Not all of my photographic work is portraiture...
Much of my editorial photography steers completely away from my work as a portrait photographer and focuses on places and things. In fact, most of the photographs I take in my free time are of these other nouns.
Of course I love making portraits when I travel outside of Tokyo. After all, I am primarily a portrait photographer. To me, there is nothing as special as making a human connection and photographing a new friend. But, the non-human elements that one finds throughout their travels are just as helpful in creating a sense of place as the people we encounter along the way.
It is rare that I take a photograph that could be considered epic. Most of the photographs I take don't even deserve a post on my Instagram feed. But, every time I click my shutter I do aim to document something, even if I am doing the documenting for my future self. In the same way students take notes to assist in their cognitive processing of information, making images helps me form a sense of place and helps me place myself in a new environment.
I take snapshots that will later spark memories. I take snapshots to help me reflect on my overall experience. Yet, the snapshot is not only taken for reflection later on down the line. When I pause to take a photograph, I actively acknowledge my subject and focus all of my attention upon it. When a frame is print or publication worthy, that is just the icing on the cake.
On a recent trip to Thailand, I was admittedly snapshot happy. I loved every second of my time shooting frame after frame of everything and nothing. Snap. Snap. Snap. I got into a rhythm of shooting and moving on instead of pouring over every aspect of the shot, shooting the scene dry, hemming and hawing over my exposure levels until I was grumpy because I wasn't making "the perfect shot."
Professional photographers take hundreds of thousands of photos a year. But most of these images are just snapshots. That's okay. Despite what many pro photographers will say, snapshots are just as important as those grandiose, larger-than-life images all photographers seek to capture and share.
Snapshots are quick, fun, and easy. They don't take a great deal of thought and only require us to focus on composition. But more, snapshots are equally as capable of telling a great story and helping viewers (and their authors) gather a sense of place.
When I got home from Thailand, I quickly imported and backed up all of my files (a lesson any seasoned photographer has learned the hard way). When I started reviewing the frames, I noticed a trend. I had spent much more time photographing non-living nouns than I did making portraits. I usually have a pretty balanced collection of images. But on this trip, it seemed as though I had focused on things instead of making crisp, portraits.
I am fine with taking a breather from portraiture and shooting something a bit different. I am fine with the fact that I shot a massive collection of Thailand snapshots instead of grinding those epic landscape panoramas and exquisitely lit portraits out.
Snapshots are more than what they are given credit to be. Not only do snapshots help to tell the story of a place, they will in some way help me hone my skills with my one true photographic love; portraiture. Years from now, the snapshots will also jolt my memory and remind me of a relaxing trip to one of my favorite countries in southeast Asia.
What do you like to take snapshots of when you travel? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below!
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After years of photographing families, I have been able to reflect on what makes for an awesome family portrait session. There are so many things that families can do before, during, and after a shoot to ensure that they have a spectacular time and come away with a set of stellar shots.
So, what exactly can you do to help me capture the photos you have always wanted?
Ten Tips for an Amazing Family Portrait Session
1) Come to your portrait session well rested
Do you ever get cranky when you don't get enough sleep? If you or anyone else in your family is tired, your photos will show it. I am always able to get the best results when everyone is feeling fresh. A well rested family makes for an energy fueled session.
2) Consider your family's routines
When considering the best time for your family portrait session, it is important to take children's routines and your individual needs into account. I will always do my best to work around your schedule. But, planning ahead ensures that our portrait session is priority number one during our time together.
3) Be on time
Coming to your family session on time (or even a bit early) is always best. The more time I have with your family the better. The beginning of our session is always about establishing a relationship. The better I know you as a family, the better I can capture you.
4) Be my stylist
I need your help to make the portrait session run smoothly. No, this doesn't mean that I need you to stand behind me and clap your hands so that the kiddos will look at the camera. Your job is more akin to a stylist. Make sure your family's clothing and hair are to your liking throughout the session.
5) Bring an additional change of clothing
If you are unsure of which clothing choice will work best for your family portraits, bring an extra change. Prior to our session, I will offer suggestions about clothing that makes for great imagery. But, if you are hemming and hawing over which outfit to wear, bring an extra along.
6) Bring a favorite item
Parents of young children sometimes choose to bring along a special item to include in their portraits. Does your kiddo have a ratty old stuffed animal that they never want to part with? Now is the perfect time to document it before it finds its way into a keepsake box bound for your attic. While I don't shoot a lot of portraits with props of any sort, there is a time and a place for those special keepsakes.
7) Sustain the smiles with bribery
Of course I am a proponent of intrinsic motivation. But, I am not above cheap bribery to get a great portrait. Keep a bag of goodies on hand that can be used to motivate your child through the portrait session. Something yummy to eat usually does the trick for young children.
8) Don't worry about the photographer
I am not stressed out by your child's unwillingness or cheeky backtalk. I am not freaked out by a kid throwing a tantrum. I am also a father and know all too well "how it is." I am ready to capture the smiles between those meltdown moments. Don't worry about me!
9) Be flexible
A family portrait session is all about having fun. Every portrait session is unique and I will work with you to capture the very best moments for you and your family to love and enjoy for years to come. As we work together, keep an open mind and be flexible.
