Friday, June 20, 2014

The Photographer's Perspective...

I'm a photographer. That's what I do. 

I've done other things in my life but, at this point in time, I'm a photographer. I enjoy being one, and I like to think I'm good at what I do.

I've practiced my art and honed my craft so that I can continue to improve. My goal, without exception, is to provide clients with my absolute best. Period. Anything short of that means I'm not only short-changing my client, but I'm being dishonest with myself, and I won't do that.

I've invested in my business. I upgrade my equipment periodically. I try to stay on top of new techniques and processes so that I'm always able to provide my clients with a product they'll enjoy having, and that they will happily pay for.

That's right, I said it: "PAY".

You see, there seems to be this belief amongst those who wish to "hire" photographers that photographers, for some magical reason, don't need to make money. All this time I thought I need to be able to earn a living but, thanks to the eye-opening opinions of potential clients, I've been wrong about that all along. How do I know this? Well, because there seems to be a growing potential client base which believes it should be able to be a client, yet not have to pay for it.

I look for work everywhere; I have to. It's how I make my money. One of the places I routinely check is Craig's List. Some will roll their eyes at that, but the fact of the matter is that two of the best paying gigs I've ever found were found on Craig's List. I'll never be convinced that it's not a viable source.

As I drank my morning coffee today, I came across a listing which was looking for a photographer to shoot a 25 year class reunion. It's about an hour and a half away but, hey, driving has never scared me away from a job. Since they're advertising in my local Craig's List, they must really want a photographer.

So, let's see... Let's read into the ad a bit and... wait, what's this?

"You would need to be available on July 5th in the time window anywhere from 9-2. The only compensations would be a bbq lunch as we do not have large budget."

That's verbatim.

Lunch.

A BBQ lunch for five hours of your time.

Lunch.

I've honed my craft and invested in myself and my business to make sure that I can provide you a professionally produced product; one that, years from now you'll look back on and remember the good times you had, and you'll compensate me with... lunch.

Super.

Look, unless Wolfgang Puck is doing the cooking, I think you need to consider some things. I think that you need to consider the fact that the photographer you're "hiring" (and, really, I think we're using that word in the loosest possible way here) has bills to pay. He has credit cards and rent and groceries to buy. He has to put gas in his car and maintain his equipment. 

He does what he does so that he can have a life he enjoys living.

Despite what you apparently believe, the "photo credit" you give him is not going to put new tires on his car. They're not going to put food in his refrigerator or new shoes on his feet. Photo credits are virtually meaningless. To prove that point, let me ask you a question: Who took the photo that you last saw which contained a by-line. Don't go back and look at it; do this from memory.

You can't. 

Pretty much no one can. That's because no one ever pays attention to a photo credit.  Don't tell me that it'll be good "exposure". I've been doing this a long time. People know my work. My exposure is fine. But, to be honest, people will see my work.

But let's turn the tables for a moment. Let me ask you: What do you do for a living?

Let's say you own a restaurant.

Well, howsabout you come to my house next Friday. I'm having a dinner party and I'm going to need food. You can take all of your equipment and expertise and produce a culinary masterpiece for us. You'll have to bring your own pots and pans because I don't have any. Oh, and you'll need to provide the food, too. I'll tell you what we want to eat, but you'll need to bring it all. You cook up a tasty dinner for me and 30 of my closest friends and, in return, I'll be sure to tell everyone I meet about your yummy food and your great restaurant. 

Hey, it should be worth it, right?

For the "exposure"?

You want me to work five hours on a Saturday? Tell you what: Call a plumber and ask him what he charges per hour on a Saturday. Multiply that by five.

I'll give you five hours for half of that.

Deal?

The reality is that I do shoot for free, and I actually do it pretty often. But, when I do, I'm doing it for friends and family. When I do it, it's because I've decided that I don't need to be paid for whatever it is I'm shooting, because I've decided that there's another value to be found in shooting for free. It's my choice. Don't ever  presume that you're in any position to make that choice for me.

