Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Sea, the Sea

Here's a new addition to my personal portfolio - one cold morning, a very willing, dedicated, and humble friend, and half a day of retouching.

I think I've tried to explain my conceptual process in the past but sometimes I can feel a bit defensive about it.  In some ways I feel like it's a bit backwards because I don't always have the true meaning of the work figured out before I make it and then I get down, thinking that, as an artist, the work doesn't mean as much if you didn't have a clear intent when making it.  Truth is I almost never understand it until it's finished.  Generally, I only come to understand the work after it's been created.   

Some of the stuff I do is just fun, just image making for the sake of it, but then there are images that are really personal and important to me.  Really from the beginning they all start from the same place - it's only through the process of making the stuff that I figure out if it's any good, how much it means to me, and what it is I'm doing.       

The man in this shot, the awesome bay area theatrical artist Nathaniel "Natty" Justiniano, had a lot to say  about what he saw in this image.  I love that the image takes on new forms in different peoples minds.   So much of the intrigue is in the viewers own narrative that I'm often hesitant to explain what the image means to me.   I don't want to ruin the impression of an image with words because if the viewer can create their own narrative, filling in the blanks with their own story, then the work really becomes alive and personal.  That's why I think my best work is the work that doesn't have a statement, but asks a question.   That being said only read the bottom three sentences if you want to because I tell you what it is I see when I look at this image.

*Spoiler Alert!*

To me, when I look at this image I see myself.  I see my fear of the unknown, my fear of change, my fear of death.  By making this picture I think I'm living through the man in it because he's a lot braver than me. 


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Max Burke

Max Burke is a good friend of mine.  He is a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn.  His work has appeared in Altered Zones and Prefix Magazine among others.  Max has lived in Amsterdam, Tokyo and Los Angeles. Follow his twitter here:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Father and Son

Here's a sneak preview!  It's a story about a father's love, a mother's devotion, epic beards, and the mysterious powers found in some of the darkest places.  I can't wait to unveil the rest but first I have to thank all of the great folks that helped out on this shoot:

The Father:  Daniel da Silva
The Son: Anthony "AJ" Viola
The Mother: Candace Myers
The Girl in the Woods: Heather Michaels
The Baby: Townes Jeter

Jesse Silver: Production Design, Prop Styling
Shannon Dunn: Wardrobe
France Pierson: H&M
Shawn Burke: Special FX H&M
Jesse Semler: Production Assistant/Photo Assistant/Key Dude
Logan Barrier: Photo Assistant
Matt Thompson: Project Sculptor

A special thanks to:
Terry Heffernan at Dogpatch Studios for being incredibly generous and running an awesome studio.  
Marcus at Scene 2: Couldn't have done it without these guys and their space, materials, and talent.    
Mary Zeeble for loads of things including hooking me up with a top notch style crew.
Kelly Montez for being critical and supportive at the same time.
Nick Kiripolsky for doing an amazing job illustrating the layouts and for things that have not yet come...
Travis Deuel for lending the wheels that made it all possible.
Danielle and Chris Viola for lending me their incredibly awesome and tough kid.
Nathaniel Justiniano for being the most dependable, talented and devoted dude.
Valerie McKenzie for being an awesome child wrangler.
Candace Myers and Mike Jeter for lending me their child.
John Merkl for the support!
Rachel Stephenson for lying for me.
Nate Helm for telling me where to find a tree.
Ashley Fenton for hooking me up with Matt Thompson, the awesome builder.
Jesse Semler for pulling crazy hours and doing crazy things for this project, we had a good time!
Anyone who supported me or this idea along the way, it all meant a lot to me.  Thank you.

An extreme special thanks to:
Jesse Silver for pulling 15 hour days with me for 8 days straight.  You made it happen.