10) Treat yourself
I always advise families to treat themselves to something nice after our shoot. Seeing that you are out and about, you might as well extend your family's special day together. Do you have a favorite ice cream parlor or kid's museum? Plan a special treat after our session so that you can keep the good times rolling.
Are you interested in a family portrait session? Put these ten tips to practice during your own session. What are you waiting for? Book a shoot today!
Tokyo Is For Lovers...
Whether you are an art lover, neon lover, adventure lover, arcade lover, book lover, cat lover, music lover, fashion lover, or about any other type of lover you can think of, Tokyo has what you are looking for. But, there is one type of lover that I especially relate to: photography lovers.
Sure, it is easy to find photo galleries and camera service centers. Within minutes, you can find Nikon and Canon stores and hipster camera stores selling leather straps. But, it is even quicker to find an interesting subject to make a photo of in Tokyo.
In photography chat groups and popular discussion boards, I see a topic tirelessly repeated amongst my colleagues. Many photographers endlessly complain about how they would shoot "better" photographs if they lived in a place that was inspirational to them. Photographers from all over the world seem to grumble about their current home base.
Everyday I hear photographers claim that there is "nothing to shoot." Sadly, these shutterbugs want to turn their lens on a world that they don't know, instead of the world they do. While I too love travel photography, I get just as much satisfaction pointing my camera at everything Tokyo.
Even though I have lived in Asia for eight years, I am still constantly inspired by the surroundings of my adoptive home. People watching on the inbound and outbound trains never gets old, nor do the lights and glitz of Ginza, gloved taxi drivers, ginko trees, elderly women sweeping temples, fashionable youth of Koenji, or the neighborhood fruit vendors. I love photographing the back alleys and seeing the seasons change within the confines of the city. I adore the delicate food and the massive power towers. Even a single cigarette butt on the sidewalk is fascinating (seeing that there is hardly ever litter to be found in Tokyo) and worthy of a snapshot.
For those photographers with a drive to shoot "something different," I urge you to revisit what you already know. Take a deep look at what, at first glance, appears to be mundane and then get all Matrix with it. "Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth... There is no spoon. Then you will see that it is not the spoon that bends but only yourself." See the mundane in a new way and challenge yourself to photograph what you know in ways that you didn't know were possible.
Tokyo remains a city for lovers; especially photography lovers. But, Tokyo isn't the only city for image makers, for image lovers. Photographers should be able to find and shoot inspirational frames in any place they call home.
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Proposing is a big deal.
Asking someone to marry you is, hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime moment. You want everything to be perfect, everything to go just as you have planned. After all, most of us only get the one shot at popping the question and, for the one being asked, the proposal is what fairy tales are made of.
Those four simple words make up one of the most important questions you will ever ask in life. So, if you are going to ask, you might as well make it memorable. Edwin sure did.
Edwin is a romantic gentleman.
He didn't just pop the question without really, really thinking it through. He knew that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Yen (that much was apparent in my communication with Edwin). But, what he didn't know was how he was going to do it.
For months, Edwin and I communicated about his proposal. He had great ideas and I was determined to find a location in Tokyo that met Edwin's vision of the perfect proposal spot. I scouted locations and reported back to Edwin several times until finally, he had a perfect proposal plan.
The elaborate proposal started when Edwin and Yen's friends faked a trip to Las Vegas for Yen's birthday. Instead of heading to the glitz and neon of the Vegas Strip, Ed whisked Yen off on a whirlwind trip through Asia. After stopping off here and there in Asia, the lovebirds finally arrived in Tokyo. But here, in Japan, Ed had another surprise up his sleeve.
There on the moon bridge in Tokyo's Koishikawa Garden, Ed got down on one knee and found the courage to utter those four simple words. And with tears of happiness, Yen said "Yes."
I was honored to photograph Edwin and Yen's proposal.
Taking part in such an intimate moment in others' lives is an honor that few people get to experience. It is moments like this that solidify my love of photography and remind me of my love for my own wife.
Congrats Yen and Edwin! I wish you both the best as you move into the next chapter of your lives together.
Are you thinking about a surprise proposal here in Tokyo or somewhere else in Japan? If so, contact me today to find out how I can help ease the stress of your engagement proposal!
I am always stoked when my clients and I get the chance to be first into, well, anywhere. Whether it is a garden or temple, neighborhood venue or amusement park, I love the feeling of being in a space without others there. It makes me feel like the world has stopped and that we are the masters of time.
I was stoked to see Harry, Zac, Mia, John and Carmen show up on time for our early morning shoot. Frankly, I was impressed. How John and Carmen got two young twin boys and a feisty older sister out the door and to our location on time I will never know. But they did and, because of that effort, Tokyo's famous Shinjuku Gyoen was all ours for a few precious minutes.
The twins, Zac and Harry, were full of energy and Mia was a little firecracker, smiling coyly and then letting out a tremendous laugh. As soon as we entered the park the boys started running and Mia skipped along. John and Carmen also had smiles on their faces and strolled together along the park's tranquil pathway. I could tell within those first few moments that I was going to have fun shooting family portraits with the Monksmiths.
For the next hour or so, I had the opportunity to run with the kids, act silly, and snag some awesome shots with this amazing family.
Are you interested in a family portrait session in Tokyo?
If so, don't be bashful. Contact me today so that we can begin crafting a custom shoot for your family.
