The Hustle in Ethiopia

Accurate unemployment numbers are hard to come by for Ethiopia. Suffice it to say they are higher than everyone would like. I spent some time giving these elusive statistics some thought. How do you represent them visually? How do you do it in a dignified manner without simply showing a poor person in need?

All across the city I live in there are people selling clothing, toiletries, cleaning supplies, snacks, lightbulbs, kids toys and other knickknacks via foot or small roadside shops. It doesn’t stop there. At one corner you can get your fans repaired and the opposite corner sit down and get a strong cup of coffee.

While it can sound romantic it is in fact hard work. And the margins can be thin based on your goods or services. Without a doubt, these people are hustling.

This is a longterm project which I hope to one day make into a book. All photos were shot on Kodak Portra 120. Each person gave their permission to be photographed and was paid.

Older Ethiopian sitting outside cabinet selling food
Ethiopian man selling brooms and mops on cobblestone road
man selling toys and belts on the street in Ethiopia
Ethiopian sewing clothes under shade.
Ethiopian woman selling grass for coffee ceremony on sidwalk


The Garage in Ethiopia

I found out a brother of a friend of a friend owns an upholstery & mechanic shop here in Ethiopia and asked if I could stop by to take some pictures. Thankfully they said yes. I love these kinds of places because they have so much character and oftentimes the people are so willing to be photographed. In 3.5 hours we managed to get 6 good setups, all shot with 1 light. It was a little hectic but well worth the effort. Big shoutout to my friend and his friend and his brother for allowing me to do this and helping with lighting!

After the shoot I had the photos printed so the subjects could get a copy. It was a great experience for everyone and I’m pleased with how they turned out.

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Ken LaRoe for Independent Banker Magazine in Orlando, Florida

I had the opportunity to photograph Ken several months back for Independent Banker magazine. He was selected as the Community Banker of the Year and they needed to profile him for their magazine. Ken is a forward thinking guy who’s love for the environment gave him the gumption to open his own bank in and around Orlando, Florida with an environmental focus.

It was fun getting creative with Ken. His willingness to think outside the box really helped me get what I needed.


Chiban Leather in Ethiopia

While you may not have known it (I certainly didn’t) leather is a big deal in Ethiopia. There is a lot of variety to the industry. Finished goods like handbags, shoes, gloves and belts take up a large portion of the export market but rawhide export is on the rise, thanks to new laws.

I’ve started a long term project on the leather industry here, from cow to product, and have some fun ideas for how to present it (so I can’t share too many images or details just yet). But here is a sampling of my time photographing Chiban Leather at their facility and store in Addis Ababa. Big thanks to Eden Gelan, founder of Chiban, for allowing me to stop by.



11 Questions with Orlando Sentinel Columnist Scott Maxwell

You can’t deny people are awesome. Who doesn’t like sitting down with good friends to ask them interesting, insightful and funny questions? That’s what 11 Questions is for. I’ll be featuring some friends I look up to as well as people within the community I’ve always wanted to get to know. Let’s get started!

This 11 Questions has been a long time coming. I shot it several months ago when we were back in Orlando to have our second son. Now we’re back in Ethiopia but I think this one’s worth the wait.

I’ve always been a fan of newspapers. I grew up wanting to be a newspaper shooter but shifted gears to editorial and advertising work when they started to take a dive while I was still in college. I grew up watching my parents sip coffee while reading the paper and Scotts name always came up while they were reading. “Hey, did you see this column by Maxwell?” Even to this day I get regular emails from my mom with links to his columns (gotta love moms). I like reading his column because I feel we could be friends (please-oh-please Scott, be my friend!). He’s concerned about the community, thinks people should be held accountable (particularly politicians), loves the arts & tells it like it is with humor and wit. I reached out to Scott about featuring him on the blog and he graciously agreed.

Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel by Brian Carlson

Who do you look up to?

Truly selfless people. People like Central Florida’s famous “Apopka nuns,” who have sacrificed money, personal lives, and many of basic life comforts – all so they can help the impoverished and downtrodden. I’m awestruck by people who truly live to serve – and who do so gladly. They humble you in the most profound sense of the word – and make you want to live better and do more.

Do you have a favorite book or album?

Carl Hiaassen’s first novel, “Tourist Season,” is a great primer for all the ridiculousness Floridians regularly encounter. Any book that starts with cops finding the head of a local chamber of commerce dismembered and stuffed in a suitcase, and other victims fed to a crocodile named “Pavlov” … well, that’s a special kind of twisted. Jimmy Buffett turned the book into a song.