More to come!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Into the Belly of the Whale

All of my other work is done.  I can now focus 100% on the job at hand.  Starting tomorrow morning I will be producing the crazy beast that is this project.  Studios, sets, locations, grass sets, vans, face molds, beard experts, stylists, models, actors, kids, lights, gear, props... I will be fully immersed in production from Saturday morning till Friday night... but tonight, I rest.   I can't wait!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Feature Shoot Interview

Here's an interview that was just put up on today.  Click here to see the feature or read below for all the good stuff!

San Francisco based Matt Sartain is a photographer and visual storyteller. His photos, which are whimsical compositions of fairytales and imagination, have been featured in many outlets including appearing on the covers of both CMYK and HOW magazines. He has worked with clients such as Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, BBDO, The New York Times Magazine, & HOW Design. Additionally, Sartain’s ‘Misadventures’ series has been exhibited in China and throughout the US.

Can you talk a little bit about the project you’re currently working on?
‘The project that I’m currently working on is a photographic storybook that unveils an entire new epic narrative from beginning to end. Unlike my old work that only gives us a snapshot into an implied larger story this will be the entire scope of an adventure following characters as they journey through a mysterious world learning of life and death, love and loss and their dreams, pains, and experiences along the way.
‘The scope of what I have written for this project is enormous (in terms of production) so I’ll most likely approach this one chapter at a time, continuing to add to the story episodically as time goes on. The final format will be printed like a textless graphic novel as well as a gallery show – the prints laid out on the wall mimicking the page layout of the book so that the project is cohesive from print to wall.
‘The first chapter in the story that I am producing is the story of a desperate father’s journey to save the life of his dying boy. The journey, the sacrifices, and the outcomes are not at all what the father imagined’.
Your work very much utilizes digital manipulation and composites. Do you think this method of creation adds to the narrative strength of your work? If so, how?
‘Besides the color and toning in Photoshop I would be happy to do all of these things in camera. Truth is it’s often not practical and sometimes not even possible to do what I want in camera. Often times the use of compositing and manipulation is a more accessible way to get something that would otherwise be out of my budget. I hope to do more practical in-camera imagery as the budget for my work grows. The less compositing the better as far as I’m concerned, so when I use that technique it’s because the decision has been made from a production standpoint. Before any shot goes into production I consider what I have (time/money/location/crew) and then decide what I can do in camera and what I do in post. Often times images that would require an enormous crew, rigging, permits, etc. are just me and one other person – compositing allows for a lot of freedoms.
‘The role of compositing has had a remarkable effect on my photography. I remember when I first began to construct images – I started small and went bigger and bigger and bigger. I was excited when I discovered that my work was only limited to my imagination. There’s something really empowering about feeling like there is nothing I can’t create – I don’t mean that in a cocky way, I mean only to say that I’ve discovered my strengths and weaknesses and I know that if I can concept an image I can create it’.
There seems to be a real sense of dream-like imagination throughout your images. Where does the inspiration for these concepts come from?
‘My work is inspired by a number of things and dreams are part of that. The image of The Shipwreck came from a dream I had where I was lost on a series of tall floating islands over the sea that were guarded by giants. I jumped over the cliff into the water and found an oak barrel and floated along the currents until I woke up.
‘Besides my dreams I my aesthetic has been shaped by tons of stuff. Illustrators like Shel Silverstein, Arthur Rackham and Winsor McCay. The great imaginations of Frank L. Baum, Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien were inseparable to my developing mind. Video games like Zelda took me on epic quests as a child and when I went to study English for my undergrad writers like Poe and Melville showed me the “darker” side of the American Romantics. Movies are an enormous influence. Filmakers like Terrence Malick and The Cohen Brothers and screenwriters like Charlie Kaufman have been inspiring me for years.
‘All of these things mush together to form some idea of my aesthetic. I have a lot of influences that are in the “fantasy” genre but I’ve always believed that, when concerning my own work, it’s important to cement fantastic events within a real world so that the impacts of these events matter to the characters involved. If everything is a fantasy then nothing really matters. There has to be the cement of reality somewhere within the scope of the work so that the events have meaning’.
The panoramic nature of the photos in the ‘Misadventures’ series you did a couple years ago, really makes the whole project feel quite cinematic. I especially love how as much as the single images tell a story they also seem to inspire the viewer to make up their own story – was this intentional?
‘Definitely. Though, that body of work developed very naturally I began noticing opportunities to explore the mystery and intrigue of untold stories. I wanted to show a piece of some character’s larger journey without revealing too much of it. If the imagery was beautiful enough and the events unfolding intriguing enough I hoped it would inspire the viewers imagination to create their own beginning and end. I’ve had some great responses from people who have described their feelings about the work and I love it because the reactions and responses can be completely unexpected and can often show me a way to look at the work that I hadn’t ever thought of’.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Planning, scouting, casting, writing, rewriting, drawing...