Expecting a photographer to work for nothing (and lunch equates to "nothing") is no different than asking a plumber to work for nothing, or a chef, or a surgeon or a truck driver. All of those people need to acquire a skill set that the general public does not have. Such a skill set has value, which is why you need to expect to pay for it.

So, the next time you find yourself in need of a photographer, truly consider what you're asking him to do if you ask him (or her) to shoot for free. You know as well as I do that you're going to want the best that photographer can provide. You're going to expect the highest quality results for nothing.

That begs the question: Why do you think that's okay?






Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day, Dad...

J.P. - July 5, 1933 - February 15, 2014

This is a weird Father's Day for me. For the first time, I have no one to call. I have no one to send a card to.

I'm left only with the memories of my father.

"J.P". was a special guy. In as much as I could be aware of such things as a kid, I never knew anyone to dislike him. He was universally liked. I simply didn't know anyone who didn't want to be his friend.

J.P. was, by all accounts, a good dude.

He'd had a long and full life. That really can't be argued. He joined the Navy during the Korean War, and spent four years an an Aviation Boatswain's Mate. I don't know how far up the promotional ladder he progressed, but I know he enjoyed his time in the service. After he passed away, my brother Greg and I were going through his things. So many of the items we found were from his Navy days; pictures, address books, note pads. It was wild trying to get a glimpse into how a 19 year old Jerry Parr approached his days on board a United States aircraft carrier

Dad, sitting on the wing of a Corsair on board the USS Oriskany (CV 34)...

Tryin' to look like a bad-ass on board the Oriskany...

Dad was probably all of 19 years old in this photo...


Some time after leaving the military, Dad became a New York State Trooper. I don't know how long that lasted, but I know he was stationed up near Buffalo, and he didn't dig it. The only way to get out of there was to leave the Troopers, so that's what he did.

And then everything changed.

Dad married Mom. They bought a house in Hauppauge, Long Island and, over the next couple of years, brought my brother and me into the world. Greg was born in 1959 and I followed in 1962.

Somewhere along the line, Dad became a truck driver, and a damn good one. Our next door neighbor, John Pellegrini, got Dad a job driving for Exxon (well, it was Esso back then). That job would last 28 years. And those 28 years were 28 "accident free" years. Dad was always immensely proud of that. In addition to driving for Exxon, he would drive dump trucks, buses; basically whatever needed to be driven. In all seriousness, I really don't think there was anything he couldn't drive. If it had at least four wheels and a steering wheel, he owned it.

When I was about 12 or 13, Dad would take me out on his Exxon route at night. We would leave the house around 6:00pm, and not get home until two or three in the morning. This is where I learned an appreciation for diners. We would always stop at the Bluebird Diner on Vets Highway. And I'd always get bacon and eggs.

Dad was the first person to teach me to be aware of my surroundings. When we'd be at a station, filling their gas tanks from Dad's 8,000 gallon tanker, he would squat down and look across the parking lot. Almost without exception, there was money to be found. Usually it was a quarter or a nickel that we would see reflected in the lights of the parking lot, but I remember him once finding a twenty dollar bill. At 12 years old, it was the equivalent of hitting the lottery.

Certainly the most lasting memories I will have of my father will be of him as a member of the Hauppauge Volunteer Fire Department. I don't know when he joined, but I remember the Fire Department always being a constant presence. Greg followed Dad into the Department in 1975; as soon as he could, as a 16 year old kid.

All of Mom & Dad's friends were associated, in one way or another, with the Department. Parades, barbeques, fairs; there was always something goin' on over on Route 111 in Hauppauge.

JP in his turnout gear. I have no idea what year this is, but that moustache was epic...



Dad and Greg in our living room on Townline Road in Hauppauge...

Dad and Greg at my going away party before I left for boot camp in 1981. Again with the moustache...

I think I got my love of the water from Dad. Long before I came along, Dad had a boat. He loved boats. While he didn't have one while we were growing up in Hauppauge, my Uncle Vinny did; a sailboat. Dad used to love taking the helm of that thing:

Dad on board Taurus, my Uncle Vinny's first sailboat...

J.P. at the helm of the "10-R-10", on the Long Island Sound. This was probably around 1976 or so...

