Journal

#MakePortraits Monday Spotlight: Jimmy Nelson

 
Jimmy Nelson is not about facts: he’s a romantic, an idealist, an aesthete.
— from the foreword of Before They Pass Away
 

Recently, I was at a birthday party for one of my son's friends & came across a remarkable book of portraits on the families coffee table. It was Jimmy Nelson's Before They Pass Away. As a lover of other cultures, an occassional adventurer to the places that fall well beyond the end of the road and as a maker of portraits, I instantly fell in love with this book.

At some point, I will own this behemoth.

A behemoth, indeed. My first impression of Before They Pass Away was its sheer size. The 16 x 24 inch book is more than 4 inches thick. It is literally a 464 page mountain of portraits. Five hundred striking images of forgotten peoples from the edges of the earth, to be exact.

This project began, however, so the forgotten would be remembered. So the unseen could come into view. And I think that's the idea that leapt off the pages most. It was not the weight of this giant book in my lap that was pressing on me, but the weight of the idea that was there in clear view on every page. In the photographer's own words, that idea was this:

 
I didn’t start this project anticipating that I could stop the world from changing. I purely wanted to create a visual document that reminds us and generations to come of how beautiful the human world once was.
— Jimmy Nelson
 

And that's why portraiture is important. That's why I am as passionate about the subject as I am, because the human world is beautiful. And it is changing right before our eyes. The people you encounter today will someday be reduced to a bullet point in a history or sociology textbook.

How will people, then, know of our world & experiences now?

We must tell them with portraits, so they can see, and stories, so they can understand. This is not a frivolous task. Wherever you are, take time. Listen. Make portraits. That's what Jimmy Nelson has taught me.

In learning more about Jimmy Nelson's work, I came across his TEDxAmsterdam. If you're into things like how this kind of project happens, what it takes to be a portraitist of this caliber, I'd highly recommend investing the 12 minutes to watch. It's an endearingly vulnerable tale of adventure, connection — connection with self & others, through photography — and the lessons the subjects of his photographs taught him along the way.

 
By being vulnerable, by letting go, by being fallible, you connect with people on any level.
— Jimmy Nelson
 

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#MakePortraits: Monday Spotlight: Dorothea Lange

 
What is it in the end? It is a mounted piece of paper with a photographic silver image on it. But in it there is an element which you can’t call other than an act of love. That is the tremendous motivation behind it. And you give it. Not to a person, you give it to the world, to your world…an act of love – that’s the deepest thing behind it….The audience, the recipient of it, gives that back.
— Dorothea Lange
 

When I first undertook this weekly mission to learn about, study and consider the perspectives of the great portrait photographers, I had to keep myself from leading with Dorothea Lange. Her work has deeply influenced my own in countless ways.

Most notably, I referenced her portraits for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression while preparing for shooting Untouchable on my first trip to India.

Though I poured over her work, I didn't know much about the woman behind the photographs.

On a website dedicated to the 2011 book "Daring to Look", author Anne Whiston Spirn notes that Dorothea Lange was a storyteller above, possibly above all else.

 

Lange held up her mirror to American society that we might see who we were, how we came to be, and what we were in the process of becoming. Her words and photographs speak powerfully to the present, for the dynamics she saw and recorded are still shaping American lives and landscapes. 

 

Maybe that's why I'm so drawn to her portraits, because they're connected to a story. Or maybe it's because so much of her work lives at the intersection I feel my work lives in: that place where documentary, portraiture and exploration of self collide.

 
Every image [the photographer] sees, every photograph he takes, becomes in a sense a self-portrait. The portrait is made more meaningful by intimacy - an intimacy shared not only by the photographer with his subject but by the audience.
— Dorothea Lange
 

So, if this notion of portraiture as self portraiture is true (and, confession, this is a belief I've always held), then what does the work of Dorothea Lange reveal about the artist? Along the way to publishing this entry, I've learned a few things that seem to answer this question.

Lange suffered a bout with polio at age 7 that left her crippled. This was something she came to be quite thankful for as she reflected on her life & career:

 

“[It] was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me,”

 

The early days of her career were spent apprenticing for the likes of Arnold Genthe. Then, she opened a portrait studio in San Francisco around 1919. From that studio she honed her craft as a portraitist, photographing the well-to-do of the city. 

