My First Presentation

Photo by: Claire Petra Tanner

Photo by: Claire Petra Tanner

Back in August I got the opportunity to present the first twenty-one pictures in the series at an artist workshop in Santa Fe. It was the first time I'd gotten to speak publicly about the photo project and to do so with a portion of the work actually present. It struck me afterward that every other time I'd ever talked about the project it was always without the images present and so all of the language I'd developed for talking about the work was to describe something you couldn't see, but that now with the images made I needed to learn a new way of talking about them.

One great point from Sarah Thornton's 'Seven Days in the Art World' points out how an artist talking about a work of art is a "parallel dialectic" that never actually intersects with the work. It was said in the context of arts education, but I think it can apply to lectures and presentations by an artist as well.

An artist's thoughts about what they made is a kind of conversation or performance that is separate from what's actually behind a work of art. In addition, even the medium that makes a presentation possible—the photos projected on a screen—is a substantially different experience from seeing the images serially on a gallery wall where the viewer can scan back and forth between several images at a time and contemplate them at their own pace—to create their own sense of cinematic time that they feel is right for the work and for themselves as the viewer. The whole presentation process is so different from the intended experience of the work that it necessitates making something new of the experience for the viewer/listener.

As a result, I think any future presentations I give about the photo project will end up being drafted more as performance than as a lecture with either as a conversation with a curator in which I share anecdotes about the making of the project to entertain those listening or if it's just me an evening of musings with music and quotes from sociology and literature that relate to the work's themes of friendship and romance that hopefully leave the listener thinking.

So I won't even call this first presentation I did a good start. Like all projects we take on let's call this first time a beginning, but at some point we have to grow up from being beginners and mature.

Convivium Osteria

We were very fortunate the owners of the restaurant Convivium Osteria in Park Slope let us come in for a few hours one morning before they opened to shoot a big, fancy dinner scene among one set of friends in the story. We were short on crew that day because of various conflicts so I shopped most of the set dressing myself, which is a rare occurrence at this point, and Alissa, my wife, and one of our producers, Sam Blye jumped in to do the actual dressing while I set up camera and lights. I dropped off the film to be processed on Friday last week and I'm dying to get it back and see how this one turned out. It felt very much like trying to arrange models for the Last Supper by Van Gogh, but with figures on the nearside of the table partially obstructing the frame, which made it quite the challenge.


Three Good Years

I've been working with two of my actors in the current photo project for three years now. All the way from the first auditions I held through an intense and somewhat wacky rehearsal process and shooting process for my first staged project all the way to this current extended project. Here's Neyssan, who plays Phil, and I celebrating his second to last day on set and three good years together. Cheers!

Photo by: Unknown

Photo by: Unknown

Protect the Candles

Lighting thirty birthday candles on a cake on what turned out to be an exceptionally windy weekend proved almost to be the death of us. It took shielding the cake with two 6'x6' flags, a black cloth held up on a third side, and the body of one of our crew members on the fourth to get the candles to stay lit just long enough for us to take the picture. It resulted in a lot of laughter, but I think we got the shot.


Blocking Test for the Punch


I've discovered over the last several months that one of the most useful parts of my creative practice is to go to the space we're shooting at in advance of the shoot with an assistant and block out where the camera and each of the characters are so I can work through ideas for what the final composition will be. I then use the mockups from that blocking test to brainstorm possible set dressing ideas with the art department for what surfaces we need to fill, what objects we need to source, and how all of that will render on camera based on the  angle we'll see them at. It also helps my producers know how many extras we're going to need and the costume department know the color and lighting scheme of the space and how the clothes will lie or pull on the actors based on how they're positioned.

This is our only special effects makeup shot with a bloody nose following Phil falling to the ground after getting punched by an unseen assailant. Hopefully the final image we're shooting this weekend turns out as well as this one did.

The Gang's All Here


We got the cast back together this past weekend for our first shoot in two months and we'll be shooting again this coming Sunday. We have a very full schedule through the end of the year and as we continue to build our team for the fall everything is looking very promising.

