the latest shot

alyssa limperis, comedian, for middlebury college.

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i recently had the opportunity to photograph comedian/actress alyssa limperis and a giant swinging chair for middlebury college. these are probably my favorite kinds of shoots to do — going to a subject’s home with no preconceived notions, and just seeing what we can conjure up together. like many performers, alyssa mines her own life, family, and it’s associated eccentricities and tragedies for comedic material. earlier this year decider.com dubbed her “the next gilda radner”.

 
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the sidebar of the magazine had us take photos of a few of alyssa’s characters, below:

 
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clark (and friends) graduate preschool

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this friday my son, clark, graduates from preschool. of course, as his father i’m incredibly proud of his every hiccup, utterance and proclamation. this is not the first major milestone and will certainly not be the last. it has been immensely gratifying to see him go from the uncoordinated, wide-eyed toddler he was to the slightly less uncoordinated kid he’s become, still wide-eyed and intensely curious about the world around him. parenthood is, of course, all consuming, and my favorite photos will forever be of him. yes, he’s been over it for a while now.

to commemorate the past two years i went to the school in may, set up a small studio, and took portraits of the graduating seniors. here are a selection of them.

 
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eleni mandell for yep roc music

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i’m very pleased to have had the opportunity to photograph musician eleni mandell at the end of last year for artwork to illustrate her new album, wake up again. eleni spent time teaching songwriting to inmates at a women’s prison and that experience shaped the songs on the album.

this is the third time i’ve shot eleni, with the first being all the way back in 2004. for this round we actually shot in my living room - and the photo above, my favorite from the day, was shot against the blackboard wall in my office.


 
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isaac larian, CEO of MGA entertainment, for the wall street journal

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my portrait of isaac larian, CEO of MGA entertainment, toy mogul extraordinaire, is out this weekend in the wall street journal. this is actually the second time i’ve photographed isaac. the first was sixteen years prior for the london sunday telegraph review. when ronnie called with the assignment the name sounded naggingly familiar, and a quick dive through the archive of old 6x7 transparencies yielded a match. it’s very rare that i get to revisit a subject, and really appreciate the times that i do.


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isaac is what you hope a toy company CEO would be. smart, focused, and business savvy, but incredibly personable and funny and comfortable being silly. from what i understand, he controls the largest privately owned toy company in the world. MGA is famous for its bratz dolls, and i couldn’t help but notice in their offices that they also own the cozy coupe, which has sold more units than most real life cars. in fact, there’s one sitting in my driveway right now.

when i left his office, isaac had arranged a care package for my four year old son. a pile of toys, including a remote control car. it was a good day.


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roy ashok, CEO of daqri, for cornell enterprise magazine

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daqri makes augmented reality glasses for use in manufacturing and warehouse environments. it’s really cool and cutting edge stuff, with broad applications in the future. roy is daqri’s CEO, a man with a truly awful commute (san diego to LA) which made him two hours late to our shoot. He also had a really, really big chair.

shooting CEOs can sometimes be hit or miss, but honestly, roy couldn’t have been more gracious, or photogenic or generous with his time. most people would be grumpy and short tempered after struggling through several hours of southern california traffic and then being forced to sit in front of a camera. roy was only apologetic for keeping us waiting, and he was even nice enough to model daqri’s smart glasses.

these things are seriously cool, and the potential for what they can do is pretty vast. right now they’re mostly in a manufacturing environment, but give it a few years. heads up displays are where it’s at.

 
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ethan brown and beyond meat

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a couple months back i had the opportunity to photograph ethan brown, CEO of beyond meat, and visit their corporate HQ and research facility under the auspices of a story for der spiegel. i saw that the story was posted online last week (i can’t understand german, but am able to recognize my own byline and photos), so here are some out-takes.

let me just state my position on the matter right off the bat: i’m an omnivore. i eat meat, have always eaten meat, and will very likely continue to eat meat unless something really drastic happens. i also love vegetables of nearly all varieties and nearly all preparations. i crave vegetables just as much as i crave meat. i’m always slightly disappointed by the sides at barbecue joints. i don’t care much for tofu, i’m very pro-gluten. i’m also pro-GMO. i acknowledge that the food industrial complex might be a necessary evil (for now) to deal with the sheer number of people who require feeding. i appreciate real food made in an artisanal fashion. i am anti instant mixes (oatmeal, brownies, cakes). pie is better than cake. butter is better than shortening. frosting weirds me out a little. creme fraiche is awesome and easy to make.

most importantly, i’ve long been against transmutation. that is, i don’t want my vegetables to try to look like/taste like meat. i want my meat to be meat and my veggies to be veggies.

however. . .

beyond meat’s burgers and sausages are pretty damn good. honestly, they’re good. the hot italian sausage is especially good.