It wasn't until the onset of the Great Depression that Lange came to public consciousness. Her work (above) for the Farm Securities Administration, is regarded as some of the most important by an American photographer in history. She has been the subject of countless books and exhibitions.

During an interview with NPR, author Linda Gordon who wrote the biography Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits noted how the disassociation between the story and the image really upset Lange. Because the images were owned by the Federal Government, the images were freely distributed and as the images became icons of an era, they suffered from anonymity.

 
One of the reasons that she was such a good portrait photographer is that she had an extraordinary power to connect with all sorts of people, to draw them out.
— Linda Gordon
 

Lange, knowing that people stiffened in front of the camera, actually emphasized her disability at times, slowing the whole process down, in an effort to make the subjects of her photos more comfortable.

The style of her work has been characterized as 'detached documentary'. But, these little details seem to betray this notion in profound ways. By diving deeper into her own brokenness, Lange was able to connect with the people of a broken nation & produce works so powerful that they stand as the definitive works of an era. 

If you're interested in learning more about Dorothea Lange, you can watch the Jim Leher News Hour segment featuring Linda Gordon or peruse Lange's work on the Library of Congress website.

 


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#MakePortraits: Monday Spotlight: Steve McCurry

 
The countenance is the portrait of the soul, and the eyes mark its intentions.
— Marcus Tullius Cicero
 

You may not know his name, but you certainly know the work of Steve McCurry. If not the broader body of images by this amazing photographer, you know this image.

 
The Afghan Girl on the cover of National Geographic. Photo by Steve McCurry.

The Afghan Girl on the cover of National Geographic. Photo by Steve McCurry.

 

Given a word to describe McCurry's work, I believe I would choose prolific. He seems at home in almost any possible photographic situation. His documentary work from abroad is stunning. His work in conflict areas, arresting. His dedication to the craft of storytelling, renown.

He's a film student turned photographer who travels the world, invests himself into other cultures in order to tell stories of global significance. I see so much of who I want to be in who he is both personally & professionally. So it made sense, to me, that Steve McCurry be our next stop on this journey toward fluency in craft.

Of his own portrait work, McCurry says, "Most of my portraits are not formal situations; they are found situations." And this, I believe is one of the hallmarks of his genius. I mean, just look at the work:

 
Portraits reveal a desire for human connection; a desire so strong that people who know they will never see me again open themselves to the camera, all in the hope that at the other end someone will be watching, someone who will laugh or suffer with them.
— Steve McCurry
 

In an interview with photographer Oded Wagenstein, McCurry was asked about the importance of story in his images, specifically as it relates to portraits.

 
We connect with one another via eye contact, and there is a real power in that shared moment of attention, in which you can occasionally catch a glimpse of what it must be like to be in another’s shoes. I think this is one of the most powerful things about a photograph... It is a question of the moment to reveal something interesting and profound about the human condition.
— Steve McCurry
 

For me, this is key. If you want to be a brilliant photographer, you have to have a hunger to understand the human condition. As I've said several times before, if we want others to listen to our story, we must first listen to theirs.

And these portraits are really a massive testimony to the way in which McCurry, who is famous for discovering a place & her people by wandering, listens. Guided by instinct, he has learned that the details make us different, but deep down we are profoundly the same.

 
Everybody wants to be respected, to have a sense that you’re trying to understand their culture.
— Steve McCurry
 

In doing the research for this spotlight, I came across this 5 part interview series by Scott Schuman, aka The Sartorialist. It's very, very good & each "episode" is quite short, but Schuman & McCurry touch on a range of questions relating to portraiture, mobile photography & working in foreign cultures.

Here is part one. Chase down the rest here.

In parting, I will leave you one more quote on which to chew. In a world dominated by digitally based shares, I find McCurry's thoughts on the requisite technology of photography to be quite inspiring.