Scanning 482 Negatives

Week before last I scanned the first 482 4x5 negatives from the project in about 22 hours glued to a computer in the digital labs at the International Center of Photography. I had some leftover TA hours from a year ago that I'd been saving up for just such an occasion. This kind of work requires me to be a machine loading each negative one at a time into a special flexible holder, blowing off the tiny bits of dust you can only see at certain angles of light, placing it into the scanner using these cool little magnetic latches, setting the computer to scan the image which takes a couple minutes, while I wait loading the next negative into a second negative holder and blowing off the dust, unloading the first negative from the scanner, and then loading the next one to scan. Repeat and repeat and repeat. To make the work a little less tedious I tend to put in headphones and listen to a mix of old and new albums that I want to become more intimately familiar with in its details. That week it was:

The National - Trouble Will Find Me

Kanye West - Yeezus

Josh Ritter - The Beast In Its Tracks

Sam Phillips - Push Any Button

The Black Keys - Brothers

Joe Pug - Nation of Heat EP

Laura Marling - Alas I Cannot Swim

The Oh Hellos - Through the Deep, Dark Valley

Iron & Wine - Ghost on Ghost

9 Shots in 6 Weeks

We've shot 9 new images since I last posted six week ago, which doubles the total number of scenes we've shot so far. There are a lot of behind the scenes materials from all those shoots that I'm excited to share, but I haven't been able to find the time to post them because of how much time it takes to produce each shoot and get the images themselves made. That seems like it'll be a continual tension I'm going to have to wrestle with, but I'll try to get some of that stuff up soon.

Published the Third Draft

After three months of rewriting I'm proud to announce that we published the third draft of the script today. Every scene was changed in some way in a full top to bottom rewrite. We gave Marc a better arc for why he moved to New York that spoke to the overall themes of the story and, as a whole, expanded the story arcs of Sally and Wesley's friends. The casting process in particular was extremely helpful to us in fleshing out who these characters were as we got to talk about the characters in the audition room and put faces with names. As a result many of the secondary characters have been fleshed out to the point of becoming main characters with their own tiny arcs.

It was a huge overhaul with no scene left behind. In a quick estimate we cut 17 scenes and wrote 27 brand new scenes for this draft, which even if you exclude what were often large revisions to the scenes that stayed in the script that means at a minimum 42% of what's on the page was written in just the last few months. If I hadn't been working on this script for the last year and a half I would probably feel shaken by how much has changed so quickly, but I've learned in the last eight months that some of the best discoveries in the writing process come in a flurry of writing as you try to get it all down as fast as you can.

What I refer to as the first draft of the script came after a year of writing six days a week in a burst of 7,200 words in which the entire story was re-envisioned beginning to end in a single two hour focused burst at the computer. Major anchor points of the story were uprooted and the script became something dramatically and irreversibly different from what it had been just a short time before—and it was better for it.

The last three months, even as the story changes have remained just as big, has felt like the more mature version of that. The story as it stands today has never rung more true and I've never been more proud of something I've written than what's in this script. It's also a good feeling to know that after a year and a half of steady work at this I have never been a better writer than I am today and it'll probably surprise you to hear that it's an even better feeling to know that that still means I'm probably not very good, but I can say that because I know that I'll be a better writer a year from now and an even better writer the year after that when I tackle my next project.

So here's to the third draft and all the images and all the words ahead!

Beer Flights


"Always carry whiskey in case of a snake bite...always keep a snake in your pocket." - W.C. Fields

It was three months ago that we locked the second draft of the shooting script for the photo project and I’m happy to report I’m getting really close to publishing the third draft of the script to our actors and creative team, but this is what my writing process is starting to look like these days.

Digital Test Photo


We haven’t gotten the film processed yet from our last shoot, let alone scanned, but here’s a quick digital test photo I shot while the actors were engrossed in fiddling with their new instruments. There’s no acting and no lighting here, but hopefully this gives you a glimpse of what we spent most of last weekend making and the amazing work our set dressing and costume apprentices are doing.

Hours of Casting


I keep the program for every play I see in hopes of someday casting the actors whose work I liked. Over the last four weeks Corinne and I called in 55 actors and actresses and spent a cumulative 31.5 hours in the audition room and a third of the people we saw were from shows I'd seen over the last three years. It's been a time consuming process, but we've succeeded in casting eleven actors and we're making offers to another ten in the next couple weeks.

Six Months of Scouting


Why the long hiatus posting? Well, mostly I've been busy preparing to shoot. Since the summer I've scouted 40 places: 34 apartments, 4 offices, and 2 taxi depots. I shot 3,661 pictures (that sounds like a lot, but with each place having multiple rooms that's only 92 pictures per place) and printed 1,522 of those pictures as 4"x6" prints that I've been sorting through and pinning to my magnetic wall to figure out which apartments would best fit each character with the furniture already in each place. It's been good to get the pictures out of the computer and physicalize the process and we've pinned down places for several of the characters (Marc, Nandini, Phil, Liam) who I look forward to telling you more about soon.

