This is the 5th history writing I’ve done. This was written on November 13th of 2012 shortly after I returned from Europe (Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece).
It’s been over a year since my last history update. I guess you could say I was figuring things out.
I hadn’t worked with anyone or anything for about two months—the longest break I had ever taken from my camera (and this wouldn’t be the last time). I decided I wanted to get into band photography so naturally, I worked with my brother’s new band Star Destroyer, for which he was their drummer in May of 2011. Working with groups of people like this felt satisfying and was a lot of fun.
The fun was short-lived and the feeling of being burned out crept right back up again. I couldn’t tell you why, but I didn’t produce anything for another two months. Funny how the older you get it seems the more you can see ahead of you and your life. When you were in middle school you could maybe see ahead a couple of days, maybe a week, certainly not a year. Even in high school, the length was short. I was at the point when I had to ask myself the question: “what’s the point of all this?”
Before I formed relationships with several local photographers in the Ferndale area of Michigan I did a modeling shoot with my old friend Christina Marie in August. Christina is a girl I went to college with at the University of Wisconsin—Stout. I was on a brief vacation visiting friends from college, still getting situated. During our photoshoot, we basically hung out the entire day bouncing ideas back and forth. Pretty much the best kind of photoshoot someone can ask for.
The next day I visited Joey Tichenor, a photographer who was based under my previous agent Troy Braun. We discussed many things about the photo business, like our frustrations and breakthroughs. Mostly, we just wanted to get out and shoot. Joey took me to the Rosemount Ammo Plant in rural Rosemount MN, where I got this shot above. Something about this place allowed me to see things from a new angle. The history behind these foundations and their involvement in WW2 bomb-making made me curious about what other artifacts I could find.
Again, this curiosity didn’t last and for almost four months I did nothing. I convinced myself I needed a break (again). It happens…
Instead of editing all the pictures I took after I got back from Minneapolis I took the time off and learned more about web design and internet marketing. It became apparent to me that having good images wasn’t enough. No, what I needed was a whole new game plan. This entire process took about a year and didn’t come out of thin air. I read thousands of pages, hundreds of articles, and had some consultation done through John Berthot at Focus. The screenshot above was the final result, which didn’t happen until September of 2012.
After I got around to editing some of the pictures I took in Minneapolis with Joey in August of 2011 I decided to delve back into modeling photography. I produced a few steller images with the concept of “American Laziness” inside of a shopping mall after seeing a commercial for the “Snuggie.” Of all the things that got me back into photography, it was this commercial that gave me that burning desire.
I continued to learn about web design and marketing until the holidays. My portfolio was huge and actually overwhelming. It became clear that I needed to weed out some of my old work, which is what I focused on until December.
After the holiday season, momentum built up again. I called up a friend from Spring Arbor University—Chase Sullivan—and did some urban exploration in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio in early January of 2012. The time was right, it was getting cold outside and everything looked bleak. Chase was the same guy I collaborated with on our video Newrostica Plasterfactious.
I had been living only 20 minutes from Detroit for over a year and resisted the temptation of abandoned buildings. I guess I didn’t want to be a walking cliche’. Why not? Columbus doesn’t look that bad when you compare it to Detroit. If these images of the Columbus Landmark Grain Factory were successful and I liked how they looked, how much better could I do in a city where an entire auto industry collapsed?
I wanted to make my first urban exploration great, so I rallied up some friends and got a photoshoot with three models and a bunch of photographers. Sure I could shoot an abandoned building, but one with a model who has pink hair!? Now that’s something else. On exploration #1 we went to Brush Park in Detroit. The models were Robyn Bernard, Gwen Joy, and Jameika Martin. Friends and photographers included Derrick Robbins, Jenna Belevender, Ryan Cunningham, Farzin Montazersadgh, Darren Grow, and some friends of theirs.
With six of our cars outside I’m surprised we didn’t call more attention to ourselves. When we were leaving a police car was parked outside, waiting for us. We lucked out when we drove away and were not followed.
Visiting the Packard Plant for the first time became the start of many, many images involving abandoned complexes and factories. The Packard Plant is 3,500,000 sq feet of ruins, essentially. Capturing this gigantic fortress took over a day. I went with some of the same people who helped me out in Brush Park and formed a Facebook group called Detroit Urban Exploration.
More places followed, the group and I went to the Continental Factory, and Fisher Body plant as well. Perhaps more will come of this?