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2016 was a rollercoaster that just wouldn't let me (or any of us) get off. But like every other year, the finite amount of time came to an end and I am really glad to bring in a new year full of possibilities. Even though we are in the throes of winter, just seeing the word January on the calendar is enough to make me feel refreshed.
Instead of focusing on all of the melancholia that stained 2016, I would like to reflect back on the many positives. 2016 was my first year as a father and another splendid year living in Tokyo. My wife and I were fortunate enough to travel together with our son a bit and we enjoyed time with friends far and wide. I was generally in good health and Chicken Little remains wrong; the sky hasn't fallen quite yet.
But it wasn't just a successful year on the personal front. There were plenty of joyful moments professionally too. I felt that this past year was full of tiny strides. These small, incremental steps are what photographers use (what anyone uses) to keep motivated.
So, without further adeiu, here is a recap of a highlight (or two) from each month of 2016.
The year started with a bang. Just after I greeted 2016, Tokyo Thrift was published in Obvious Magazine. The collaboration with writer and model Lauren Dungari was a great way to start the year. Marie Nakagawa (Asia's Next Top Model Season 2) worked her magic for the shoot and new comer D-Asa even let his fro out for us. Even though I had shot the editorial weeks before, it was great to finally see it published and started 2016 off with momentum.
Though it is the shortest month of the year, February is by far my least favorite. During month number two, I chomped at the bit and eagerly awaited spring (and the end of any seasonal depression). Admitedly, I spent much of this past February indoors. A lot of my time was devoted to this website. I streamlined the site in an attempt to make it clean and convenient for users.
Part of the streamlining process was to gain user feedback. By utilizing a free service called Peek, I was able to gain valuable insights about my website from anonymous users. Some of the feedback was positive and some was quite constructive. I took notes and made the appropriate changes (stay tuned for a post about how you can utilize user testing to better your own website).
While couples and family portrait sessions really picked up in March, my highlights were found in the streets of Tokyo. Armed with a bunch of new Fujinon lenses, I went back to my roots as a photographer and shot a ton of monochome images.
In April my good friend and fellow creative Steve Wilcox came to Tokyo. It was great to see a friend from my "Seoul days." While Steve was here, we decided to get out into Harajuku and mess about.
After reviewing the the images from our session, I knew that I wanted to see the fashion story published. Steve and I were both stoked to see our evening of fun featured in KALTBLUT. Magazine, a Vice Media partner. The Lone, as the story is named, shows not only how handsome and Jesus-looking Steve is, but a different side of Tokyo.
I continued my publication streak with another fashion editorial in May; this time for The Dapifer. I was stoked to work with my buddy Go Kamada (BarkInStyle Tokyo) for a piece called Suzume No Namida, or The Sparrow's Tears in Japanese. This fashion editorial, just like the others published in 2016, was a success because of a great team.
In June my family packed our bags and headed to the United States. Being at our home in Asheville, North Carolina is always awesome for me. Away from the Tokyo grind, I was able to really relax. I stared at the mountains, pet the neighbor's dog, and did a whole lot of nothing (for the first couple of weeks).
With few distractions around, I got the chance to look through boxes of old film I had stashed in a closet. The time with those boxes of film was important because it gave me a chance to reflect and understand my evolution as a photographer.
During June I also decided to brand a bit. For some photographers, branding can be all-consuming. For the longest time, I held firm to the notion of having the "brand of no brand." While I acnkowledge that branding does have a place for the professional photographer, I do not let it overwhelm me.
Still, I wanted a new logo and decided to outsource the task to my friends over at 99 Designs, an agency that allows multiple designers to work on a client's brief. Being a photographer, not a designer, I decided that 99 Designs' service was perfect for me and I was really satisfied with the result.
June floated into July and I remained in North Carolina. But July wasn't all barbeque and fireflies. I made the most of my time and managed to break out some of the photo gear I have stashed in America.
My first task was to capture the lovely Casey Puhr. But there was more to this shoot than simply portraits. I needed portraits of me, taking portraits of Casey for a piece I was crafting about Manfrotto's new stunt bag. Wanting to show the best possible behind-the-scenes images, I brought in Asheville's Micah Mackenzie to shoot alongside me.
With the assignment for the good people at Manfrotto in the bag, I wanted to keep my portrait chops up. Even though I live in Tokyo I still keep in touch with people who are gracious enough to model for me. With some time on my hands I arranged five or six shoots for funsies.
While all of these summer portrait sessions were the bee's knees, I really loved the last two shoots of the summer. I got the opportunity to collaborate with the talented Amanda Anderson of Asheville's Dollbox Productions. Amanda is always a pleasure to be around. With incredible make-up and styling skills, I couldn't ask for a better partner.
In August I headed back to Japan to work with several couples who either wanted engagement portraits in Tokyo or their honeymoon captured. One couple, Dana and Yusef, decided to come out with me for two days to capture as much of Tokyo as possible. Dana and Yusef were so much fun to be around. Because of them, and other clients like them, August was a great month for portrait photography in Japan.
August was also a busy month with a lot of hours being spent behind my computer. I decided to join the great team of staff writers at FStoppers. Writing about photography projects, industry news, and creative craft was quite fulfilling and I was honored to start a collaboration with such a respected company in the photography world. Check out some of the articles I wrote for FStoppers in 2016 here.