Einstein on the Beach

Apparently for the original production of Philip Glass's and Robert Wilson's opera Einstein on the Beach Wilson raised $850,000 of the million dollar production costs, so he was still in debt $150,000 and Wilson, in sharing this fact with his non-artist Father got the response, "I didn't know you were smart enough to lose that much money." You can hear Wilson's very funny/touching retelling of that exchange here at the 7'06" mark.

We know Einstein today for all the success it brought its main creators as it's been revived numerous times, but here at the mid-point of their careers the struggle is fascinating to hear about. "The day after the performance, Glass was back driving his taxi: 'I vividly remember the moment, shortly after the Met adventure,' he says, 'when a well-dressed woman got into my cab. After noting the name of the driver, she leaned forward and said: 'Young man, do you realise you have the same name as a very famous composer.'1"

And while Einstein launched both of their careers, as well as performer and choreographer Lucinda Childs, it's not something you can know or plan for or expect while you're doing it; in fact it's strange to even look back on and feel like you had any idea what you were doing. I found this excerpt from Childs from last year as another of her old productions was being remounted, "Still, Childs found it 'seriously moving' to see how many dancers wanted to work on the revival, and odd that, after so many years of feeling she was inventing her career as she went along, she was now being venerated as the grande dame of a golden era.2" It's encouraging after feeling like my wife and I are both constantly making this up as we go along to hear the heavyweights we look to today look back on the early and even the mid-points of their careers and express similar sentiments to what we're experiencing now. It gives one hope through all the uncertainty and the upheavals.

So let me close with one more tidbit from Philip Glass: "One aspect of Glass's life has remained constant: 'I am still trying to write melodies which are truly beautiful and fresh and unexpected. It's very simple: I find playing music and writing music very challenging. It hasn't gotten any easier as I've gotten older. And after 50 years of composing, that is an achievement in itself. It is still engrossing enough to get me up early and keep me working all day.'3" Let us all aspire to find the work that engrosses us enough to do it every day for 50 years. And be brave enough if we're not engrossed enough with what we've put our hands and minds to doing to leave it and find the vocation that does.


Here's a fun little video of Arthur Miller telling Robert Wilson what he thought of Einstein on the Beach.

A Mid-Journey Timeline

Some people asked me last week about the work I'd posted in the Work in Progress category when the site launched and I realized I needed to give some clarification about the material I'm currently posting and what I hope to post in the coming months. To do that, let me give you a quick timeline of where we've been in the last year and a half since I jumped into this photo project:

  • Nov - Dec 2010: Held auditions and cast four actors to play two romantic couples.
  • Jan - April 2011: Rehearsed in my apartment as much as six days per week to create consistent characters the actors could play.
  • June - Dec 2011: Shot 19 different scenes over 12 shoots.
  • Oct - Nov 2011: Ran my Kickstarter Campaign to raise support to shoot more images.
  • Jan - Sept 2012: Wrote a 30-35 image script, at first building on and then moving past the original story to something better.
  • Aug 2012 - Present: Scouting locations to match scenes in the script and organizing shoots to execute them over the next nine months.

So despite the fact that I'm posting images I haven't made any images over the last eight months. There's been the occasional rehearsal photo, but I'd gone back to the drawing board in terms of the story (sorry if that comes as a surprise to any of you; I've talked about that a little bit in my emails to my donors). So at this point all the pictures you're seeing me post are from the summer and fall of last year, some of which I'm proud of and some of which fail to do what I'd set out to do and some of which were at least striving in the right direction with at least some elements working in their favor.

Then I'm currently gearing up to shoot the 30-35 images I've scripted into a concise, linear story with a beginning, middle, and end, something the previous images I feel lack, and we can talk about why later, so that's where I'll be putting my efforts over the next year from now until June of 2013 when I will most likely lose several of my actors to moves and changing life directions and so forth.

So part of this site and the responsibility I feel toward you, my friends, patrons, fellow photographers, and art lovers is to catch you up on where I've been in this long, long journey. The difficulty of that, however, is trying to tell you a story I'm still in the middle of and one I'm unsure of where it ends. So many of the posts over the next few months I'll share with you our process for developing the characters you see in Version 1.0 of this project, some of the crazy things we did throughout our rehearsals, and share the adventures we had in staging and shooting pictures "out in the wild." And then gradually transition to telling you about the long writing process I've gone through over the last year, how good it has been for me to develop a writing life and the disciplines that go with that, and share with you the new adventures we have making whatever Version 2.0 of this photo project looks like. Thanks again for coming along with me on this journey!