Favorite place to eat in Orlando?

East End Market to gather with friends on Friday night. Santiago’s Bodega for work lunches and out-of-towners. Linda’s La Cantina if I’m craving red meat and old-school Orlando.

If you could mate two different species of animals what would they be?

OK, first of all: WTH? This took an unexpected “Island of Dr. Moreau” turn. My favorite animals are owls, otters and whale sharks. So maybe that’s an owl shark. Or whale otter. Either one sounds pretty disturbing.

Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel by Brian Carlson

What gives you inspiration?

On a positive note: People who live to serve others. They make me want to do more. On a negative note: Hypocrisy, dishonestly and people who are indifferent to others. They inspire me to get pissed off. That often results in frenetic typing early in pre-dawn hours of the morning when (oddly) I’m often most fired up.

If you had a chance to live in a different decade, what decade would you choose?

Maybe the 70s. I was a child then. But that was the modern-day renaissance of newspapers – when Watergate came along and we learned that a couple of ink-stained wretches could topple a presidency. (I also really like the Rat Pack era of the 50s … though I’ve read enough about those guys to know their lives weren’t so glamorous when the spotlight dimmed.)

What in your personal life has influenced you to choose your career?

Honestly, I don’t know what started it. I’ve just always loved newspapers. From the time I was a young child, I would go to my Dad’s law office and use his mimeograph machine to print up copies of something called “The Maxwell House News” – a home-made newspaper with fascinating stories, like: “Scott’s Dad Mows Grass.” I was just always drawn to it. The urgency. The impact. The place on the front lines of history. For all those reasons, I’ve stayed with it – after most of my best friends have abandoned the career – largely because I still feel like I can make a difference.

How do you balance your personal and professional life?

I try to put a limit on things. I used to say yes to every work invitation I got. Every party, lunch, fundraiser, coffee, etc. But then I realized that my column was suffering. And so was my family life. When you put things in perspective like that, decisions are easier.

Is there anything you haven't done yet that you feel compelled to achieve in the future?

I really want to swim with whale sharks one day … though I fear that question you asked up above about mating unrelated animals has forever altered the way I look at those docile creatures.

The former printing press at the Orlando Sentinel.

The former printing press at the Orlando Sentinel.

What are your other interests?
I really like to travel and exercise. Both are escapes.

What rejuvenates you?

See above. And I guess both relate back to my work. Some of my best columns are written after a long (slow) run when I can really just think about issues. Sometimes I manage to think about a topic from so many angles, I change my own mind. Or I approach a topic in a new way. Similarly, I usually return from a vacation revved up to write. I think the brain is a battery that needs to be recharged.

Behind the Photograph

Ethiopia

Ethiopia

There are a lot of hidden stories in the still image. Rarely do they house one narrative. This is a chance for me to tell you about those stories. 

In the past on this series I’ve mainly featured personal work. This time I’m swinging the other way. To fund some of our work here in Ethiopia we often submit proposals to embassies, non-profits and other organizations. Oftentimes we need some images to spruce up these proposals. That’s where this image comes in. It was shot as part of an image library to have for the proposals.

I knew a few things about this shoot before walking into it. We would have some models, it would be in someones home (with no pre-scout) and it needed to focus on the use of technology (because we publish a lot of our content digitally). And I’ve got to tell you, when I walked into this scenario I was pretty nervous. The room had white walls without any decoration, a very busy carpet, and the couch and cushions reminded me of those Magic Eye images from the 90s. It was pretty busy and distracting. So what’s a guy to do?

lighting setup

Get crafty, that’s what! To minimize the impact of the couch and carpet I wanted to go dark. Thankfully we shot pretty late at night so ambient wasn’t a problem. With a friends wife as an assistant and translator I got to work. To light the women I would ordinarily put a white piece of paper on the screen and boom a gridded light overhead, pointed at the white paper, to produce a nice computer “glow”. But due to the back wall this wasn’t an option. Thankfully I was able to jack up my ISO and my 5d Mrk. IV was sensitive enough to read the computer as the key light. Problem 1 solved.

Problem 2 was it left the room as dark as a black hole (which, thanks to modern technology, we finally know how dark that is!). So I pulled a trick out of my bag from my assisting days. I NDed a light to my left and pointed it at a dark window drape to my left to add a kiss of fill light. A bunch of shutter clicks later and voilà!

