May 12 – Mostly the Fair

Me and my Dole whip.

I’ve been pretty much consumed with The LA County Fair, basically my biggest client of the year, especially in terms of scale. After photographing the first two full days of the Fair, I was reminded once again just how exhausting it is. And the number of photos I have to process from each day at work is daunting. Thankfully, I’m pretty adept at editing and processing large batches of shots.

It’s not all work. I decided to also attend the Fair as a guest with some friends and family. I couldn’t resist a Dole Whip.

It took me several days to recover from these shoot days. Having worked events for several years now, I basically can keep going and going. I have to make myself stop. I did manage to get out and do my favorite hobby of visiting thrift stores in my area. That’s just about as exciting as my week got. The way things are going, it’ll be a few more weeks or months before I’m able to show some of the work I’ve done for the Fair.

May 5 – Quick desert escape before the Fair

Took the opportunity to escape to the desert house out on the Colorado River for a few days. It’s already hot enough in Parker, Arizona, to feel like summer. I wanted to relax a bit before the actual summer activities of the area begin–mainly boating, beaching, and day-drinking in the scorching hot sun. The area becomes a family vacationers and swimsuit-clad party animals looking to get tanked. I like to escape to the quiet.

We’ve been a part of this little desert community now since the early 1990s, when my grandparents bought what eventually would become their post-retirement home. When I was a kid, it felt like we were being dragged out there. The weather on the weekends we’d go out there would be unbelievably hot and my grandparents wouldn’t allow me and my siblings to watch TV. We were, of course, instantly bored and saved only by the prospect of going down to the water to go swimming. As an adult, I appreciate the little family house we have here much much more. It is both a refuge and a gathering place for raucous family gatherings.

My mini-cation was short-lived, as I had to book it home to start my month-long engagement with the LA County Fair. This is my second time with the Fair, though I’ve done many events with the Pomona Fairplex since. It’s one of my favorite events of the year, and I feel privileged to be one of three photographers on staff for the month. The fairgrounds covers whopping 487 acres, making it the largest county fair in the nation. What I remember the most is feeling like this was an endless visual feast, quite literally sensory overload. I grew up going to this Fair, and somehow I still wasn’t prepared for the amount of stimulation. Thankfully, we started out with a Fair food preview day to ease into the experience.

Once the food preview was over, we headed into the first Fair weekend. What’s amazing is that this massive event is created and organized by a rather small office of staff. And of course, there’s a practical army of food and shopping vendors, sanitation staff, volunteers, security, artists, and many, many, more. I can’t show much of what I’m photographing here out of respect to my contract. After clocking in about 17,000 steps on my first day back, I am reminded that for some reason I really enjoy working these gigantic events.

April 28 – Busy season, photo credit, and LIFE

As the busier season of my year continues, I’m starting to see the longterm effects of my chosen path. How my days off are more like days “off.” Meaning, I don’t have a pressing engagements to get to, but I have just as much correspondence to take care of. Emails, invoicing, thinking about this ongoing blog that basically nobody reads… I keep writing these posts for reasons I’ve elaborated on before. The Meta-owned app has now introduced an AI search feature that I find annoying and seems to further sink the user experience of a once exciting creative community. If I want to post my photography anywhere, it’ll be over on Foto app (still in beta testing.) Keeping my own space on the internet, not dependent on algorithms has become more and more important.

Do what you love and you’ll never stop doing admin a day in your life.

I found out that my photos from an event were being used in press with the wrong photo credit. That kind of thing is so distressing, but we as photographers have almost no recourse. I reached out to the sites but there’s not much I can do about it at this point. This kind of thing can really affect my business. But, as with most things in business, I have to take most of the responsibility. It just means I’ll have to be more direct about photo credit moving forward.

I’m gearing myself up for one of my favorite clients of the year. Starting this week, I’m back with the LA County Fair as one of three official photographers. Even though I grew up going to this Fair, last year was my first as their photographer and it was all things exciting and overwhelming. The event itself is the biggest I’ve ever shot in terms of scale. It’s about the size of a small city, and it truly is an endless visual feast. Sensory overload. This year, I’m working on a more focused approach. I’ll be trying to capture more classic images, stuff you’d see emblazoned on a billboard, with a strong central focus that still captures the essence of “Fair.”