 
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ethan brown is a vegan. he’s excited about plant based proteins. unlike many other vegans he doesn’t seem to hold animosity for meat eaters. the driving philosophy of the company seems to very much be one of environmentalism rather than animal rights. they make every effort to publicize their positive environmental impact in relation to traditional livestock farming. ethan’s office is full of large poster boards containing early critical reviews of their product, reminding him of the naysayers constantly. he knows that it’s all a moot point if the things plain old don’t taste good. so, taste - and, yes, mouthfeel - are of paramount importance in their process. you can tell he’s excited about it. you can tell the people working there are excited about it. beyond meat feels very much like a tech startup in that regard. i have to say, i’m sold.

this week beyond meat will go public, estimating their IPO at $1.5 billion. that may be a drop in the bucket to the meat industry, but it’s a solid start.

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the fascinating thing about being at beyond meat’s research facility is that it feels very much like a research facility. that is, it looks like a science lab rather than a kitchen. people are wearing white coats. they have pipettes and instrumentation that i would expect to see in a microbiology lab. the people working there are very much scientists, not chefs. to be fair there was also a separate proper kitchen area which i only got to peer into from the window. but the researchers i did meet were young, very enthusiastic and spoke excitedly about protein structures and beet extracts and mouthfeel. the only piece of equipment there that i would not expect to find in the middle of a bio lab was an electric griddle, which they were using to fry up a couple patties for testing. the patties were then put in what looked like a miniature hydraulic press (dubbed “the e-mouth”) that measured the bite resistance of the patty and how much juice was extracted under pressure. . . the mouthfeel, if you will.

 
frying up some patties in the beyond meat research lab

frying up some patties in the beyond meat research lab

testing a beyond burger in the e-mouth.

testing a beyond burger in the e-mouth.

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beyond meat research associate john berriman displays patties cooked for sensory testing.

beyond meat research associate john berriman displays patties cooked for sensory testing.

breakfast sausage, beyond buger and hot italian sausage. next time remind me to remove flags before eating.

breakfast sausage, beyond buger and hot italian sausage. next time remind me to remove flags before eating.

chris rowles, osseointegration prosthesis

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chris, a retired police officer, lost his leg as a result of a runaway staph infection that was set off by a bug bite, of all things (compounding on previous injuries sustained on the job). so, that’s horrible, and gives me something new to worry about that i wasn’t previously worried about.

as chris’ amputation was above the knee, he found that the prosthetics offered to him never quite fit right, never stayed put and caused considerable discomfort. after several years he ended up as a candidate for a relatively new technology called osseointegration, performed at cedars sinai hospital in los angeles. in this procedure a metal rod was surgically attached to his femur, with a stud protruding from the skin. this allows him to attach the new prosthesis in a way that is secure and doesn’t rely on suction. added to that, the range of motion is far greater and more comfortable. he can even cross his legs again.

on an unrelated note, i understand the shoes (to keep the height level consistent from side to side), but the sock on the prosthetic always seemed unnecessary to me. is it just a symmetry thing?

jon gutman, animator

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jon gutman is a previz animator and layout artist at dreamworks whose credits include the how to train your dragon and kung fu panda series.

there’s something undeniably exciting about going to the dreamworks campus. unlike what i usually do, these guys get to make worlds out of whole cloth, and it all starts with previz. not limited just to animation, a previz artist will sketch out basic action and composition as a framework before principal photography even begins on a film. think of it, perhaps, as a very advanced form of storyboarding that moves.

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the idea was originally to shoot him with some iconography from one of the films - ideally, how to train your dragon. since the walls were basically covered with materials from movies currently in production showing any of the dreamworks office environment (or, any interesting part of the environment) was off limits. we were able to poke around the merch closet and came up with this little stuffed doll of toothless, the dragon. there were a handful of much larger figures but those were also off limits for us to move and handle. so, little toothless the stuffed animal it was. . . a bit of gaffer’s tape had him sitting nicely on jon’s shoulder. later on the magazine had the idea of replacing the toy dragon in photoshop with a drawn version, but this was quickly shot down by dreamworks PR as they didn’t want it to seem like the actual character from the movie was so diminutive.

wanting to make something a little more fearsome, but still playful, we tried toying with shadows - shadows that were surprisingly difficult to get in the right place. to his credit, jon was amazing. he totally played up the shtick and it was great. if only every subject would be so involved in the process.

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we finished up with a little love for the giant kung fu panda in the dreamworks courtyard, just in case dragons weren’t the editor’s jam in the end.

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stan lee, three times. (RIP 11.12.18)

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today is veteran’s day, november 12th, 2018 - the day stan lee died at the age of 95.

for a certain type of kid - the type of kid i was - growing up in the 80s, (and for other kids growing up in the 90s and 60s and 70s) stan might have been as influential a figure in my life as any of my friends or even my parents. stan took the fantastical things we were drawn to and grounded them in a depth that no one before him thought they deserved. i grew up collecting and admiring stan’s work, never thinking how silly capes and tights really were. even when i became an adult these things still mattered to me. i never cared much for sports, but the closest corollary i had was the way my friends and i would discuss superheroes. like sports, it’s all just a little silly and semantic. but our teams were our teams. and stan was the general manager.