I really like how this image turned out and it has served us well. The women were excellent at taking direction and it a culturally appropriate image for our audience. I hope to add more images to the library in the near future so stay tuned.

Vintage Addis Ababa | The Book

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has been through a lot over the last 100+ years. Growth, famine, prosperity, modernization. All have been close companions of this east African country. And while it’s easy to focus on the difficult times (and too many often do when talking about Africa) it’s important to remember life goes on, people get married, have kids and laugh during those times. Counting your blessings when things are bad is vital to sustaining hope.

It was in this vein that Vintage Addis Ababa was created. I have never had the opportunity to help get a book published so this was fun. How often do you get to look through old photos and peek into the past?! Vintage Addis Ababa features hundreds of old photographs and is interspersed with fascinating everyday stories.

The book is out now so go get your hands on it! And if you like it be sure to tell your friends about it as well.

11 Questions with Spoken Word Poet Shawn Welcome

You can’t deny people are awesome. Who doesn’t like sitting down with good friends to ask them interesting, insightful and funny questions? That’s what 11 Questions is for. I’ll be featuring some friends I look up to as well as people within the community I’ve always wanted to get to know. Let’s get started!

FIGHTER. That’s how I’d describe Shawn Welcome. But you would never know it as you shake his hand and are blinded by the reflection of the sun in his disarming smile. The guy is just plain nice. Shawn does battle with words. Those beautiful words he weaves together as he speaks truth and power to the ears of the apathetic, disenfranchised & destitute. His words will awaken you. They are a call to arms for all who hear. And when you’re on his side you know you have more than a fighting chance.

Shawn Welcome boxer poet

Who do you look up to?

There are several people who have been a mentor to me over the years that I admire. But there’s only one that I can honestly say I aspire to be like, as disconnected as this may seem to some readers, and that’s Messiah Jesus.

Do you have a favorite book or album?

The first two books that come to mind that I love are John Elderidge’s “Beautiful Outlaw” and Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy.” Beautiful Outlaw walks readers through the humanity of Christ and removes the broad brush ideas many perceive Jesus to be. And I’m actually not finished with Just Mercy yet, but social justice is a topic that Bryan Stevenson gives some of the best language to and speaks of his own journey as a civil rights lawyer who’s made tremendous strides and expresses thoughtful ideas for change in our current day. As far as artists go, I like Eshon Burgundy, Propaganda, Ezekiel, Preston & Jackie Hill-Perry, Misty Edwards, Andy Mineo, and Da’ Truth to name a few.  This is more on the poetry and rap side but I love other genres like reggae, jazz, oldies, old school hip-hop, blues and doo-wop as well. I will say that as much of a fan I am of Propaganda’s work, it’s both flattering and annoying that people confuse me for him. I’m the other black guy with locks that performs animated thought-provoking performance poetry people! I live in Orlando, FL! And my name is Shawn Welcome! ;-)

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Favorite place to eat in Orlando?

One of my favorite places to eat in Orlando is Mamak- Asian Street Food. So stinking delicious!

If you could mate two different species of animals what would they be?

If I had to mate two species of animal, it would be a gecko and a hawk. Why you ask? Well… Hawks are cool looking and could post up in the corner of my house like a gangster waiting for drama to pop off so she could have a reason to spring into action… and I’ve learned that geckos are predators of roaches. So... in addition to being a dope security guard, she’d kill roaches in her spare time with the classic tongue extension move. ;-)

What gives you inspiration?

Learning different things about anything tends to inspire me. The “How I Built This” podcast where innovators are interviewed about the business empires they built is super cool.  Other podcasts like “The Ted Radio Hour,” “Code Switch,” and “Revisionist History,” are my brand of content. That mixed with the amazing biblical accounts I read in scripture and people demonstrating Christ-likeness in the Earth are among the things that keep me inspired.

If you had a chance to live in a different decade, what decade would you choose?

If I had the chance to live in a different decade, it would be 2030-2040. My youngest boys would be wrapping up high school. Orlando would be just a more awesome city to live in. I should have bought a house by then. People would be dressing 2000’s retro because that’s how fashion works. The tech world would be very interesting. And I’m hopeful that racial inequities lessen as time moves forward.

What in your personal life has influenced you to choose your career?