 
It’s your work. It’s like a poem. You put the poem on the table and you read it and no one is going to ask you if you typed it or wrote it out long hand. No one cares how long it took or how many re-drafts you did. How many pictures did you shoot? It doesn’t matter. The proof is the final print.
— Steve McCurry
 

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#MakePortraits: Monday Spotlight: Yousuf Karsh

 
How I wish that mankind would take the sunrise for their slogan and leave the shadows of sunset behind them.
— Helen Keller to Yousuf Karsh
 

I recently stumbled upon the work of Yousuf Karsh, an Armenian born survivor of the genocide against his people & one of the most masterful portraitists of all time. Digging deeper into his work, I found his official website, which pairs his astounding work with anecdotal stories behind the images.

 
 

We live in an age when making a portrait requires very little work — by that I mean our cameras fit in our pockets & the images are re-touched and shared within seconds of taking them — and as I got lost in the black and white images of Karsh's portrait gallery, I couldn't help but think how much we have to learn from the subtle bits of wisdom in archives like this.

#MakePortraits: Monday started as a personal exercise on Instagram, but has grown into a quest to become fluent in the craft. Reading these words from Yousuf, who by every measure is a master, gives me hope that the quest I'm on — and, I hope we are on this quest together — is a worthwhile one:

 
...I believe the past has no claim on greatness, for such arresting personalities are always among us. Nor can we yet judge what lessons remain to be learned from the young. I know only that my quest continues.
 

We are the young — though I am much too quickly escaping that classification — and I believe that many of those lessons we have yet to learn are locked up in archives like this. It is my goal to find them in hopes that that, each week, we can, together, continue to take the sunrise for our slogan.


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Source: http://www.karsh.org

Fifty Dollar Bills

Do you remember that scene in Goonies when Data accidentally bumps the counterfeiting machine in the basement of the Lighthouse Lounge? The machine rumbles to life and sheet after sheet of "fifty dolla bill!" come rolling out. In a fleeting moment before the story even starts, the counterfeiting machine nearly brings an end to their quest for the real treasure that will save their town.

And that's the the thing about the counterfeit - it's so convincing, it promises us reprieve from the hard work ahead. I can't tell you how many times I've chased the counterfeit when real treasure was waiting for me, if only I would join the quest.

WELD life is good life.

WELD life is good life.

About 5 years ago, my buddy Steve & I had an idea for a co-working space in Dallas. I only mention this little detail because what I did with the idea stands in stark contrast to what my friend Austin Mann did with a similar idea. I looked at the cost (financial, personal and professional) and balked, whereas Austin sacrificed everything to bring WELD to life.

And, make no mistake, Austin has sacrificed everything he once treasured — a blossoming career as a photographer, numerous opportunities to have his work (which is brilliant) featured in national publications, stamps in his passport from far flung and exotic places and adventure. He's sacrificed so much adventure.

WELD's founder, Austin Mann // a birds eye view of the WELD Dallas patio

WELD's founder, Austin Mann // a birds eye view of the WELD Dallas patio

But, as he heads off today to start WELD Nashville, I see that, maybe just maybe, his sacrifice of the very things I was unwilling to let go of is a statement of faith in what he deems to be treasure. And what he considers true adventure.

To enable, inspire and grow the creative communities of Dallas — and now Nashville — is a gift that multiplies Austin's heart for people a thousand fold. And amplifies the impact he alone can have in the world.

WELD-003

Five years ago, I said no to that quest. I didn't have the capital or the desire or the stomach to risk everything for others. That's hard to admit, but it's honest.

So, when Austin came to me and asked if I'd be willing to move into the roll of "Chief WELDER" in Dallas, I was faced with a similar dilemma. And there were a hundred reasons to once again say no. I mean, $50 bills are rolling off the machine, y'all. But, as I thought about my friends in Dallas who come to WELD every day, and this city my family calls home, and the deep seated beliefs I have about who we creatives are supposed to be in society, I realized those $50 bills are a sorry substitute for the quest that I was being invited into, which is the real treasure afterall.

I'm incredibly thankful to Austin for cultivating this community and revealing the deep truths of life to me in all he does. And, I'm incredibly honored that he'd hand me the opportunity to care for the fruit of his sacrifice.

I don't know what will happen next. Starting today, I'm in the tunnel, juggling my workload as a storyteller and the needs of the WELD community, and I'm sure that both the reminders of other's failures and a few boobie traps lay in front of me (that's what I said, 'boobie traps!!'"). But I also know that there is a treasure out there & I have a group of people (and, I genuinely love those people) who have climbed into the tunnel with me. And all any of us want to find is something better than the comfort of the counterfeit.