I feel like I've made a lot of headway.  The things I thought I knew have changed...

I've gone back to the drawing board, started a new path, and then gone back again.  Really really big ideas can get smashed by the hammer of reality.  Time, money, people.  These are all my challenges.

I have learned that the best way to keep doing what I need to do is to adapt.

What if I don't have enough time or money to produce an epic photo book that spans hundreds of pages? Perhaps I should focus on creating one chapter at a time - one chapter every year in an epic intertwined story, each chapter dozens of pages of images. Maybe I'll never stop adding to it.  Life's work?  Maybe it's too soon to make those claims.  I am, after all, at the whim of other people - actors, stylists, set builders - all of them donating their time.

The giant story was an insane idea.  Not to say I can't do it.  But, I mean.... it's a pretty mad (mad in the ginsberg, gonzo kind of way) thing I'm trying to do.  So I decided: let's try this thing one step at a time - hence my decisions to focus on the 4th chapter: The Story of the Forest King.

The point is that there are struggles during the artistic process.  I'm in the thick of it now.  It's hard to wait. It's hard to see a production date weeks away... planning, scouting, casting, writing, rewriting, drawing even though I can't draw...  Within a few weeks I will be in the studio shooting this beast.  After that I will hole up in my wonderful underwater cave of an office (only coming out to have cappucino's or beers on the roof) and I will put these thing together.

Then.... ?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Anatomy of a Shot

It's a weird thing making images the way I do.  It's sort of like an illustrator - you make something out of nothing.  Very little of what I do is "observational" photography.  In fact, little of it is actually photographing anything the way it is - instead I just use pieces of the real world to construct a different one.  So it's like the way an illustrator would work, but instead of having the ability to draw something any way you see it I'm limited to the mimetic nature of photography - I can only photograph real things, and then construct them into something new.  It's sometimes seems as limiting as it is limitless...

I get into trouble when I fuss too much.  I'm like a teenage girl waiting for her prom date - he's running late so she fusses and fusses with her makeup and hair and by the time he shows up she looks like a scary clown.  There's really no point while retouching where I really solidly go "ok, it's done".  It's so easy to lose perspective when you put hours into an image...  I imagine it's similar to a painter putting layers of oil on a canvas... at what point do you stop correcting yourself? painting over, etc.  It's even harder with photoshop because you can literally edit forever... so when do you stop?

This is a shot I had worked on a while back... after sitting on it for a while I just didn't think the final image lived up to my expectations so I went back and did a re-edit.  In doing so I found some screenshots that I must have taken during the original process.  I think it's kind of interesting to see how these things develop so I decided to share the process a bit here.  The final version is at the top of this post and the working images are in order of the working process.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Introducing the New Project

So I rambled a bit here about this project but i'll reintroduce it.

I am planning a new project that will be a series of narratives that will all intertwine into one big story.  I will be taking this project one step at a time.  My fellow shipmate and awesome old buddy Nick Kiripolsky illustrated this image for me as part of a storyboard for my project.

There's more.... this is just a teaser.

The project that I am beginning with is Ch. 4: The Story of the Forest King.

The 4th chapter of my epic photographic adventure tells the story of a desperate father's journey to save the life of his son... and the sacrifices made in the process...

I give my humblest thanks to the awesomely talented Nick for doing such a great job illustrating these storyboards so quickly over the course of an afternoon.