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I think my career chose me rather than the other way around. I’ve always had a natural bent towards learning and therefore teaching and working with people in some capacity. Discovering my talent as an artist only accelerated that journey as well as my influence that landed me in the spaces I’m in today. When I reflect on the jobs that I’ve had in the past, it’s all kind of like the same thing. From serving at Captain D’s to customer service at Hewitt Associates to the different high schools I mentored youth at through different non-profits to teaching to facilitating poetry camps and classes to finishing school with my B.A in English Literature, and so on. It’s been a goulash of doing what felt natural and attracting opportunities that have allowed me to eventually formally exercise my gifts and talents.

How do you balance your personal and professional life?

My wife has been a tremendous asset with regards to balancing my personal and professional life. Between her holding me accountable to our family and actually utilizing my calendar, I’ve been able to stay fairly stable.

Is there anything you haven't done yet that you feel compelled to achieve in the future?

In terms of future projects, I’d love to complete a poetry workbook in print and audio for facilitators to use, a string of videos and maybe audio recordings of my latest works (My CD is so old. Lol!), a children’s book, and whatever else comes my way. I’ve been fortunate enough to do NBA commercials and voice over branding for universities so anything creative up that ally would be a fun space to continue in.

Shawn Welcome boxing

What are your other interests?

About a year ago, I learned to play chess and it has become an interest of mine as of late. I also enjoy documentaries about anything! I could watch those til’ the cows come home, whatever that means. I don’t play basketball as much as I used to, but old passions never really die. ;-)

What rejuvenates you?

I’m rejuvenated in both solitude and among many. Quiet times alone or with my wife or in the scriptures or watching a documentary brings me as much energy as the beautiful chaos of the open mic night I’ve been hosting weekly since 2006. I love God and I love people. And I find myself refreshed in either of those spaces.

Cocoa Beach for The Boston Globe

The other week The Boston Globe called with an assignment to shoot a travel feature on Cocoa Beach, Florida. Cocoa is a great beach town. It’s got that slightly tacky beach town feel but isn’t over the top like Daytona yet it feels quaint & small like New Smyrna. Plus it’s really close to Orlando, where I live, and has a lot of space history. Here are some of the images and you can read the article here.

11 Questions with David Moran & Nathan Selikoff of Omnimodal

You can’t deny people are awesome. Who doesn’t like sitting down with good friends to ask them interesting, insightful and funny questions? That’s what 11 Questions is for. I’ll be featuring some friends I look up to as well as people within the community I’ve always wanted to get to know. Let’s get started!

Nathan & David are two cool nerds. I’ve been friends with Nathan for several years now. He’s a artist, programer, entrepreneur and math whiz. David is an artist, public transit guru and passionate activist for various issues. We met when I photographed him and others for a UCF story on the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. David and Nathan teamed up to start Omnimodal. Their goal is to “work with Smart Cities to connect all commuters across all modes of transportation to the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) marketplace.” What’s that mean? They want you to make the bus/train/gondola on time! I really appreciate their collective passion and I think you’ll enjoy hearing from them.

Omnimodal


Who do you look up to?

David: Singer-songwriter, philanthropist and businesswoman Dolly Rebecca Parton, of course. I will always love you, Dolly.

My parents, aunts and uncles. The many mentors I’ve been blessed with. But also my chosen fam, who inspire me to assume best intentions, lead with love and compassion, aim to do no harm yet take no shit and persevere in solidarity. And people in general who are actively working to live their best lives authentically. Which is not easy, being able to practice self-care can require a lot of privilege.

Nathan: No one. Well, occasionally someone. But very rarely (I'm 6' 5" tall). Oh…you probably meant that in a different way. Lately I've been keeping a special list on my phone called "Courage" and putting people on there that specifically inspire me in this startup journey. People like Yvon Chouinard, DHH and Jason Fried, Douglas Rushkoff, and Arlan Hamilton

Do you have a favorite book or album?

D: In terms of books, anything by David McCullough or Erik Larsen. More recently, I’ve been all about Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.

Regarding music, I’m really a playlist enthusiast these days but my Top 3 (technically 6) albums are Dolly Parton’s Y2Kish blue grass album triology (The Grass is Blue, Little Sparrow, and Halos & Horns), U2’s The Joshua Tree and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

N: Recent favorite books include The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (sci-fi / fantasy) and The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner (non-fiction). One of my favorite albums of all time is Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie.

Favorite place to eat in Orlando?