Dad did buy a boat after moving to upstate New York...

J.P. the fisherman. That's something that didn't rub off on me...

At some point, Mom and Dad decided to split. It was difficult but, in hindsight, it was certainly for the best.  Dad moved upstate to Hopewell Junction, New York which is where my grandparents were living, and he was able to be there with them, and for them, as they edged into their 90's.

My grandfather's funeral, in 2003, was the only time I'd ever seen my father cry.

J.P. could be stubborn. I remember during his one visit to San Diego in 1994, I gave him a Samuel Adams Lager. You'd have thought I tried to give him toilet water. I'd stocked up on Sam Adams for his visit but, only one beer in, we were headed to the grocery store for a case of Budweiser.

He did, however, enjoy the margaritas:

Having lunch with Dad along Avenida Revolucion in Tijuana, Mexico...


Living on opposite coasts made spending time together difficult. Some years after retiring from the Navy, I went to work for Taylor Guitars, and started traveling regularly to Canada, including to Montreal, Quebec. Well, Hell, Montreal was only about a five hour drive from Dad's, so I started to fly into Newburgh, New York and drive up to Montreal. This allowed me to visit him two weekends in a row when I went to Montreal.

Dad loved to shoot pool, and he was good. He was frighteningly good. I remember, growing up, he was the Hauppauge Fire Department champ year after year. He could be beaten, but not very often. And, if you slipped up on your game. It was over. It just was. Get a beer and have a seat, because you're done.

If you were in a pool tournament with J.P., odds are the best you were going to do was 2nd place...

You know, they say everything happens for a reason. In 2012, I left the job that allowed me to travel to visit Dad, and my own marriage hit the rocks later that same year. I ended up taking a job in Portland, Oregon and, while I enjoyed the northwest for its photographic offerings, it just wasn't for me. After only six months, I took a summer job as a photographer in northeastern Pennsylvania. The small town of Poyntelle, Pennsylvania was a mere two hours from Dad's house in Wallkill, New York.

Greg and I had discussed going to Dad's for his birthday. It didn't take long for us to go  from deciding to get together with Dad and some of his friends for his 80th birthday in July to having a fully catered birthday bash for him. It cost us a Helluva lot more than we thought we would spend, and it was worth every single penny. 

It was heartwarming to watch him as he reconnected with my Uncle Vinny, who he'd known when they were kids. They hadn't seen each other in almost 30 years. Vinny cried all afternoon:

Dad and Uncle Vinny at Dad's 80th birthday party...

It was also good to see the two of them with another lifelong friend, Bobby Arendt. Bobby and my Dad would meet twice a week at Gail's Place, a local "gin mill" (which is what my Dad called every bar on the planet) to play Keno. They lost a whole lot more often than they would win, but it was the friendship which was the only thing that mattered.

Lifelong friends: Dad, Uncle Vinny and Bobby...

Dad and his companion of almost 30 years, Judy, at his 80th birthday party in July 2013...

This shot is special to me, as it's the last photograph ever taken of Greg, Dad and me. Of course, we had no way of knowing that at the time. This was at Dad's 80th birthday party in July of 2013...


And what could be a more fitting birthday present? Howsabout a bottle of Old Parr Scotch?

He was, after all, an "old Parr"...

Dad seemed rather healthy and hale at his 80th birthday party, so we never really considered that it would be the last birthday party he would ever have. Sometimes, you just don't want to think about those kinds of things, anyway.

Dad was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in late December.

Greg and I drove straight through to New York from Florida; 18 hours to be with him, and we spent New Year's Eve with Dad's friends in Plattekill, New York. We stayed for about a week, and returned to Florida only after it had been determined that Dad would be going home from the hospital in a matter of days.

Dad's attitude, despite having this cancer that was destined to kill him, was admirable. "Hey", he would say, "It could be worse. I could have a toothache."

I think about that a lot. It can always be worse.

In February, Dad was back in the hospital, and things were not looking good. He had a host of issues which, each on their own, would've been manageable. But it simply got to be too much. Greg and I, once again, made the drive to New York to see him before the inevitable came to pass.

