Embarking into my forties never felt so good

Forty years ago today, I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in them United States of America.

Flowers were blooming. Choirs were singing. Swarms of bees were buzzing. Beautiful women were leaping for joy. Babies were hiccuping. Dogs were barking.

Cats were meowing. Children were scribbling in coloring books. Mothers were shopping in Sears catalogs. Fathers were dreaming of a way to contact women to have affairs without their wives knowing about it.

Trash was being collected. Beers were being drunk. A pair of lips tugged on a cigarette. LSD trips were took. Pot was smoked.

Wars were waging. Daughters were being sold into the sex trade. Animals were going extinct.

It was another day the earth was swirling around the sun. One star of zillions in this great big universe.

The pale blue dot gained a Puerto Rican, who would later be adopted into a family of Dutch heritage. He’d grow up, become a photographer, marry a beautiful woman and have to pinch himself every day for the good fortune of landing on two feet.

Forty years is a landmark. We measure life in lots of ways. We measure in meals, in naps, in time between meals and naps. We measure in snacks, in weight, in fat and distance. We measure life in seconds at times, others in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and and in times like this … decades.

In my first decade, my mind was getting packed with information, stimulation, and socialization. It was a decade of playtime, schoolwork, homework, Sunday school, friends, family, and wonder. My body developed from baby to pre-teen. The years were laden with discipline, pain, thrill, excitement and love.

I didn’t have one iota of an original thought that influenced anyone else. I believe that I had creative, original thoughts but I didn’t have the wherewithal to write anything down. Children are, quite possibly, the most creative people around us. I felt creative in those years. Sometimes I approach work with the idea that I must harness my first decade self in my approach to current projects.

In my first decade, I held a camera or two in my hands during that time. My second decade was filled with more play time, more homework, more Sunday School, church, religion, faith, friends. It was marked by wonder and creativity. I found a written voice and a visual one. I loved and lost a first love. I wrote, photo’d, video’d. I traveled.

I explored original thought, all of which were tainted and steered by religious thought, traditions, pangs of guilt and adolescent craze.

In my third decade, I was playing, traveling, trading faith for nonbelief, finding new friends, removing old ones, and wondering about what was next. I was succeeding and failing. I was both a rebel and not one. I was perpetually scared of letting others down. Individuality was an internship turning into a mediocre part-time job.

In my forth decade, I still played, I traveled more. I retired faith completely. Found more new friends and lost other ones. People my age were dying. I got married. And all the while, I constantly kept wonder in the mix. I tried making individuality a full-time job, but found it to be a disappointment to others.

And now I start the fifth decade. Today. Labor Day Twenty Fifteen. And wonder remains. Individuality still remains a mystery to me.

I’m inspired by all that’s behind me to create all that’s in front of me.

With another decadal notch comes a tinge more concern/thought about mortality. It inspires a sense of determination to create more. To seize the day’s seconds, minutes, and hours in a white knuckled grip and give everything, family, friends, creativity and love more of a crying chance.  To love more. To hate less.

Yesterday is an investment into tomorrow.

Without the promise of afterlife of any kind, it casts a different shade of urgency. Without an afterlife, there’s no casual dilly dallying like our dog Talulah when she’s in the yard smelling every stump, tree, patch of grass and pole. When you’re blessed with a creative spirit, there is a constant insistence on making new, then moving on to the next project.

My dad tells me often that I am part of a bigger plan. A divine one. And I understand where he’s coming from. And it pains me when I disagree, tacitly or directly. I don’t want to disagree with anyone. Not even a movie or music that someone else likes and I don’t.

But if a divine being had influence over how well things worked out for me, that same divine being ignored/hurt/maimed the thousands upon thousands upon millions who wished for the same, similar or safety, and came up short. Way short.

When I revel in a creative photo, I remember a child dying of leukemia.

When I bask in the success of a big paycheck, I think of the child sold into slavery.

When I hold the woman of my dreams, I can’t help but consider all who have loved, lost, and lost again.

This so-called divinity that watched over my life, stood by with crossed arms and a nose in the air when so many … so so fucking many — who probably even attempted to love this being — he ignored them, their prayers, their wishes.

Why would a being like that care about me? A guy who gives no mention, no thought to its existence or involvement. No thanks?

I guess — from some standpoints — you could call that the definition of faith.

But that would be mental gymnastics.

The way I see it, I got here by inexplicable luck. Maybe not inexplicable. I worked my ass off. I’ve worked my ass off. Over the weekend, I gave my photographer expertise away to a friend. The results were BEAUTIFUL. My pay is results. Money helps me keep a roof over my wife’s head, food in my dog’s bowl and litter in my cat’s box. It keeps gas in my tank so I can visit my family, whom I love and cherish dearly.

