Barbecue by-the-book

07.17.14_FatBoys_Prattville0072Occasionally my job as a photographer really is what most people imagine. Day-to-day a photographer’s job is like any other. We do paperwork, make phone calls, tackle daily tasks while taking on jobs and assignments to pay the bills. But all the while we’re hoping for that special shoot, that terrific light, that perfect moment or assignment that opens opportunities and challenges us to lift and expand our creativity.06.04.14_TinTopCalera0052-Edit

This past summer I was lucky enough to get one of those assignments. The Department of Tourism for State of Alabama has declared 2015 the Year of Barbecue in Alabama. Among many other fun projects planned they decided to do a book celebrating all the wonderful barbecue across the state. I was fortunate to be assigned to shoot it. A good friend and wonderful writer Annette Thompson traveled the state for months researching the pit masters and the styles looking for the best representation of what Alabama barbecue is. Her task, an enviable one, required her to eat A LOT of barbecue.  (Under the heading of ‘someone had to do it’.) Annette’s travels took her to well over 100 ‘joints’.  Fortunately for me she was able to narrow it down a bit before I followed up photographically.06.13.14_BBQShackDothan0170-Edit

I’ve been lucky enough to photograph stories on Texas Barbecue and Memphis Barbecue,  barbecue in the Carolina’s and even Kansas City Barbecue. I’m a fan of every one. Are all worthy of their hard-earned reputations. But I discovered Alabama Barbecue is as good and often better than any of those places. It’s my belief that any lack of recognition for Alabama’s barbecue is because it lacks any single style like those other places. If you say Memphis or Carolina barbecue aficionados know exactly what to expect. Alabama has so many styles and is therefore harder to pigeonhole. And that makes it harder for food and media writers to ‘sell’ it in a story.06.13.14_Webbs2310022-Edit-Edit

Last summer as I worked my way across the state, friends asked if I was getting sick of barbecue. The answer was no, not at all. I enjoy it more than ever. It was  a hot summer behind the wheel and eating all that barbecue would have been too much.  So I didn’t eat a lot but I did taste at almost every place and definitely know my personal favorites. I also gained an education in barbecue tasting and cooking theory. I hope I get to put some of it into practice here at home.07.22.14_SawsBBQ_Homewood0131

I shot in (or somewhat near) 68 towns and cities. I shot 83 of the 88 places in 10 weeks time. My earliest shoot was 3:30 am. Those pits fire up early! My latest shoots time were just after 9pm. The most photos I shot at one place was 801 and the least was 11. The most locations in one day was 7 and in one week was 18. I shot a Big Bob, two Big Daddy’s and a Fat Boy’s. I shot 12,177 photos and gave the art director 1150 for possible use. I drove just under 5000 miles. There were times I thought the shoots would never end and the book would never get done. But it is done and looks great. Ultimately some 75 places made the pages. And I’m ready to start on Volume II any time.07.23.14_Archibalds_Northport0004

Alabama barbecue is terrific. Go to your favorite place soon for lunch. Grab a copy of the book and use it as a guide to seek out great places you didn’t know about near home and across the state from Ft Payne to Mobile, from Florence to Dothan. You’ll find top notch pork, chicken, turkey, brisket, sausage and even bologna and cabbage. And don’t forget the banana pudding and even the great fried pecan pie.06.14.14_BBQHouseTroy0038-Edit

Cool Civil Rights Project goes public

Image

Early in May I was lucky to be part of a very cool project. Birmingham and other sites in Alabama are reaching out to UNESCO, the cultural heritage department of the United Nations, for recognition for sites of significance in the struggle for civil rights in Alabama. Part of that ‘application’ process is a book to show the sites. Working with visionary talents at Luckie and Co I was privileged to travel to seven sites and photograph each one.  The shots were to be ‘beauty’ or ‘hero’ images showing the sites as they are today. But the challenge was that they also were to replicate as exactly as possible historic photos from the era with the idea of placing the historic shots on a half-page with my matching photo underneath. Working with a great art director and the historic photos he diligently researched from each site we did our best ‘guesstimates’ and recreated the work of great photographers…but without the strife. Trying to match lens and scale exact was a very fun exercise. When the historic shots were created, most back in the early 1960’s, the photographers weren’t creating ‘beauty’ shots of the locations. Often working in frightening situations they were simply trying to capture human moments in the lives of people in conflict. However, that put me in the position of having my camera height, angle and lens (mostly right at 35mm) pre-chosen. And from that I had to make our beauty shot. 