Dad died at 2:15pm on February 15.

Greg and I were on I-95 North, somewhere in Virginia.

Years ago, before he died, my grandfather (on Mom's side) told me that you can tell a lot about a man by who shows up to his funeral. Well, Dad's funeral certainly told a story of someone who'd touched numerous lives, either directly or indirectly. Different religions, races, creeds; everyone came out to pay their respects to Dad.

I guess it confirmed what I'd really known all along: Everyone loved J.P.

So, while it's with a heavy heart that I write this, it's also with a thankful one. J.P. wasn't perfect. In fact, he was far from it. But if he was perfect, he wouldn't have been the guy who everyone knew and loved. Greg and I are the men we are in no small part because of him.

So, if he's still with you, be sure to tell your Dad that you love him. But, if your Dad has passed on, do what I'll do. Raise your glass in a silent toast, and remember him fondly.

If you knew Dad, you know that you're a richer person for it. If you didn't know him, know that you wish you had.

Happy Father's Day, Dad...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Savannah, Georgia...

As you might suspect, I'm always on the prowl for new places to shoot. I dig shooting just about anything, near or far. I don't think I'm really breaking any news when I say that.

Living in the oldest city in the United States, there's a lot of history here to shoot. And, once outside the confines of the city (if you could really refer to St. Augustine as a "city"), you still find cool things to shoot, be it to the north or the south.

I drive I-95 quite often. As I do, I always take note of the signs directing travelers to places like Fort Caroline or Cumberland Island National Seashore. These are places where I want to go shooting. I need to plan them as a trip, though, and commit to waking up at zero-dark-thirty and getting in the truck and driving. I actually haven't done that since I lived in Portland.

One spot where I've always told myself I would stop is Savannah, Georgia. I'd only visited the city once before; some time in the late 1980's and, sadly, I didn't get past the touristy section along River Street. 

But Savannah has a rich and storied history, and it even has a few ghosts thrown in here and there for good measure. Hey, you can't have a city like this and not expect a few ghosts along the way. I would go shoot there I would always tell myself, and I just never made the time.

Well, on a recent drive from North Carolina to St. Augustine, I finally decided to go. I'd left Charlotte early enough in the day that I could allow myself a few hours to walk around Savannah and shoot to my heart's content. So, at about 2:00pm, I pulled into the historic district, found a pay-lot along River Street, grabbed my camera, and hit the road.

River Street is an adventure to drive on, as it's all cobblestone. And, truth be told, it can be a challenge to walk on, as well. But it's what you expect to see when you come to a place like Savannah. It would be wrong if the road was paved.

A 19th century building now houses restaurants and shops along River Street...

Savannah has the "Three T's" down pat: "Tourists, T-shirts and Tours"...

And, boy, they sure know how to hook the tourists...

I was pretty surprised how crowded it was, given that it was a Monday afternoon. Getting pictures without throngs of people in them proved to be an exercise in patience. All in all it wasn't bad, but I always seem to find the people who'll walk smack into the middle of my shot and then... stop. 

God, I love those people.

It was sunny and warm, and I knew it wasn't going to be long before the heat caught up to me. I bought a bottle of water at one of the souvenir shops and went on my way.

What I find most striking about a place like Savannah is the architecture you find. Structures built in the 18th and 19th centuries serve as businesses, offices and, yes, even residences:


Houses on East Bryan Street...
 
This is Kehoe House, a bed & breakfast located on Habersham Street...

These homes are located across from Washington Square...

An old merchant building at the corner of East Houghton and Habersham Street...

Now, lest you think that every building in Savannah is several hundred years old, well, that's just not the case. This hotel, The Brice, sits on the corner of East Bay and Houston, and is decidedly not old:

The Brice, which is classified as a "boutique" hotel...

I wanted to find the Cathedral of St. John The Baptist, and I simply had no idea where to go. So, after walking up Houston, I doubled back to speak with the gentleman you can barely make out in the photo above. He pulled out a map and started using different color inks for different locales. He then suggested that, due to the heat, that I hire a pedi-cab. Well, two things: First, I don't do pedi-cabs. Why? Well, because they look silly. Second, if I was in the back of a large tricycle hurtling down the road, I wouldn't be able to take photos along the way. 