Art, love, life … they are my passions.

I love the process of the creative spirit. I love to create and be creative.

It’s the process, not always the outcome, that drives that spirit.

Without children of my own, the only legacy I have to create an afterlife is creating things that outlive me. Whether they are thoughts, ideas, images, motion pictures, or other art.

I feel good about my position. I feel good about my marriage, my life, my friends, my professional network.

I feel good about the art I’ve been creating, and the reception to it.

I feel good about my health.

I’m inspired by my friends and family. I’m reminded too often by the passing of my loved ones around me. And I’m goddamn determined to do everything I do as well as I possibly fucking can.

Hey, Forty! Let’s do this thing.


Reviewing old B&W photos with no dates on them



Today, Tina and I drove to the south side of the city to an area called Palos Park. I think.

We visited Tina’s aunt and uncle to share some recent black & white photos that Tina received from her brother. The photos were from Tina’s parents and grandparents, and many of the faces were of strangers or people we have no way of recognizing.

Tina thought it would be a good idea to share the shots with her family to see if they could identify them or if they would even want them, or copies of them.

It was a trip down memory lane, and her uncle was able to name many of the folks in the photos.

Among the pictures were envelopes filled with loved-one’s hair.

It’s great when you’re looking at photos, and you hear the stories about different people. Tina’s uncle would say, “Oh man, this guy here. Your mom’s uncle’s brother’s sister-in-laws brother’s cousin’s dad … I hated that guy … what an asshole.”

I love the candor.

I personally enjoyed looking at the quality of the photos. I mean, you have these strange families in their better-than-Sunday best posing in the once-in-a-lifetime photo that captured them in such crisp and beautiful black and white. Or the little photos that are thumbnails of street scenes. Kids playing in fire hydrant water. So much history with ghosts whom I’ll never ever meet. Or maybe met once at a wedding or funeral.

It was a lot of fun.

After the trip down memory lane, we enjoyed dinner together before driving 45 minutes back to the city.





When shooting a lot of reflections in a tight space, go with your gut


The photo above was from a shoot I found incredibly challenging. We were asked to shoot a space, a small space mind you, that showed the environment and the product within.

The products, dear reader, were incredibly reflective. Tina and I went great lengths to cancel reflections hoping that it would make the photos shine.

The available light, while constant in the space, was mixed when viewed like this. We had to schedule the shoot during office hours, pretty much insuring that we’d have the blue cast across the tops of the images.

I know I can crop in, but I feel this image actually gives a sense of place.

More images below. Enjoy.



Spark Energy might not be a scam, but their business practices are suspect … a review, a recorded customer service call, and you

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 5.42.18 PM

Like many Americans, we get door-to-door salesman from time to time. Last fall, we actually welcomed a roaming door-to-door sales guy in from Spark Energy. Why? Because the sales guy was a friend named Mike. I worked with his girlfriend on a photoshoot and I used to see him every once in a while at my local watering hole. I tend to put trust in friends, basically because I want the same in return.

Spark Energy is a company that claims to work with your energy utilities to provide a cheaper rate than actual utility can, by selling you gas or electricity at reduced costs.

The sales meeting was suspicious to both Tina and me, but in the end, we accepted what this guy Mike was saying was truthful, because who lies to their friends?

By the way, the funniest thing was that the sales guy was not allowed to step inside our apartment. He did the entire transaction from the threshold of our place. “But we’re friends,” I told him. “Come on in.”

“Nope. I can’t,” He explained. “I could get into trouble.”

After he explained what seemed to be a good deal,  we signed up last September. We didn’t see much of a difference in our bills. We were contracted to use them for a year, so I was fine with sticking it out till the end. We weren’t losing money after all either.

Status quo is fine with me.

And the early termination of the contract would be $50.

But then we received our gas bill this month for over double last month’s bill. Further examination showed that it was an adjustment fee from Spark Energy. Tina called People’s Gas first, and they said it was Spark’s charge. She called Spark, and a robotic customer service rep kept explaining that the charges were an accumulation of three month’s of Spark Energy charges. He explained that when Spark sent invoices to People’s Gas, PG rejected the invoices.

The charge after three months of rejection was for $112.63.

So if you divide $112 by 3 and add that to our monthly bill, that’s almost $40 more each month.

So Tina was on the line talking circles with the customer service rep trying to understand where this charge came from and how to avoid it in the future. While she was on the phone, I googled Spark Energy and found a lot of websites like this or this from BBB with lots of negative reviews. On a Consumer Affairs site, Spark Energy representatives responded to each complaint and made some resolution statement.