For research, I’ve been looking through a photo book called Life 75 Years: The Very Best of LIFE. It’s a huge coffee table book I’m lucky to own. As I was flipping through, I found myself almost bowled over. No one takes photos like this anymore. And rarely do we see photos in print like this anymore. The word “iconic” is so terribly overused online, but these photos truly are iconic in that so many of them became emblematic of their time. We’ve sort of lost that in the digital world of endless scroll. Yet, I also realized that the aspect ratio of LIFE is similar to the smartphone screen, only much larger.

I might make more effort to direct traffic to this blog, seeing as I enjoy making this more of a weekly update of my goings-on now.

April 21 – A Dutch newspaper, the Dodgers, street photography, and the Pasadena Playhouse Gala.

I found out that some of the work I did for the Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was featured in a Dutch newspaper. Hidde, a friend and colleague, sent me a photo of the paper. I also found the article online, if you speak Dutch and want to get past the paywall.

A friend of mine invited me to a Dodger game. I took my Nikon F3 loaded with Kodak 400 T-Max. I took a few shots. Haven’t developed the roll yet. This started me carrying a smaller 35mm camera with me to more places, something photographers talk about all the time but I sometimes find a little burdensome. Carrying a camera around the grocery store, to the gas station, the post office…it seems a little odd. Then again, the great street photographers carried cameras and film with them always. They’d either roam the streets all day, or shoot in any spare moment they had.

More and more, I wonder about street photography. My stepdad had introduced me to the idea years ago, and we even attended one of the first exhibits of the work of Vivian Maier in Los Angeles. It seems like over the last six or seven years, especially on platforms like YouTube, street photography became more about content creation than actually decent photos. Content churner-outers are more emboldened to stick cameras in strangers’ faces, the idea of consent goes out the window fairly easily. The mystique of street photography lies in photography books. The now-forgotten names of the faces in the works of Vivian Maier, Elliot Erwitt, Robert Frank, and Diane Arbus, they peer out at us from another time. It’s easy to forget that they may not have consented to having their photo taken, while these were also eras when cameras weren’t so ubiquitous. No one was making content from street photography, because street photography didn’t pay. I’m not so sure it pays now since it doesn’t seem to be for anyone now, but for generations to come.

I’m in a swirl of photo editing from my steady stream of clients this month. I’ve been really happy with how much of the work has turned out, especially some of these shots from the Pasadena Playhouse annual gala. It was almost rained out, save for a set of elaborate clear catering tents. I put a prime lens on my DSLR and took advantage of the shimmer all around me from the raindrops falling on the enclosure.

April 7-13, 2024

This has been one of the busier weeks of the year for me. Event photography is my main business and it tends to be seasonal, so now is when many spring gatherings and galas tend to be underway. Starting out there was the California State Thespian Festival, an annual gathering of high school theatre students from across the state. There are competitions in acting, singing, dance, and technical theatre. There are dozens of workshops, performances, and leadership opportunities within the California State Thespians.

This was a favorite festival of mine back in high school. In fact, my theatre teacher has since retired but is still highly involved in the Educational Theatre Association, which helps theatre educators continue to provide good programs to their students. She is one of the several familiar faces I got to see there. I saw many more friends and colleagues who were teaching workshops during day two of the festival.

Anyone who knows me knows that my background is in theatre. All my artistic endeavors seem to start there. And I can’t emphasize enough just how important arts education–particularly theatre arts education–is for young people. This isn’t just a chance for kids to express excess energy. This is hands-on learning skills that apply across all career fields, including those elusive “soft” skills that are so hard to teach (empathy, listening, being present, etc.). A particular bonus is all the technical skills learned in the theatre arts. It truly is a head start in a rapidly changing world.

There was that little eclipse thing. There wasn’t much excitement here in SoCal. I noted the little crescent moon shadows in during peak eclipse time, then watched the live coverage on TV. I agree with many others that there is something nice about thousands of people coming to view such a major event.

The rest of this week has been essentially a marathon of photo days. (I resist the term “shoot” more and more as I continue working in this profession.) I could say more, but out of respect for my clients, I try to keep quiet until I’m done editing photos and delivering them. There are so, so many to edit and process. Thankfully, I’m pretty fast in that department.