Time and those struggles have moved on and many details around each location changed with the rest of the world over the last 50 years. Shockingly bright orange construction barrels and high chain link fencing surrounds one site while streets had been realigned and telephone poles moved at others. Some were in disrepair and others beautified. Like the civil rights stories they tell the sites have moved on. With the great help of the art director and a bit of fudging here and there we were able to get what we needed. 

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to see this story about the UNESCO effort and and footage of one page showing our efforts shared on local TV. 

http://www.abc3340.com/clip/10249397/civil-rights-site-designation

I would encourage anyone who can to visit all the sites and learn the stories they tell.

In Birmingham-16th Street Baptist Church and Bethel Baptist Church

In Tuscaloosa-Foster Auditorium

In Montgomery-The State Capitol and Dexter Baptist

In Selma-Brown Chapel and the Edmund Pettis Bridge

Image

A welcome bit of news.

In Mid-March I received a very welcome note from Jeanne Clayton who was my photo editor at Southern Living. After I left Jeanne, now Director of Photography, was entering staff-produced photographs in the 30th American Photography competition and she entered one of mine. There were 9644 photo submitted by 873 photographers, publications, schools and agencies. Only 357 were selected to appear in the AP30 hardcover book. Only 226 were chosen to appear online, 211 professional and 15 student entries. My ‘entry’ was a ‘chosen’ image.

here’s a link to the image, one of my favorites.  http://www.ai-ap.com/slideshow/AP/30/?status=chosen#154

 Thanks Jeanne and thank you American Photography for including me. 

 

“Toying” around with new gear

Recently I was looking for a way to use large flash equipment outside while at high shutter speeds…like 1000th of a second or 2000 or even faster. Really can’t find a way. But in my search I heard about a newer mirrorless camera that might allow it. Turns out it didn’t but in researching I learned a lot about mirrorless cameras. For some time I’ve also considered buying a tele-extender, either the Canon 1.4X or 2X but just didn’t want to lose the aperture ‘speed’.  I ended up looking at mirrorless cameras again. I didn’t want to invest in a new system. I couldn’t be happier with my Canon gear.Image

 

I saw the Canon EOS-M mirrorless as a way to keep a ‘pocket’ camera with me all the time and, if needed, press into service to ‘extend’ the length of a few fast lenses without giving up the wide aperture. Of course every photographer loves his toys and maybe the whole argument is just justification for a new toy.  The camera cost less than the extenders…or did until I bought the lens adaptor too. Ended up a wash but I got a sweet small ‘everywhere’ camera as well. I’ve been playing with it since I got it this week. I still have a lot of the menus to figure out but it’s pretty easy. Good 18 meg chip and moderately low noise. Here’s a sample shot of Annie in the window. I shot it with my 100 2.8 macro. ISO 160 @ 160th sec at 2.8Image

And here’s one of Ellie with the same lens at 50th sec at 6400. It’s cropped to about half the frame. A little noisy and shaky at that shutter speed. Image

Here’s the camera with a 50mm 1.2 on it and one with the 5D Mk III by it’s side.  It’s kind of like shooting with a lens and almost no body. It’ll take some getting used to. It looks like a toy and my hands are struggling to get comfy with it but it’s hardly a ‘toy’. At 18 megs it really looks great and has a solid feel. The only real drawback for me so far is my eyes. I find myself holding it at arms length to be able to focus on the big 3″ screen on back. The 22mm lens it came with is a very crisp 35mm equivalent. My 50 becomes an 80 F1.2 and that macro became a 160mm 2.8 macro. The final shot is one I tried at macro. Needed a tripod for that. The lens adaptor has a mount. If and when I try it my 70-200 2.8 will become a 112-320 2.8. But I’d probably get laughed off any sideline where I pulled it out.