Lets get real... September was a dud of a month. Let's not chat about September.
Since my son was born, my family really hasn't really been that mobile. This fall, we wanted to remedy that. So, we took a much needed long weekend together in Hiroshima. We did the tourist circuit and I fell in love with the well known city (more photos of this trip to come).
After returning from Hiroshima, I started a string of fall portrait shoots. There were prewedding and anniversary shoots as always. But the session that stood out most in my mind was a proposal in Tokyo's Koishikama Gardens. I was honored to take part in Edwin's proposal to his beautiful girlfriend (now fiancé) Yen. The peaceful surroundings and romance made for a gushy day behind the camera and solidified this shoot as an October highlight for me.
Another fall standout was again working with Manfrotto. This time the assignment was for Manfrotto School of Xcellence. I was tasked with testing the new XPro Monopod and 500 series video head. For the piece, I decided to see how the monopod and head could help in a variety of situations and was so impressed with the stability of the monopod that I even managed to capture some brief timelapse work with it.
While November might seem late in the year to most, it is the perfect time of year to be a photographer in Japan. In October, some of the leaves start to morph in color. But, November is really when the fall show really kicks off.
Wanting to take advantage of the season and our newly found mobility, the family and I again pulled out of Tokyo and headed south. This short trip was to Kyoto. Naturally, we picked the busiest weekend of the year to visit the idyllic Japanese city. Yet, even with throngs of people, Kyoto proved its worth.
My favorite client shoot of November occurred as soon as I returned from Kyoto. Eric T. was the perfect client. He knew exactly what he wanted for his portrait shoot. He mentioned three words in our initial correspondence which let me know that we were in for a good time together: stylish, fashion, editorial. Working with Eric felt like I was working with a professional model. If all portrait sessions were as easy as this one was, well, everyone would be a professional photographer.
The shoot that stood out the most to me in December was with the beautiful Jordan W. Headshot sessions are not exactly know for being exciting. But, I was thrilled to work with Jordan because of her kind temperment and positive attitude. Our session was a blast and I couldn't have asked for a bettter day to work with Jordan throughout Kichijoji, one of Tokyo's gems.
After a short month of portrait shoots with individuals and couples hoping to get in the last of the fall colors (that's right... those leaves are still on the trees in December here in Japan), my family and I packed our bags for Hoi An, Vietnam for some much needed rest and relaxation. Most of my time in Hoi An was spent away from my camera. But the shots I did manage to take, I made count.
December 31st has now past us by and I have leapt into the new year with a busy start. I am truly looking forward to a wonderful year and am eager to see what it has in store.
Happy New Year. May your year be blessed.
The birth certificate says 2:00 a.m.
But it was actually 1:47 was when Milo arrived. I distinctly remember looking at the clock in the delivery room and thinking to myself that it was one of the most important minutes of my life. I let go of my wife's hand and reached for my camera so that I could take a few quick snaps of the surreal moment.
Days before going to the hospital I packed a small "go bag" with my Fujifilm X-T1 and a couple of lenses. I made some grandiose plan of photographing the whole delivery process. I wanted to shoot the delivery room and the medical gadgetry (if that is a word). I wanted to take photos of the legendary umbilical cord and even make portraits of the doctors. I had seen enough television to know that I would be able to come away from the birth with at least a thousand frames.
I have never been so wrong.
When the time finally came, I quickly understood that the delivery room is not the time, nor the place to do anything except following directions, carefully doing as you are told by your partner or hospital staff. I was only able to take a couple of actual photos. But, I took hundreds of snaps through my mental viewfinder (In hindsight, I am very grateful that I experienced Milo's birth first hand, without a camera in my hand. So much of my life, our collective lives, are spent snapping photographs instead of seeing life as it really is).
It wasn't until the first light when I really got to take a look at Milo and fully introduce myself. I was timid near him. He had such a gentleness, a softness I had never really seen in a human before. It might have been the morning light coming through the partially drawn curtains. But, the atmosphere during our first man to man chat was golden.
Coming home, the reality of the situation set in. By nature I am an anxious person. In our living room sat this little dude screaming and I, in all honesty, got really freaked out. It took me nearly three and a half decades to finally commit to having a child and those first moments in the house with him made me question our decision to have a family.
At the moment, it didn't seem like we were capable of taking care of the little guy and I questioned whether I would be able to keep it all together. I wondered how we were going to make it through a week let alone eighteen years. For the first days, my life was just one massive, ongoing panic attack.
The anxiety of change wore off. After a few days (lets get real... weeks) the ideal of fatherhood set in. There would be changes and sacrifices, sleepless nights and added responsibility. But, when Milo started grabbing onto my fingers, I knew that everything would be just fine.
Milo was eating, smiling, gaining weight, cooing, and pooping. Baby stuff. But, something was still off. During those first few months, I felt disassociated from Milo. He would let me hold and cuddle him. But, it just didn't seem like we were quite vibing. I was jealous of the bond he had with my wife. I understood why he was so attached to Laura and I was of course happy to see such a connection between Milo and his mother. Still, I was eager to establish my own relationship with my son.
Experienced fathers told me over and over that my feelings were natural and that fatherhood would get progressively better with time. I hoped that they were right and that Milo would be able to show me a little love every now and again too.