D: This is hard! So many Orlando eateries to choose from and factors to consider. Hamburg Mary’s will always have a special place in my heart. Se7en Bites is decadent. Mamak, Pom Poms, Prato, Mills Market, Hammered Lamb, Lazy Moon, The Sanctum, Dandelion, Pho 88, Market on South and Bikuri are also go-tos.

N: Tako Cheena on a budget, Ravenous Pig for a special occasion. Though I really enjoy cooking, especially for other people, and trying new things.

Nathan Selikoff

Nathan Selikoff

If you could mate two different species of animals what would they be?

D: First off, I think penguins are perfect just the way they are and should be left alone in this experiment. That being said, it would be cool if zebras could fly. So maybe a zebra and an eagle (but more Pegasi vibes, wings would be the only bird-like feature). Basically I’m rooting for a black & white-striped Pegasus. Intraspecies-wise, I think a Dachshund + Basset Hound (Dachsset Hound?) pup would be quite magical.

N: Weird question. Maybe a cat and a dog… it could poop in a litter box, go on walks, and snuggle and play without being overbearing.

What gives you inspiration?

D: Storytellers. Intersectional community organizing. 3rd wave feminism. Learning about the history of cities and the queer liberation movement. Solitude. Intentional, creative, inclusive people and spaces.

N: Being outside in the woods. Taking a walk or riding my bike. Live music. Shared meals. Hearing stories of people doing things differently, or fighting for justice everywhere.

If you had a chance to live in a different decade, what decade would you choose?

D: I think I’m okay with just living in the present. Though I wouldn’t mind being able to meet my Grandma Lou and Grandpa Frank who passed when I was a toddler/before I was born.

N: Probably the 1960s - lots of exciting developments and opportunities for innovation in computer science and digital art (one of my passions), mixed with the hippy movement, which I think I would fit in with.

What in your personal life has influenced you to choose your career?

D: My current path with Omnimodal kind of chose me. Riding the LYNX bus here in Orlando exclusively for several years, I worked with Nathan and Pat Greene among many other local creatives on a public art project about the bus system called TrIP (Transit Interpretation Project) back in 2013. Nathan and I kept in touch and eventually he reached out about starting a company to improve public transit tech.

David Moran

David Moran

Before I became a regular rider and advocate, I was definitely a public transit enthusiast from a young age. I credit my early interest largely to my Dad. When we would visit my Grandma Pauline (his Mom) in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, we’d often catch the streetcar down the hill from her house into the city. Loved riding the streetcar and also the incline up Mt. Washington.

N: My dad is a software engineer and my mom is an artist, so I grew up engaging both the left and right sides of my brain and having exposure to both disciplines. I started learning how to program when I was about 7 and pretty consistently took art and computer science classes through all of school and college. I worked mainly as a freelance consultant for the better part of 15 years to pay the bills as I tried to make fine art my career. David and I actually met through a public art project (the Transit Interpretation Project, or TrIP), during which I learned about transit data for the first time. That became a seed for Omnimodal. Another seed was planted when my wife Amy and I circumnavigated the northern hemisphere in the summer of 2016, including places like Nepal and Norway. When we came back to Orlando I felt like I wanted to start something that would make a significant impact on my city and knew there was a lot of need around transportation. So I reached out to David to ask, "If you could change one thing about the bus to make it better, what would it be?" Among other things, he said "real-time tracking" (knowing where the bus is and when it's going to get to you), and we eventually decided to start Omnimodal to work on that.

How do you balance your personal and professional life?

D: That can be really difficult especially running a startup and working on my PhD at UCF. Prioritizing self-care and making time for yourself and your loved ones is a must. Easier said than done. My Google calendar is a life-saver as are power naps (and sometimes longer than expected naps).

N: I try and take either Saturday or Sunday off from using my computer and phone, and try not to work after dinner. But especially right now as we're in the thick of starting a company, that's often the first thing on my mind when I wake up, the last thing on my mind as I go to sleep and occasionally the source of stressful dreams!

Is there anything you haven't done yet that you feel compelled to achieve in the future?

D: I’ve been developing a musical that I would love to eventually produce possibly for Fringe or another venue.

N: So many things. I am a pretty ambitious person and can be an obsessive perfectionist, so it's hard to imagine not feeling like there's more to do.

Nathan Selikoff & David Moran of Omnimodal

What are your other interests?

