Levi founded to get people to disconnect from their technology and social media filled world. They do retreats to get people away from their normal hectic environment.  They are literally run like a summer camp.

We had a great time with this shoot.  The magazine had quite a few different ideas and Levi was willing to do pretty much anything.  The Photo Editor Ilana Diamond was on set as well.  At one point it was suggested that maybe Levi could be naked with only the banjo covering him, and he was up for it (well, actually he was pretty hesitant, but Ilana was a very good persuader... and he did have his underwear on).  We started shooting and the images looked great and Levi was having fun with it; but after shooting for a few minutes he decided that he might not want these images in the magazine after all... I couldn't blame him, I know I wouldn't do it.  The images were hilarious and I wish I could show them, but obviously I'll respect Levi's wishes... I'll just hold on to them for future blackmail opportunities.

At the last minute Levi showed us a shirt that said "You can't download a live musical experience".  Everyone loved the shirt and it fit with the message of his digital detox retreats so we started shooting him in the shirt.  As with everything we suggested for this shoot Levi was fully into it.  Although at one point with the banjo I asked him to throw me the "rock on" devil sign, to which he refused.  I think he felt it was too cliched... but as you can see in one of the outtakes, it's just too ingrained in our being not to "rock on" and he threw the sign subconsciously.

In the end the magazine loved all the photos but opted for one of the quieter images with the "live music" shirt.

Here are some of the outtakes:

New York City

Last month I had a great trip to New York for the fall NYCFotoworks.  I’ve been going to the summer NYCFotoworks for the last few years but this is the first time I’ve gone in the fall.  I know it’s cliched, but nothing does beat New York City in the fall.  Every time I visit New York it gets harder and harder to leave.

Thanks to Citi Bikes, this was the first trip to NYC where I didn’t take a cab or the subway once.  Aside from a few issues at their docking stations having access to a bike everywhere I went was great.  I don’t think there’s a better way to get around and explore New York than on bike.  However, I’m not sure what people do in the snow.

Banksy was also in New York for his monthlong Better Out Than In residency.  I was looking forward to seeing some of his work although my schedule made it a bit difficult.  However I was waking back to my apartment one day and came upon his McDonald’s performance piece right across the street from my apartment.  I couldn't make it to see a Banksy so the Banksy came to me.  I also happened to be a few blocks from the Bowery right when his Reaper exhibit was announced.  It only took me a couple minutes to get there but there was already a large crowd.

Irving Penn, The Pace Gallery New York City

Irving Penn, The Pace Gallery New York City

I had a great week in New York and got to meet a lot of great people: photographers, reps, potential clients.  A special shout out to Catalina Kulczar (a great Brooklyn based photographer who may have convinced me moving to New York is a good idea), Colleen Vreeland (a great New York based consultant who introduced me to a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise met), and James Taylor (a great New York based rep who took the time to come meet and treat me to a great breakfast).  It was great to finally meet in person.

I'm already looking forward to next year.