.Image

ImageImage

ImagePhotographers specialize. There are food shooters and interior specialists, sports shooters and portrait talents. Those that specialize develop deeper and richer talents and knowledge in their chosen area and are worth every penny it takes to hire. Don’t hire a food shooter to do a wedding or a wedding photographer to shoot the super bowl.

I know and have had the pleasure of working with some amazing talented shooters who knew food or gardens, architecture and sports, music or interiors as good as anyone. I have also known some wonderful photographers who, like me, are specialist at being generalists…shooters like my friend Gary Clark and the great Joe McNally.

So yes, I think of myself as a generalist. Most travel photographers become very solid at portraits and architecture, gardens and interiors and food and drink and lifestyle activities and so much more. 

When I began my freelance career a year ago after shooting travel for almost 25 years I wasn’t sure where my work would come from going forward. I initially guessed from the travel arena. But being off the road for the first time in so long has left me more content being home than I would have guessed. I expected after a few weeks at home I’d get a ‘jones’ to travel. It hasn’t happened. Not that I would object to a good travel assignment, just that I’m enjoying a more stationary way of living.
But if I’m shooting mostly near the home what work is there? So far this year has been busy. I’m blessed to have so many good friends and contacts who’ve put their faith in me. My goal when I started freelance was to build up the number of days a week I was working. I started with every other week and finally got to where I had a shoot every week. Lately it’s been two or three a week and I’m very happy about it. And the variety has been exciting too, playing to my versatility.
In the last few weeks I’ve shot:

  • bankers for a business magazine
  • A country store
  • A BBQ restaurant for a book
  • A Doctor doing medical research into concussions
  • A magazine ad for a stationary company
  • A Beard Award winning chef, his restaurants and food
  • A nursery plant collection for print advertising

And before this week is out I’ll have added

  • architectural shots for an engineering company
  • an attorney for a business magazine
  • an indie movie set
  • a story on repairing a marriage for a women’s magazine

And I’ve committed to teaching a week-long workshop on Travel in Charleston, spoken to a graphic design class at a college and started shooting a book on BBQ.

I’m trying to keep all the plates spinning and I’m having fun. 

 

Creating my ‘brand’ and some Rock ‘n Roll for 2014.

2013 was a year of learning how to develop a freelance business. There are endless things to learn and do and I feel like I barely scratched the surface. Figuring out the business side, the in’s and out’s of insurance, taxes, accounting, building a website, creating estimates and billing has been daunting. Even more daunting is figuring out how to promote my name and work.. I’m incredibly fortunate that I have a lot of great friends and contacts who’ve generously shared time and hard-earned knowledge. I’m also lucky I have a body of work to start with.

I’ve always been goal oriented even if in an informal way. I’m not someone who makes New Year’s Resolutions. The problem with resolutions is that they’re always broken.  Goals are a good way to measure growth but not necessarily success or failure.  One goal I want to complete early this year is developing promotional material, both electronic and printed. It is so HARD!

I want to get the size, the paper and the printing just right.  But oh-so-much harder is selecting the images that will represent my personality and skill set as well as my future work aspirations. These photos will have to speak to art and creative directors. I want them to be something they keep and pin to a board, something that keeps my name in front of them.

I’m fortunate to know some of the very best creatives and graphic designers in the business and they’re right here in town.  This morning I met again with the wonderful Susan Dendy who designed my logo and business cards. She did a fantastic job on those and is designing my promo pieces to keep a consistent look and feel. We finalized most of the choices on printer, paper size and design. Now all I have to do is pick a handful of images to represent me. I had been anxious and a little stressed about making these choices until my wonderful wife reminded me that these won’t be the last ones I ever do and you can’t be all things to all people. Suddenly it became a bit easier.