D: Being hard of hearing (have worn hearing aids since I was in pre-school), I’m very much a visual person. Love photography. Reading. Watching sitcom reruns with the closed captioning on. Enjoy composing music on the piiano. Traveling to new places. Occasionally blogging or freelance writing.

N: I love playing music with friends, traveling, hiking, cooking, gardening, reading, fermenting, learning new things, and creating interactive artwork. Church and spirituality are a big part of my life too.

What rejuvenates you?

D: A good night’s sleep (I’m a hardcore morning person). Laughter. Playing the piano. Sunrise or sunset at the beach. Being somewhere new, especially a city I’ve never been to before.

N: A real vacation where I disconnect from tech and spend a lot of time outside, preferably somewhere with topography and reasonable temperatures (I'm in Orlando, Florida right now, which is super flat and 95 degrees). Also, a good counseling session (highly recommended).

Part III: The Edit - 41x

I went behind the scenes on the making of Mr. Gold so I figured it was a good idea to share the details about my latest short, 41x. In the next few posts I'll be discussing the film in detail. How it came to be, how I did it, technical aspects and more.

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Oh the edit. The dreaded edit. I gotta tell ya, I'm not the best when it comes to editing. It's not that I can't craft a good story. It's that I hate siting behind a computer and navigating the software. The mechanics of editing is what gets me. I'm dreaming of the day when we've got Minority Report type screens, where I can fling footage around with the flick of my wrist. 

And since I'm airing all my creative sins I might as well keep babbling. So here we go: 41x was stuck in editing purgatory for quite some time. There, I said it. Paying jobs came up, other projects presented themselves and James Spradlin (producer) and I had to retool the flow of the film a few of times. It wasn't easy but I think it was worth it (glad to get that off my chest).

James and I talked a lot about this doc. Throughout filming & the edit we were constantly reevaluating the story, visuals, angle and purpose. We drew on whiteboards and consulted with other filmmakers we respected. A little obsessive? Yes (just ask my wife). But I really wanted to do justice to Mikes story and make a kick-ass film, even if it was only 5 minutes long. When I initially described 41x to James I said something like this: "I want to create empathy. I know a lot of people will laugh at the idea of a redneck racing a lawnmower (I say redneck because I don't think Mike would mind). But I want them to be drawn in by the weirdness and stay for the human aspect of Mikes story. The part where they realize how similar they are to Mike." Did I accomplish that? You be the judge...

It was important for me to introduce the short like the sport. Fast, raucous, fun and full of energy. The intro, with the mower under the spotlight, was another idea Matt Hutchens (stedicam) and I worked on. He brought out an LED panel and I brought some heavy duty stands to boom them over the track. Once the sun went down we went to work. This is when knowing how you want to edit before you edit is important. I think these shots really upped the production value as well as gave a visual breather for the viewer between all the quick cutting action shots.

Music really played an important part of my youth and still informs a lot of my creativity to this day. The playlist I created was instrumental while editing 41x (high five for that pun!). I often listened to it on repeat while driving out to the track, editing, on the toilet, etc. It contained a lot of different stuff. Muse, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Band of Skulls and most importantly for the film, North Mississippi Allstars. Rollin 'N Tumblin was a really gritty and fast-paced tune which I knew would work well with the subject matter. It was my dream song for the first act of the film. With the limited knowledge I have of the music industry I thought securing the rights to use it would be impossible. I was completely wrong. Once I had a rough edit of the film I emailed their manager to see if they would give me permission. And get this...it took me 14 days to get the go-ahead. It's like ya mamma always said, "You'll never know if you don't ask." I've also gotta give a big thanks to Steve London, an incredibly talented composer and friend who did a terrific job cutting the song to the visuals. It wouldn't be what it is now without him. Fun fact: Steve and I met and became friends at the Florida Film Festival where Mr. Gold played before their feature length true crime documentary, Once Upon a Crime: The Borrelli Davis Conspiracy, which he composed and produced (make sure you see it. It's jarring, enraging & tender-hearted). 

The family bond is really strong in Mikes family and I figured they would have ample photos and news clippings from Tommys time racing. I never thought I would score a gold mine of old super-8 footage from his sister that was already digitized. The film Gods were indeed smiling down on me. During the edit I began to see we were using this footage quite a bit and was getting tired of how it was being displayed. To break it up James and I headed out to the track to project the images on a shed. My hope is it gives the viewers something different.