Thankfully, the advice I was given by those other dads was right. Milo began to show me more of his personality. He began to wrestle with me and smile when I walked into the room. He begin to spit things at me and refuse to do what I wanted him to do (some of my best qualities were obviously passed on to him). Milo began to explore his world and interact with anything that was left on the floor. He began to come to me and raise his arms high, asking for me to pick him up. We were finally getting to know each other. It was during this transitional phase from little lump in a rocker to a little person that I really bought in.
And then Milo said, "Dada."
I realize that the next seventeen years will go as quickly as the first. I am doing my best to remind myself that each second with Milo is precious and that there will be no second chance for me to do right by my son. I am doing my best to be present and to show him the love that all kids (hell, all humans) deserve.
Happy first birthday Milo. I love you man.
The Client Coffee
I want to have a cup of coffee with all of my clients before our shoot. Sure, I love coffee and fantasize about it more than the average man. The caffeine helps me stay focused and gives me a jolt of energy for the portrait session. But that isn't why I want to have that cuppa with the client.
You can learn a lot about a person over a cup of coffee. That ten minutes of time is just enough to get a feel for a person. Working with tons of clients over the years, I can tell how a shoot is going to go just by that cup of coffee. If a client is willing to relax and have a warm beverage (as is social convention), then they will likely be relaxed throughout the shoot. Having a cup of coffee and some good old fashion conversation allows me to establish a connection with my subject. It is the connection that will either make or break a portrait session.
I love that ten minute coffee. I love learning about who my client actually is, what makes them tick, and why in the world they would want to spend an after noon with me pointing a camera in their face. This weekend I had the pleasure of having a cup of coffee with Jordan.
Jojo, as she likes to be called, is an accomplished dancer from Canada. Naturally, she ordered a maple latte from the quaint outdoor cafe in Kichijoji's Inokashira Park. Being fond of all things Canadian, I had the same. We took our coffees to a nearby bench and began chatting away.
In between sips of my latte I learned a lot about Jojo. I learned how she moved away from her home in Canada to follow her dreams in New York City. I learned about her experience earning a BFA in dance. I learned about how she also has trouble learning Japanese. And I learned that she is a real life Disney princess.
I was fascinated. I grew up on Disney movies. Trust me, I can sing the whole Aladdin soundtrack by memory and have a story or two about different ways that one can watch Fantasia. But how, exactly, is Jojo a Disney princess?
Jordan left New York to embark on an incredible journey with Disney. Here in Tokyo, Jordan is a stage dancer and plays the part of some of our favorite fairy tale females. Day in and day out, Jojo captivates audiences who have always dreamed of seeing a princess in the flesh.
So why would a princess want to spend an afternoon with me? Like many other artists, Jojo realizes the need to keep an up-to-date portfolio stocked with artistic headshots. With a book filled with stellar portraits, entertainment industry professionals are likely to land contract after contract. While Jojo is enjoying every minute in Japan, she is smart to consider the future and knows that Tokyo is just one stop for a princess.
With our coffees finished and some great rapport established, Jojo and I jumped into our portrait session.
There are few professions that are as competitive as photography. In every market, every niche, photographers step on each other to get to the top of the pile. Somewhere along the way, the industry decided that there wasn't enough work to share and wasn't enough fame to go around. Most ambitious photographers have bought in to this fixed mindset and have embarked on a laborious and solitary trek to some undefined pinnacle.
But photographers Frank Diaz and Deb Young realize that the view from the top (if there is a peak) is best enjoyed with company. For the past years, Frank and Deb have been working together on their critically acclaimed International Collaboration Project (ICP), an engine that has already produced several photographic series and continues to rack up accolades and awards. The team continues to produce photo montages that leave their viewers entranced. But it is the collaborative nature of the project that calls all artists to question their solitary stance.
Frank Diaz and Deb Young
To you Frank, Coney Island is much more than a boardwalk or a summer promenade. Can you describe what your upbringing was like in one of New York’s most famous landmarks? How, exactly, did your youth on Coney impact your visual aesthetic?
F: Well, for me Coney Island was quite poor. So much of what made it great had fallen into disrepair. On side streets there were still some of the “freak” shows. The beach was still wonderful and I remember every Tuesday in the summer there were fireworks. As a child, the area held a lot of mystery and discomfort. I think those feelings inform my aesthetic today to some degree.
In your biography Frank, you mention the influence of a cheap supermarket encyclopedia that introduced you to the concept of the Renaissance Man. Do you consider yourself to be a polymath? If so, how does this affect your photography craft? What other interests do you have outside of the art world?
F: Yes, I think so. I have taught myself to do everything from building furniture and house painting to playing the guitar and photography. My primary interest outside of the art world is racquetball. I play about six to eight hours a week. I take this wide ranging point of view and use that sense of searching, seeking and trying to understand more into our photographic work.
Deb, our passion for photography sizzled when you began working for New Zealand Photography Magazine. How does one begin working in the industry before their zeal for the craft fully emerges? What industry insight did you glean from your position at NZPM?
D: I had a passion for photography before I went to work for the New Zealand Photography Magazine and this made my experience there all the more rewarding. I came away from that experience understanding how important it is to learn to work well with others and learning that all aspects of photography – the technical aspects and the business aspects – contributed to that better understanding.