Another nice surprise!

More than a year ago the wonderful people at Rock Paper Photo asked me to submit some of my classic concert photos for possible inclusion on their site.  They represent of the greatest concert photographers of the Rock and Roll era; people like Astrid Kirchherr, Deborah Feingold, Kevin Mazur, Baron Wolman and Henry Grossman.  Even being under consideration was enough to make me feel proud. After submitting the requested eight images they accepted those and asked for 40 more. I’m proud to say that I’m now represented by Rock Paper Photo and couldn’t be happier.

http://www.rockpaperphoto.com/art-meripol

From their site’s home page, here’s who they are…

“Rock Paper Photo is the definitive place to discover and collect iconic photography. With access that fans can only dream of, the photographers we represent have captured unforgettable moments and the legendary personalities who defined them.

We live to uncover rare and never-before-seen images, so you can collect them as beautiful Fine Art photographs. For those who never want the show to end, a Rock Photo Print is more than a unique and museum-quality piece of art – it lets you own the moment”.

They do extremely fine museum quality signed and framed prints. They also do all of the fine art printing for Rolling Stone Magazine. I hope you’ll check out my page on their site and the many greats there as well.

So, new promo pieces and new representation. Good start to the year.

Image

Willie Nelson at the first Farm Aid ConcertSept 22, 1985

Wrapping up 2013 and looking forward.

In two weeks it will have been a year since I was laid off at Southern Living Magazine. Not being clairvoyant I couldn’t have imagined this past year. I lost my job and only a couple weeks later our beloved dog Henry died at 14. There were other major stress points in life at that time. And now, a year in, I couldn’t be happier. We’ll miss Henry forever. But I have a new career freelancing, some great clients and we have two new canine family members sharing my day and office space.

Image

As much as it might have made me anxious for the future it wasn’t all that upsetting to be laid off. In fact there was s sense of relief. I’d been on the road for almost 25 years traveling every week. After 3 million air miles, some 3000 nights in hotels and who knows how many Hertz-Avis road miles I was tired…of the grind….of being physically banged up…of the constant motion…of being gone from home. No complaints though. For some 160 plus days and nights a year I was witness to the best the South has to offer. I worked in an office full of bright creative inventive hard-working curious passionate professionals. We all leaned on each other for help in work and support in life. There could be no better world for a creative to be immersed. 

Looking back now in life’s rear view mirror I have come to recognize what was likely the single best part of my career at the magazine. I traveled week-in and week-out meeting and photographed people with a real passion in their life. They were involved in their community, their art, their craft or business in a way that was inspirational to others and elevated lives around them. It was humbling to try to visually honor what they were doing, to share their life and their story with millions of readers.

I was fairly convinced that after being off the road for a few months I’d get a ‘jones‘ to go, the road would call me. After all, it was all I knew for almost half my life. Hasn’t happened. In fact I’m fighting the urge to be more and more reclusive.  I’m willing but love being home and in my own bed every night. I need to go see family in other states but don’t even want to contemplate getting on a plane.

The most wonderful thing about being laid off, besides being home of course, is that I discovered how many people around me respected me enough to assign me work.  There are no words to express how much their faith and support has meant to me.  Those first few shoots gave me hope that I could survive as a freelancer. I met new people, saw new places and made new friends all here in Birmingham, a town I never really got to know. 

I won’t list all of their names or publications but you have left me smiling more than I have in years. Thank you all. 

I want to share a few photos from the year. They may not be the ‘best’ or most visual but in some way they were significant to me. Learning to shoot for new publications, to shoot something other than ‘Travel Photography’ made me push harder to learn new ways of looking and lighting.  I wish I could say every effort was a success. I can say every one taught me something, whether it was a software technique, lighting or just dealing with life with patience and a smile.

ImageImageImageImageImage

ImageImageImage