My good friend Jenna Belevender introduced me to Robyn Bernard on February 18th when we hung out and took pictures in Brush Park. Until that shoot, I had never worked with anyone so interesting. Robyn is a great girl with tattoos, gorgeous looks, and pink hair. Robyn had a friend, Saki, who was from Japan. I was contacted again and decided to do a group photoshoot of the two in downtown Ferndale, which took place on March 13th.
Portraits were great, but I needed to push more boundaries and do something… different.
With the help of my friends Phil Selander and Derrick Robbins, I built a flamethrower. The next logical step to creating something different! My pyro self was coming back to life. On April 5th my friend Chris Lalonde helped me “light-up” Sarah Denise —a model who just recently moved to Detroit.
All the abandoned pictures from the various places I went to since January were piling up on my computer. I wanted to use these but felt they were not strong enough on their own to carry any emotional weight. I was also dealing with information overload and did not want to have too many images of the same thing.
One of the reasons I like to use people is that they form an emotional reaction—or connection—to the viewer. The environment above was shot in an abandoned YMCA. The fire came from stock images of fire I created from my flamethrower. The couple was shot in 2010 at a Halloween party in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Composites were still a big part of my work and I probably added a dozen more images to The Real World is an Illusion series, going back through my library and making scenes that did not, and could not exist. This was a time-consuming process and I wanted to find a compromise. This is when the idea of having people appear to float in their environment came to mind.
To be fair, this idea had been executed before, with Robyn and Saki back in March. However, the shoot with Mary Sarsfield and Dree Cashmere was more successful in terms of getting the kind of image I wanted. The most difficult part of this floating technique is making clothes fall naturally. The shot above with Mary was shot on top of the Motor City Hotel/Casino parking structure using pocket wizards, a tripod, and a stool I borrowed from work.
In May I teamed up with Jay Taraye, a talented model from New York to create dramatic portraits with symbolic references. The image above was the most successful on these terms. What does this represent? I’ll let you decide. This was the last portrait I took before my family and I embarked on a trip to Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece.
Up until this moment photographing my environment had always been about turning it into something more substantial, something larger than life. Enveloping myself in an entirely different culture shifted the way I thought about things. Do I simply document reality or do I continue to stretch the boundaries of what’s real? After thousands of images were taken I decided to continue manipulating reality. Eventually, people will be composited into many environments not strong enough to stand on their own.
Hotel Rila is located in one of the highest mountain resorts in Sofia Provence. Our group stayed here for almost a week and had the place to ourselves. Some of the best times were here, at its peak we had over 100 people here doing events for the “Love Bulgaria” conference.
We visited a Roma (gypsy) village during the final days of Bulgaria. Seeing the way people lived here was quite different than the way people lived about five miles away in one of the wealthiest city centers of Sofia. There is an invisible dividing line between gypsies and everyone else. For more information please refer to my journal entries.
When I got back to the states I started working with friends again for portraits and launching visualnoises.com for licensing my entire database of images. Visual Noises allowed me to eliminate over 75% of the images I had on this site (looking back I had nearly 1,000 images that were reassigned to “B-rated” and removed), allowing undoingautumn to become simpler, cleaner, and less frustrating.
The first model I worked with was Stephanie Hardie, a cute brunette my sister had known for about a year. I wasn’t thinking of any particular theme when I shot these, other than just having fun, however, I did want the final images to be fun and vibrant. These were shot in September and the weather was changing fast. I figured I better make these as bright and bold as possible before winter was upon us.
A week after working with Stephanie I found a musician to work with who needed promotional images for an upcoming album. King Martyr is a rapper from the Metro / Detroit area.
I started this article with my brother’s band Star Destroyer. Well, this is his new band: Sleep Eater. These guys are intense and put on a great show. These images were taken on the last day of September. These guys sound like a marriage between Agalloch, Meshuggah, and a terrifying version of Jimmy Kimmel.
On October 17th, I worked with Nicole-Raq Jarrell (pictured above) and Brooke Ziggy for a photoshoot at Charlie’s Apple Orchard in New Boston, MI. Nicole especially had a look of intensity that I hadn’t seen before. I don’t think the word captivating is too far out of reach for the examples above. The theme for this shoot was Vintage and “Sleepy Hollow.”
So far this year has been my most productive year yet and placed me on the path I want to be on. My purpose is to work with people and make an emotional impact. Beauty is common. Combining beauty with intrigue is the key, in my opinion, to creating work that appeals to people and gets under their skin. I’ll always have a certain sense of strangeness in my work.