So, WELDERs, here we go.

Richard Rawlings

Richard-Rawlings-Private-Clubs-Magazine-photo-by-Trey-Hill

This one has been a long-time coming... but when you get an editorial commission, sometimes you have to hold on sharing the work until it has been published. Such was the case with this shoot with Fast N' Loud star, Richard Rawlings, for Private Clubs Magazine. So, I was stoked to find the issue in my mailbox over the weekend. There are few things as gratifying as seeing your work in print.

I wasn't familiar with Fast N' Loud, but back in December found myself on-set of the reality TV show, which is filmed at Rawlings' Gas Monkey Garage here in Dallas. Because of Rawlings' shooting schedule, my assistant, Neva Everett, and I would have to set up our shots and wait for a break in shooting to steal a few minutes with Richard. He was incredibly gracious and in a couple of hours of shooting we walked away having shot 7 set-ups.

Here are a selection of the images I delivered to the client.

Richard-Rawlings-Gas-Monkey-Garage-photo-by-Trey-Hill
Richard-Rawlings-Gas-Monkey-Garage-3-photo-by-Trey-Hill
Richard-Rawlings-Gas-Monkey-Garage-2-photo-by-Trey-Hill

Thanks to Richard & the entire Fast N' Loud crew for the access they provided and to Private Clubs Magazine Associate Design Director, Ron Thomas, for the assignment. It was fun collaborating with all of you guys.

Air Review

Week before last, my love for music, visual storytelling and my friends all collided in a shoot I couldn't possibly be more excited about.

"I've got low wishes now that I am old / 'cause I don't really know what to ask for anymore / and I'm overwhelmed by the questions I can't ignore" — Low Wishes

"I've got low wishes now that I am old / 'cause I don't really know what to ask for anymore / and I'm overwhelmed by the questions I can't ignore" — Low Wishes

In case you haven't heard, Air Review has a new album out, so when Jeff Taylor — a long-time friend and member of the band — called me to say they needed some new promo photos, I jumped at the chance to work with them.

Jumped, not just because of my friendship or the fact that Jeff and Doug Hale (the world's most humble frontman) have scored almost every motion project I've ever done, but because as humans and artists, Jeff, Doug and the rest of the guys have my admiration and respect. They are so much better than they realize.

"'Cause we are planes heading for a lonely place / faking everything's okay / this is my automatic" — My Automatic

"'Cause we are planes heading for a lonely place / faking everything's okay / this is my automatic" — My Automatic

But I have a feeling that's about to change. NPR released their list of "100 artists worth discovering" at SXSW this year and atop the list sits Air Review:

"Handpicked from among thousands of artists, this genre-traversing playlist picks highlights, discoveries and future thrills from this year's festival."

Air Review's new album, which you must buy, could also be described as genre-traversing. It's a little electronic & a little folk-y with lyric depth and beautifully crafted melodies. It's a stunning bit of work that I've had it in constant rotation since first laying my hands on it several weeks ago. I cannot get enough.

"When we were kids we believed in everything / there's only one thing left to believe in now that we're old" — Rebel

"When we were kids we believed in everything / there's only one thing left to believe in now that we're old" — Rebel

"And I can't help that this heart beats in my chest / and that the blood fills up my bones like flesh and hope" — Rebel

"And I can't help that this heart beats in my chest / and that the blood fills up my bones like flesh and hope" — Rebel

Special thanks to Deep Ellum 42's Benton Payne. He works tirelessly to enable artists from around our city free access to shoot in these incredible Deep Ellum locations. If you have a photo or video project coming up, or need to host an art event in a truly unique space, give Benton a call. They have 19 buildings in Deep Ellum that are completely free, provided your project meets their requirements. I feel rather fortunate to have met him and hope they are successful in their attempts to revive this storied part of our city.

"Oh to know where secrets go / we could start a fire and watch it grow" — Young

"Oh to know where secrets go / we could start a fire and watch it grow" — Young

"I'm not the only one / I am America's Son / and I'm so inclined to run" — American's Son

"I'm not the only one / I am America's Son / and I'm so inclined to run" — American's Son