Deb, there was a point in your life that you decided to devote yourself to art. Why is it necessary to listen and respond to one’s inner voice?
D: Happiness. That inner voice can guide you to what truly makes you happy in life. Art fills me with joy, excitement and deeper understanding. The more I learn through art, the more I want to learn.
The International Collaboration Project
With as many digital artists as there are stars in the sky, how did you find one another ?
F: A good photography friend, Brent Pallas, kept encouraging me to join Facebook. Finally, I gave in and joined. He sent me 10 contact names to reach out to and Deb was one of them. At some point, I began reviewing her work and we began to discuss the possibility of exhibiting together. Facebook was the portal for our early ideas and discussions on collaboration. It was a fertile ground where we could see so many different ways in which photographers were expressing themselves. That was exciting and it spurred our search for a way to move photography forward.
D: The Facebook photography community was pretty exciting with all sorts of genres, styles, and cultures. At the time I was exploring street photography, but Frank’s work was like this vibrant colour oasis of florals and unnerving narrative pieces that left you scratching your head. I just loved that sense of deep discussion Frank’s work evoked and was totally intrigued to learn it was all photomontage. In the beginning we would comment on each other’s work but the dialogue between us on Facebook had to be concise. Leaving a comment was really about being observant, reading visual clues and broadening that artist/viewer response beyond “I like it!”
Facebook also opened up an incredible sense of community support and encouragement. Some of our earliest connections are still a huge part of our community today. Our relationship really sprouted from that rich field of creativity, camaraderie and like minds – the digital version of artist-hangouts opening up connections and inspiring new ideas. I distinctly remember being in awe of Frank’s sense of narrative and story-telling in his images which totally appealed to my analytical side. Even from the very beginning we had this visual language exchange that tapped into our need to search and understand.
Do you recall any points in the beginning stages of the ICP where you knew you had a special idea or artistic relationship?
F: Yes, it was after Deb had taken some amazing landscape shots of Manukau Harbor and then worked on them. She shared them with me and I was blown away by how unique they were. We then spontaneously decided to work on one and created “The Wolf + the Bird” piece. Our collaborative development was truly organic – no plan, no strategy. We immediately entered it into a competition and got in! We knew at that moment we had done something remarkable.
D: The moment we created our very first piece “The Wolf + the Bird” we were blown away because it was unplanned. Sounds a bit like conceiving a child! One minute I was sharing some landscape snaps I had been working on, and the next we had combined concept with imagery and something unique and beautiful was born.
In your Playground series you explore the “innocent complexity of playground society.” What roles did you individually hold on the playground? Do you still see remnants of your playground life in adulthood?
F: I was the competitive kid who always wanted to be part of the team! I am not quite as competitive today as I was when a child, but I do like to be at the head of the class if I can.
D: Ah that’s an interesting question. I think we all have a tendency to act out certain roles shaped by the temperament we’re born with and our early experiences. I was a pretty shy kid and hung back, but if a kid was sick or injured I was quick to help them to the sickbay. I think I manifest that sensibility today by being a sympathetic and encouraging team member. We tend to hang on to certain traits developed in those early years but by the time we get to adulthood the intensity of reaction is expressed differently.
In large, your work deals with complex themes of youth and adulthood. However, in The Wandering Kind, you turn your focus to animals. What catalyst led you to devote a series of work to animals?
F: There has always been a fondness on our part for the animal portraiture from the 1700’s and 1800’s. They were not just beautiful images of animals but held interesting symbolic elements. We also love the Hudson River School of painting, where the landscape embodies a spiritual sensibility.
D: Anyone who has a natural curiosity and deep sense of investigating the meaning of life will be drawn to symbols. Throughout the history of art, animals have been used as metaphors and symbols to express psychological themes of human culture and identity. We also have a deep respect for those old masters who set scenes of flora and fauna against sumptuous backdrops of majestic landscapes. The very first landscapes that I took of the Manukau Harbour in Auckland, NZ, inspired us to create these scenes where animal persona can be used to link humans and the natural world.
What artistic/photographic/technological skills do you individually bring to the ICP?
F: Good question, Andy. Well, I tend to bring a big picture sensibility to our conceptualization process. My knowledge of the camera is limited because I see us as artists who use photography as our medium. Deb is truly the techno geek in this duo. I think I also bring spontaneity and speed of production to our work flow. Deb is continually shifting me into 2nd gear from 4th to make sure we don’t zoom past the details!
D: We begin with conceptualizing together, always bouncing ideas off each other and fleshing out our narrative. But when it comes down to image construction, if there are any technical glitches, I tend to be the techno geek/problem solver – most probably a spillover from my playground days?
You work together in real time to create your photo montages. Can you summarize the reality of this process?
F: We actually use about six different apps to communicate together because we are over 8,000 miles apart! This quirk of distance makes what we do that much more unique. Our face time together incorporates ideas that we bring to our conceptualization sessions. We discuss and research our ideas, then we plan out what we envision the specific work might look like. We always allow for a piece to change as the idea becomes more visible to us. We are aware of our peers who may be doing individual images that cover a similar territory and we are aware of our predecessors in photography and painting. Since we are not trying to simply redo other people’s efforts, it’s important in our sessions that we understand how we can move photography forward.