No, I told my new friend Rodney that would walk, and I thanked him for his time and for the map. Southern hospitality being what it is, though, he insisted that I have some cold water before leaving. As I drank close to the entire container of ice water they had in the lobby, I enjoyed a nice conversation with Rodney, the woman behind the counter, and whatever other staff happened to come through the lobby. Truly, truly nice folks, and the fact that I wasn't staying there didn't faze them in the least. Maybe I will stay there some time.


My new friend, and purveyor of ice water and information, Rodney...

Before reaching the Cathedral, I came upon Colonial Park Cemetery on Oglethorpe Avenue. The cemetery has been restored, and is no longer used for internments. It opened in 1750, and the last burial here was in 1853.


The entrance to Colonial Park Cemetery...

This is the grave of Archibald Bulloch. Bulloch was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1775 and, in 1776 became the first President and Commander In Chief of Georgia. His great-great-grandson was Theodore Roosevelt...

Family crypts can be found throughout the six acres of the cemetery...

The grave of Button Gwinnet. British born, he moved to America in 1762 at the age of 27. Like Bulloch, he was a member of the Continental Congress and, in 1776, signed the Declaration of Independence. If you look at the signatures on the Declaration, Gwinnet's is at the top of the left-most column of signatures...

More graves with markers rendered unreadable by the passage of time...

As I walked through the cemetery and towards a far gate, I noticed a lamp post. The cemetery used to be open at night, so a lamp post certainly wasn't all too unusual.

A simple lamp post in Colonial Park Cemetery...

Closer inspection of the post, however, reveals a security camera. In actuality, they were all over the cemetery...

As I left the cemetery, I could finally see the twin spires of the Cathedral of St. John The Baptist. Now, I'm not a particularly religious guy, but I know photogenic architecture when I see it. Next to old barns, few things capture my photographic attention more than an old church.

Though there were various iterations and locations of the church upon the founding of the first parish in 1700, the current building had its cornerstone laid in 1873. On February 6, 1898 a devastating fire destroyed almost the entire Cathedral, leaving only the outside walls and the two spires intact. The rebuilding began immediately, and the seventh bishop of Savannah, Benjamin Keiley, celebrated the first mass in the rebuilt Cathedral on December 24, 1899.

It's truly a remarkable structure:

The Cathedral of St. John The Baptist in Savannah, Georgia...

Looking back towards the rear of the Cathedral...

The Tabernacle...

A wide view looking towards the rear of the Cathedral...

The font, just inside the Cathedral's inner doors...

Looking forward towards the alter (which is to the left)...

The alter, rendered in black and white...


The pipe organ, located above the Cathedral's inner doors...


I love photographing churches, but few stand out as being on the same level as this one. Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine and the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal are probably the only other ones which have impressed me as this one did.

As I left the Cathedral, I glanced at my watch. As much as I wish I had more time, I knew it was time to start (slowly) making my way back to my truck to continue my trip home. But, see, I had to actually get to my truck and, well, there was a lot to shoot between the Cathedral and the Explorer.

Oddly, I don't think President Lincoln was ever here...

One of Savannah's countless Spanish moss-covered sidewalks...
 
The William Washington Gordon Monument, located in Wright Square. Gordon was the founder and President of Georgia's first railroad, the Central Railroad & Banking Company...


A chandlery shop along River Street...


Savannah City Hall, on East Bay Street...

I guess they figure that, by not using the Mayor's actual name, they never have to change the sign...
 
The Talmadge Memorial Bridge, which spans the Savannah River...

All in all, I spent about three and a half hours wandering around the streets of Savannah. Sadly, I'm sure I only scratched the surface of the city with respect to photographing it, and I know I would definitely like to return some time to rectify that...


Let's Talk Apps...

From time to time, I'll be talking about cell phone apps as I find good ones. Let's face it, it's almost impossible to get thro...