(my wife will either be proud of me for attempting a sports metaphor, or horrified that i likely mangled it.)

[part of this post will be repeated from a former post on a now defunct page, from the last time i shot stan on august 12th, 2013. exactly one year before my son was born.]

the first time i photographed stan lee (in 1997) i was as green and wet behind the ears as could be. i was trying to be fancy, using an old speed graphic 4×5 camera that i barely knew how to operate. i got everything set up and the moment stan arrived the camera decided to break. i was sweating bullets, in my twenties, in the office of the man whose ideas formed the foundation of the happiest, nerdiest times of my teens and i had just blown it. he let me come back the next day and things went a bit better.

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a few months after that i received this note (below) in the mail from stan. i had sent him a print of the photo and i was beyond thrilled to get an actual note back.

 
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four years later (2001) i shot him again, this time at his house, shortly before christmas. he didn’t remember me at all. the house was veritably overrun with christmas decorations. it seemed like every square inch of the place was covered with tchotchkes (or whatever the gentile term might be), all except for stan’s office, which simply had a lamp in the shape of spider man. the equipment worked then, but i mentioned to stan that once we were done i could have it all cleaned up and loaded out inside of ten minutes. he sat in the chair where i photographed him and timed me with a stopwatch, calling out the minutes as they flew by. i made it out with a few seconds to spare. i was never quite satisfied with that picture, but really pleased at the experience. sometimes that’s what you’re left with and that’s okay.

all i could find of it on my computer tonight was this one low res film scan. we’re so far into the digital world now that i’d have to go dig through boxes of proof sheets in my garage to find something else.

 
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i photographed stan for the third time in 2013, for a spread in the “hollywood issue” of elle men, china. i felt better going in this time. i knew stan looked great. i knew he’d be wearing his trademark sunglasses, but if i lit him all right i’d be able to see his eyes. i knew i wanted to shoot him in color on a white background and in black & white on a black background. i knew how i wanted the spread to look, and i knew my equipment worked. i even found a copy of wolverine #1 in my garage, from 1988, in case the generalissimo felt like autographing things. the only hiccup this time was that we had to set up in the smallest possible office space, around an intern’s desk, even.

still, we made it happen, stan was as gregarious as ever and – as expected – didn’t remember meeting me. i showed him the photos i had taken of him previously and he was polite enough to pretend to recall the episodes. it’s a great privilege to be able to revisit the same subjects over a period of many years, and an even greater privilege to be able to revisit a subject who had had such a profound impact on me growing up.  making the pictures sing is – dare i say it – a great responsibility, too.

just before we left stan smiled, shook my hand and said “i’ll see you in a few years.”

it’s heartbreaking that he was wrong that time. i was really counting on it.

excelsior, generalissimo! you were a force, and you will be missed by many.

 
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peter arnett for stern magazine

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journalist peter arnett, photographed for stern magazine - this is an older shoot from february of this year - took a while to get around to being published. i photographed peter at his home in fountain valley, calif. 

peter, now in his eighties, was a journalist for magazines and television, mostly covering war zones and conflict around the world, beginning with vietnam. he is most well known as being the first western journalist to get an on-camera interview with osama bin laden, for CNN in 1997. this is definitely worth watching as it eerily foreshadows the september 11th attacks. 

 
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journalist peter arnett, working at home in fountain valley, calif. 2.20.18

journalist peter arnett, working at home in fountain valley, calif. 2.20.18

 
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tig notaro "happy to be here" key art, for netflix

as luck would have it, a second netflix comedy special that i worked on was released this month, too: tig notaro's happy to be here, out on may 22nd. 

 

 
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this was planned and pulled together very quickly - shot in early april, out less than two months later. the shoot itself was . . . odd. i have long had a great amount of sympathy for those who are uncomfortable being photographed. i pride myself on being fairly good at putting nervous people at ease and making the experience as pleasant as it can be. in this particular case there were very particular restrictions placed on what i could and couldn't do during the shoot, and the interactions between tig and myself. that's pretty much all i can say, except to say that it's not anything i've ever run across in over two decades of photographing people. 

 

still, here are a handful of out-takes that i liked, below. 

 

 
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ali wong's "hard knock wife" special for netflix

this month i'm excited to see the release of two netflix comedy specials for which i shot key art. 

first up, released on mother's day is ali wong's second stand up special, hard knock wife. this time around ali was decidedly less pregnant than on our first shoot for baby cobra. on that one we actually shot the artwork less than two weeks before she gave birth. this time i believe she was only seven months pregnant when she wielded boxing gloves, a sword, nunchucks and a baseball bat to produce artwork for hard knock wife.

 

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it's always fun to drive around the city and see billboards and bus stops with my photos on them. many thanks to ali for having me along on this one!

 
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