The Better Business Bureau has not accredited them.

So I should have done my homework, but — like I said — I want to trust my “friends.”

What ended up being the kicker was Spark Energy’s own website. Get this.

On their front page, they claim to have a 5.0 customer service approval rating. I’m not statistician, but I read that to mean that no one, not one person, has given a negative review.

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But if you go into their comments and ratings, there are many ratings lower ratings than a 5. They apparently only keep about 22 comments at a time, because I can’t imagine a company has only 22 comments in all its 10 years of business.

Below is in fact what their ratings are based on 22 responses at the time of this writing.

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So their site isn’t exactly a very ethically sound one, don’t you think?

The guy that Tina spoke to finally agreed to give her to a supervisor. And I took the phone from Tina. I learned a trick recently that helped with a dispute with our bank over a $50 charge: I record my phone call.

My hope was to get to the bottom of the charge. And when the guy told me what he told Tina, I would cancel my subscription to Spark Energy and also ask them to waive the $50 early termination fee.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t get that shit waived. If you keep these guys on the line until you’re blue in the face, you will get what you want.

So … if you can stand hearing me stumble and bumble over my words … I’m posting our conversation below. I feel a little badly about calling him a liar, but it was a moment of weakness. I needed more leverage, and I thought I had a better argument going into the “lie” statement.

You gotta give the guy props, though. He never lost his cool with me.

All in all, we got what we wanted: to get out of the contract and to get the fee waived.

This is certainly a lesson learned. Don’t trust door-to-door without doing my homework.

Do yours as well. If one of these guys comes to your door, just do a quick google of their company before signing on the dotted line.

I couldn’t edit the clip for this posting, but I’ll revise it soon and upload it. Edwin, the customer service supervisor doesn’t pickup until about 0:30.

When you hit a creative deficiency, make a casual shoot appointment with a beautiful model




It doesn’t take long for someone like me to feel the sluggishness that results from a creative deficiency. It’s a time of frowns and repeating the lines, “Gosh, I need to photograph something soon that isn’t a bland cracker of a project.”

We get a lot of projects. Some are creative. Many aren’t. Lots of people’s and company’s needs for content aren’t much more than things that feel cookie cutter. And while we make great strides to work with folks who need more creative content, it’s dampening to the part of me that some call the soul. You say soul. I say creativity.

As a photographer, I have lots of friends on social media that are photographers, models, hair and makeup artists. I see their work all the time, and it loads up another pile of jealousy onto my creativity depleted soul.

Then I remind myself, the difference between wanna-be artists and artists is ideas versus execution. Lots of people have ideas. Few have the strength to pursue them, let alone follow through.

So reached out to Andrea to do a short casual shoot, two hours tops. Her time was valuable as well — because in two days from this shoot she moved to China to model for months.

My goal for this shoot was to shoot all f2.8. Find poses and then push the focus point to be SPOT ON. Focus is something I prioritize anyway. But I do it with more depth of field, f6 to f11. The depth of field plain on my Hasselblad set at f2.8 is closer to f2.0 on my DSLR with a similar focal length. And hitting the mark is often made more difficult because of a minor move by the model or camera.

Andrea here is a true professional, and we were able to work with the minutiae until we landed beautiful shots, spot on focus … all of which were done within a short two-hour window.

The image below is probably one of my favorite shots in a LONG time. It’s all natural light, and my only criticism is that I didn’t have her do an implied nude, as I’d love to see her decoupage as well. I cropped it out, because what she is wearing over one shoulder and it really distracted from her face.
Andrea Susan Bush, February 2015

Andrea Susan Bush, February 2015

The Growlers take JBTV by storm


Last week, I photographed a portrait and snapped a couple concert shots of The Growlers at JBTV.

The portrait portion of our day was a little on the chaotic side. I’m not sure they heard a word I said when asking them to pose in a particular way. When that’s the case, you get what you get.

And that’s what I got.

According to Wikipedia:

The band is known for its heavy use of effects, including voice effects, especially reverb, and mixes the sound of the Californian rock of the late ’60’s, with psychedelia creating what they call ‘Beach Goth’.

The band’s sound has been described as “a trademark style of music that somehow combines country, surf, pop, and rock”.[7]

The Growlers performs at JBTV Music Television on February 28, 2

The Growlers performs at JBTV Music Television on February 28, 2

The Growlers performs at JBTV Music Television on February 28, 2

The Growlers performs at JBTV Music Television on February 28, 2

The Growlers performs at JBTV Music Television on February 28, 2

The Growlers performs at JBTV Music Television on February 28, 2

The Growlers performs at JBTV Music Television on February 28, 2