D: The idea of moving photography forward is why we decided to work in photomontage. This allows us complete control over our imagery and composition. Much of our inspiration though is from watching movies. Directors such as Hitchcock, DePalma and Tarrantino play a big inspirational role in how we think and set up each piece. In our development sessions we discuss composition, spatial relationships, narrative and the relationship the work has with the viewer. The impact our work has on our audience is crucial to us. We are trying to have a dialogue with viewers.
Of the five you have produced, which series are you most proud of? Why?
F: They all hold a place in our hearts, but at the moment The Playground Series has been a big part of our focus. We want to create the definitive series on childhood playground interaction.
D: Although we’re currently focused on The Playground & Suspicion Series, each series has its merits and allows us to express our ideas in different ways. The Playground Series would have to be the most rewarding to date – an endless, bountiful rich source of imagery that taps into the mystery of childhood.
Why is the work you produce together important?
F: First, our process of a male and female working together in real time, 8,000 miles apart is inspirational. It shows how people can create today, regardless of borders and distance. Out of that process has come work that questions apparent reality because they look like snaps but are really works composed of many disparate photographic images. Though photomontage is not new today, our use of it is important because we don’t try to make surreal or fantastic images. We are trying to present another way of seeing our reality.
D: Our photomontages are a reflection of our dual efforts - showing that with the right dynamic, collaboration can be effortless and seamless. This is important in a creative industry where photography is mostly a one-man-band from holding the camera to post processing. The work we are producing from our collaborative efforts also shows that in art a male and female can work together equally. When a viewer sees our work they are viewing something that is not simply a conceptual creation of a male and female but it literally has been created by their hands together through cyberspace.
For many photographers the idea of collaboration is completely foreign. Why, exactly, did you choose to enter into an artistic partnership for your unique ICP project?
F + D: After our initial surprise at how well we collaborated together, we started thinking, is it possible for a male/female duo to create photographic imagery together in real time. We wanted to move photography forward because so much of photography is replaying the first 100 years of this art form. We wanted to move away from the single snap mentality and see if we could create some real narrative work. We realized that our collaboration was necessary to create this new vision - a real mix of female and male sensibilities.
At his point, you have worked long enough on the ICP to be able to relate some drawbacks to the collaborative process. Can you relate any frustrations you have encountered throughout the project? How did you address the problems?
F + D: In relation to the art world, collaboration in fine art photography between a male and female is incredibly rare and difficult for people to understand. One frustration is that people have a hard time understanding that we are a DUO! Another is with the distance between us. Technology can be frustrating – glitchy connections, freezing images, etc. Our interpersonal relationship allows us to problem solve very easily.
Another issue is the time difference. We’ve had to set up routines that take advantage of the time available over weekends, and using free texting/phoning apps makes the most of each other’s availability on a daily basis to discuss our work as ideas come into our minds.
How did you view artistic collaboration before the International Collaboration Project?
F: I had collaborated a few times in the past with other artists. We were always in close proximity to each other. Each of those collaborations ended in turmoil. Too much ego, too much competition and too much proving of points. So, though I have always felt collaboration was a wonderful ideal, in practice that ideal was always elusive.
D: Prior to Frank and I coming together I didn’t give the concept of collaboration in photography any thought. Why would I? Photography is usually an individualistic craft. For me, working with a camera meant that I was the only one in control - I owned my own camera, I took my own snaps and made my own decisions about post processing. When Frank first posited the idea of collaborating I was pretty flattered! I had no idea what it entailed, but I was totally onboard and keen to find out.
What personal dispositions do you have that allows for successful collaboration?
F + D: Well, we both are communicative, cooperative, curious and open to alternative ways of seeing things. It seems that we have good flexibility in our attitudes and in our work ethic.
We have a positive “glass half full” sensibility and the ability to put ego aside – coming into this with a spirit of true equality. We’re both helpful and see the importance of maintaining harmony throughout our workflow.
We allow the other the space to express and develop ideas, honoring the diversity that collaborators bring to a project. There’s a respect for each other’s strengths and ideas. All of these values are important to foster a relationship where collaboration can run smoothly and get the job done!
What qualities does your collaborator artistically possess that you lack?
F: Deb sees finer details and will take the time to research how to get a particular task accomplished so that it can be repeated in the future. This allows us to move more efficiently and not have to keep reinventing the wheel. Deb is excellent at looking over an idea and laying out how it can be done. She’s much more organized in her work flow methodology then I am.
D: Frank has an incredible work ethic that seizes every opportunity – even before they occur. I love how fast he can work – Frank’s speed and endless well of ideas always inspires me, and keeps me on my toes! Where I tend to be quite laid back, taking on one task at a time, Frank makes the world turn faster and usually has everything checked off by the time my day swings into action on the other side of the world.
Do you feel that the ICP casts a shadow over your individual careers as artists? What value has the ICP added to your personal artistic endeavors?
F + D: No, this IS our career! This collaboration has broadened our perception of photography – how it can be done, how it can move forward, how it can inspire. We folded our individual careers into The International Collaboration Project, not just as a way to explore how another person’s point of view can enhance and improve what the individual does, but as a way to show how gender equality can redress the imbalance of woman in the art world and to infuse our narrative work with a masculine/feminine sensibility. A blending of creative energies as an example of true cooperation amongst global “strangers” makes a point - that there is a vibrant, creative energy in our world which can unite regardless of cultural, geopolitical and gender polarizations.