This has been such a change of pace from the first few months of the year when all is essentially dead. When I seriously begin to doubt my choices while the days are still short and spring still seems far away. It’s definitely a good reminder of the seasonality of life. Right now is more of a harvesting season, as I see the fruits of several years’ work of planting seeds, nurturing relationships, developing best practices, and following through. Come summer, the harvest will slow and I’ll have to embrace a new season.

Eclipse Day In SoCal

It wasn’t as exciting in our neck of the woods. But I do remember the phenomenon of the light making little crescent moons through the trees.

Some people use a colander. I liked this for some simple black and white shots.

Matt

“…it will change your relationship to it.”

I’ve seen a prominent content creator on TikTok proclaim, in a rather matter-of-fact manner, that once you start doing the thing you love as a job, all the joy gets immediately sucked out of it. That you may love a certain art, craft, hobby, or passion, but once you start depending on it for a living it more or less ruins that love you had for it. I don’t entirely agree with him, but I can’t say I disagree either. 

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who moved back to Ohio in the last year. His passion is music, voice, and theatre. He went from living in Los Angeles where he was mainly a personal trainer and online voice coach, back to his home state where he soon got a job as an adjunct voice professor. He also started performing again, landing lead roles in major local theatre productions. I told him how excited I was that all these opportunities started happening for him even though he wasn’t exactly thrilled about this big move home. 

“Yeah, but I’m still broke,” he said, “the arts…”

He trailed off, not finishing the thought, but I knew what he meant. I’ve met the frustration many times myself. Both he and I were really lucky to have found artistic talents as children, and to have parents who supported and encouraged our pursuit of them. I should add that an artistic talent is one thing. Actually having drive and discipline to hone a craft is something else, something I believe he and I both had as young people. Despite the cliche story of the unsupportive parent—as in, the plot of the film “Sister Act 2: Back In the Habit”—I find most parents want to support their kids’ artistic ambitions. Most parents like their kids performing, drawing, painting, or filmmaking. What I find most parents are not aware of is the reality of a career in the arts over a lifetime. How does your child subsist or even thrive in a world where creative careers are still seen as hobbies? Where fame and celebrity is worshipped, but for everyone else it’s seen as unstable and unserious? Where creative expertise is regularly undervalued and artists are asked to work for exposure?

One of the most frustrating endeavors of my life has been figuring out how to make a living without it feeling like a daily slog of monotonous undertakings. I’m not comforted by corporate structures. I know, because I’ve had office jobs. I consider myself extremely lucky that my photography career has started to finally work in the last few years since pandemic lockdowns were lifted. But it took me this long, and many failed day jobs, and at least one failed relationship along the way.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a boss I had while working in a menswear store around 2016. He was a good boss, and I felt bad because I knew he liked having me there. Meanwhile, I wished I was anywhere else but folding and refolding expensive shirts. I’d told him how I was working on a photography business because I felt like I was pretty good at it and could make something out of that. “Listen,” he said as I rearranged ties on display, “any passion you do for work, it will change your relationship to it.”

He was right. But I’ve never found that advice to be deflating. If anything, it has reminded me to set proper expectations and boundaries. I am dedicated to my career, but I’m not a photographer twenty four-seven. Whereas when I was studying theatre, music, and dance, almost every moment of my day was in anticipation of the next class, the next rehearsal, the next audition—which was all in anticipation of some grand career of the in the distance somewhere. And any type of criticism from anyone about my voice, my technique, my body, I immediately internalized and took personally. These days, I’m able to know what is appropriate to listen to and when. I provide a service. Yes, I have to be a bit vulnerable in the process, but I don’t fall apart at the slightest hint that things aren’t working quite right. I can course correct fairly easily.

I don’t think all the joy gets drained out of your passion once it becomes your career. It simply changes your relationship to it. Making a living from the arts in a capitalistic society means you also have to embrace some level of commercial appeal to what you do. Very few people can make a living from being iconoclastic rebels, reinventing the wheel at each and every turn. I’ve known of a few of these people in my lifetime. (People seem to always want to throw money at them.) And that has never been me.

Life goes by blurringly fast. Pursue a passion while you can. It may not be your career, and in most cases it probably shouldn’t be. To me, it’s worse to have watched time go by without ever reaching for something that fills you with life, and maybe even a taste of bliss. 

Photo Walk: Olvera Street and Union Station

An impromptu day trip to Olvera Street in DTLA for people watching and street photography. 

Took the train into Union Station, which is classic Los Angeles in Mission Moderne style—a blend of Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival, and Art Deco architecture.

I grew up thinking Olvera Street was the preserved remnants of a small Mexican village, but learned recently it was actually saved from demolition and built as a tribute to Mexican culture that had existed here before urbanization. 

Still, Olvera Street features some deep history of LA, including the Avila Adobe (the oldest house in Los Angeles), the oldest living grape vines in Los Angeles, and a stone pathway marking one of the founding water channels of the Pueblo de Los Angeles.

Mexican vendors selling toys, decor, music, games, clothing, and food are are meshed together in this small, cramped street. I wanted to order the famous taquitos from Cielito Lindo, but being vegan the only menu option seemed to be a Soyrizo and potato burrito. It sounded delicious but my appetite wasn’t quite ready for it.

I caught some dancing in the nearby Plaza de Los Angeles (the oldest plaza in California)  where I couldn’t help but feel the sheer joy of seeing people simply dancing in the streets. I’ve been coming to Olvera Street since childhood, and it was good to feel this place once again.

Travelog: Zion National Park

Zion National Park, once the ancestral home of the southern Paiute, as well as the Ute and Navajo, and once known also as Mukuntuweap.

I hadn’t been back since I was a kid. In fact, I found a display in the park noting the last time I was here, 1995 when I was trapped with my family in the Zion Lodge due to a landslide. I nearly jumped when they mentioned said landslide on the shuttle ride in.

The Court of the Patriarchs at dawn

You can’t help but be inspired by this place. I feel like a poor man’s Ansel Adams. No photos do these incredible cliffs justice.

The crowds were a bit much. I got an earlier start, parking early enough to catch the very first shuttle into the park to see the famous Court of the Patriarchs at dawn. I got in a few of the simpler hikes, ate at the Lodge, then left the park midday back to the airstream camp I’m staying in.

I loved the various natural hanging gardens along the Riverside Walk.

I know why everyone—the indigenous folks, the Mormons, the Methodists who named three towers here after three biblical patriarchs—sees this place as a temple of sorts. The un-scalable cliffs humble you almost instantly. 

The famous Zion arch, about 900 feet long.

I actually spent two full days in and around Zion. I also worked on some video, so I’m working on a way to share that as well.

Seasons, reaping, and sowing

The summer slump–that period between from somewhere in August to somewhere in September–has seemingly ended for me. August had a restless feeling. The sun suspended motionless in the afternoon sky. Clients all on vacation, so no work coming in. I did my best to keep the creativity in flow during the long, luxurious afternoons. Almost under our noses, the days begin to shorten. The sunsets come sooner. The mosquitos still manage to bite. Fall comes in.

Now I’m going back to client work. The first was at Angel Stadium in Anaheim for an event. A casual, yet extravagant, evening for wealthy donors to a non-profit held on the actual field of the stadium. I had to steal a quick selfie in the dugout, which was where I was to store my camera bag for the night.

I’ve been thinking of a clip I saw online of someone saying “you can’t always be in the reaping or harvest stage of life” and it really struck me. On some level, it’s something I already knew, but somehow never full had heard it articulated as such.

When I was younger, all I wanted was success. I had worked hard in college. Moved to the big city to pursue my dreams. Networked with the right people. I even made some really great friends. Yet, I was shocked that I wasn’t swimming in success. I knew I was talented and I knew I liked to work hard. So why weren’t opportunities falling from the sky? I waited for the phone to ring. I floated from day job to day job. For so many years I was focused solely on the reaping without really focusing on the sowing.

As a gardener, I knew this! I knew this as the years came and went, a few “somedays” came and went. Now, as I start booking my regular clients for fall events, I recognize that the only way I can do so confidently is because of seeds I sowed long ago. Seeds sown, by the way, in the face of personal adversity. I lost a relationship then, and friends of mine fell away. (I’m not saying you should sacrifice relationships to pursue a dream, but that is just how it played out for me.)

These are just reminders that there are indeed seasons to life. I may be having a harvest year of sorts, and it’s a good idea to think of planting new seeds as the year winds down. Lately, that has been reminding people around me that, while I am extremely grateful for my photography career, it is not the only thing I do. I’ve been playing and posting more music while looking for more opportunities to perform again.