Thanks to the many publications that have featured the ICP (Lenscratch, Lens Culture, Blur, etc.), both hobbyists and professionals are now familiar with your work. As “collaborative advocates,” what advice would you give other photographers who no longer wish to work in isolation?
F + D: Hahaha well, go to therapy first and make sure you are fairly free of personal issues that can hold you back from relating deeply to another person. Creating a collaboration where you work together in real time on the same piece can be fraught with issues like competitiveness, insecurity, egotism, lack of gratitude and selfishness. Any of these issues can be the undoing of a collaborative effort. So it’s important, if you wish to collaborate on more than one work, that you put your personal issues to the side and focus on cooperation, encouragement, enthusiasm and gratitude. Also, it’s essential to have an understanding of what you are trying to accomplish.
You mention in a previous interview that meeting one another in person allowed your creative drive to take on a “new energy.” Specifically, how was your work affected after meeting? How did the ICP evolve?
F + D: Stepping back and being able to watch each other working led to new ideas and new methods. There’s a lot to the whole digital process that lacks tangibility. Working together behind screens really exemplifies this modern era of working remotely, where people are engaging in different ways across a multitude of channels. In some ways we are tethered to our devices.
Meeting each other in person added depth and tangibility to our process. There was a sense of freedom. Being out in the field together, shooting in the same time zone, was inspirational and fun! It added more life, more personality to our thinking process. We wouldn’t say it affected our work as such, but on the level of communication, that tangibility added to our excitement to create together.
The ICP shifted in some technical ways that came out of watching how the other partner actually works. Working remotely, you are not always privy to seeing what exactly the other partner is doing. Being in each other’s presence allowed us to review our individual technical work approach and make changes as we saw fit. Now our technical work flow is even more in sync.
The Susan Spiritus Gallery now exclusively represents your work. Lead us through the process of how you decided to co-sign a representation agreement.
F + D: Susan Spiritus is a legend in photography. Her gallery goes back 40 years when photography was not being truly considered a viable art form alongside painting, sculpture, music, etc. She helped pioneer the economic viability of the photograph in the postmodern era. Susan was familiar with our budding reputation and when our business manager approached her, she was open to a discussion. Like many others, Susan was unclear on how we do what we do hahaha. The question of who does what came up – and it took a little to encourage the understanding that we actually work on each photograph together. Once she was clear on that, papers were signed, as they say. We were thrilled and excited to be working with such a renowned dealer.
At the very least, what do you want to accomplish with the ICP? With collaboration?
F + D: We are clear that we would like to shift photography forward. Away from the “tyranny” of the single snap and the persistent desire to have sharpness be the general mode by which an image’s quality is judged. We want to discuss the idea of the legitimacy of narration in photography – can it actually exist in a single frame? And if it can, what are the necessities for that to happen? Though there is a category called narrative photography, there is debate on whether that is a true description of what is taking place.
We would also like photography to be a more conscious art discussion – not so much a Rorschach, but a clear, direct communication in imagery so that the viewer can easily comprehend the proposed idea. We are not trying to create personal works of juxtaposed elements where the viewer is uncertain and confused about the intent. The statement from many photographers that they simply want viewers to interpret their work how they see fit, is less a discussion than a silent monologue. We’d like the work of The International Collaboration Project to be a discussion between the viewer and us, through our work, on specific ideas. Those ideas talk about content, structure and composition, style and how images are created.
We are doing this through collaboration because we see the team/community notion as a next step in how creativity can bring the world closer together in a positive way.
All images by Frank Diaz and Deb Young and are used with permission.
What do you think about Frank and Deb's approach to collaboration? How do you collaborate successfully? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
More Inspiration For Photographers
Suzume No Namida
For The Dapifer
Model: Go Kamada (BARKinSTYLE Japan)
Hair and Makeup: Chiaki Tsuda chiakitsuda.com
Behind the Shoot
I had worked with Go Kamada before. I knew him to be quiet and reserved. But, I also knew him to be extremely kind and a talented model to boot. When Go approached me late in the summer to shoot, I was thrilled. After chatting with Go, we decided against shooting a single portrait, a one off. Instead, we decided to shoot a full fashion editorial.
Being fluent in Japanese and familiar with the Japanese side of the fashion industry in Tokyo, Go quickly pulled together a wonderful team. Zen, our stylist, was keen to jump on board. Chiaki Tsuda, an extremely talented make-up artist, was also happy to take part.
After scouting the perfect location on top of one of Tokyo's hotels and assembling a mood board for our team, I was ready to shoot.
A few days later, team met in Harajuku and we quickly made our way to the rooftop of the scouted hotel and began working. We got several sets wrapped before the hotel's security duty caught wind of our creative team. While the security guards were harsh in tone, at least they didn't call the coppers.
We took our party to the streets of Harajuku and finished our sets without any further problems. In the end, I was extremely satisfied with Suzume No Namida, my first full editorial with Go (but certainly not the last). Moreover, we were all stoked to see the summer editorial published in The Dapifer, a New York based fashion enterprise.
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Award winning photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. Specializing in portrait photography, he shoots a variety of portrait, editorial, and event and commercial photography assignments. Andy is a husband, father, and lover of fried food.