All this being said I must acknowledge the film would be crap if I hadn't of handed it over to Joshua McWilliams to edit. He really knocked it out of the park and brought it to another level. I love filmmaking because I get to collaborate with some great creatives, which leads to a better film.

 

Part II: The Shoot - 41x

I went behind the scenes on the making of Mr. Gold so I figured it was a good idea to share the details about my latest short, 41x. In the next few posts I'll be discussing the film in detail. How it came to be, how I did it, technical aspects and more.

Designed by  This is Counter

Designed by This is Counter

From the get go I was really excited about this project. My last doc was basically shot in one location, with the subject repetitively going through the same motions. I felt like this one would give me some freedom to try some new things.

But I think I'm putting the cart before the horse so let's back up. I initially went out to the track with the idea this would solely be about lawn mower racing. After a few 4 hour roundtrip drives out to the track and a lot of shooting I realized something wasn't working. A short doc on the sport could be interesting but it wouldn't be compelling. I needed a story to tie it all together otherwise it would have felt like an infomercial. The time shooting wasn't wasted though. A lot of that footage ended up as good B-roll.

After coming to this conclusion I put down my camera for a bit and went into discovery mode. I started talking to people, learning their histories, why they loved the sport, etc. I was trying to find something interesting. Eventually I came to know Mike Graves through the chapter president. Mike has cerebral palsy and I naively though it would be the story, "Man with Cerebral Palsy races lawn mowers!" But after a few weeks it seemed too shallow, simple & typical. The second interview we did was the one that changed the course of the doc. I started asking about his past and his childhood and his family. That's when I learned how much his father meant to him. Finding that story was part lucky break and part persistence. 

Adre Borher and I decided to do the third and final interview at his sisters house. We had to go there to pick up the archival footage and photos, we figured he would be more comfortable talking there than at the track. Getting Mike into a space where he felt at home was really instrumental in the success of the interview. It also allowed us to change the visuals a little, something I'm always eager to do.

Ok, so back to the actual shooting. I knew going into this I was going to use some POV camera angles (we had to use GoPros due to budget. If I had the money we would have rigged some nicer cameras on and around the mowers). I wanted to get the viewer as close to the action as possible. At the top of their class these mowers are fast and mean and you really feel that speed and power when you're on one (side note: they offered to let me drive one of the fastest ones but I declined. I didn't have health insurance at the time 😬). I think POV did the job in showing the viewer that.

A short doc on the sport could be interesting but it wouldn’t be compelling. I needed a story to tie it all together otherwise it would have felt like an infomercial.

But after doing this for a while I knew I needed something else to make it pop. Naturally I thought hi-speed would be a good solution. It's often overused but with something like this I think it works. I asked Matt Hutchens, a great steadicam operator based in Orlando, to help and he happily agreed (he also lent a hand for Mr. Gold). I had an idea to shoot a profile of Mike while racing. So I ratchet-strapped Matt into the back of a borrowed pickup and drove him around the track at 30 mph. After several passes we got some good stuff. Thankfully he's still alive. I only careened off the track once.  

I really wanted to do some drone shots too (Matt's an excellent drone operator and has some nice rigs). My idea was to do some really high aerials and a couple tracking shots looking directly down at Mike as he raced. Again, drones are often overused but I'm confident our way would have worked well. Unfortunately we will never know because the track sits directly next to a small municipal airport! Long after shooting wrapped I learned there was one way we could have pulled it off but the tracks insurance wouldn't have allowed it anyway. Talk about bad luck, right?

Most of the shooting actually took place in the pits though. That's where you see a lot of the family atmosphere, camaraderie and fun happen. And it makes sense because that's largely what this film is all about.

Part 1: The Concept - 41x

I went behind the scenes on the making of Mr. Gold so I figured it was a good idea to share the details about my latest short, 41x. In the next few posts I'll be discussing the short in detail. How it came to be, how I did it, technical aspects and more.

41x started with an idea written on a spreadsheet in 2009. Every since college I have kept a long list of ideas. Ideas for documentaries, narrative films, photo stories & conceptual shoots. The list is long and the ideas often come out of left field. I would share some with you but they're top secret. 

I was watching a show called Wreckreation Nation. During an episode the host explored the world of lawnmower racing. I found it weird (something I look for in subject matter), endearing and funny. I jotted down the idea and didn't think much of it. Fast-forward several years and I found myself needing a new subject for a short doc after completing Mr. Gold. After a quick Google search I discovered there was a track in Avon Park, Florida, a couple of hours from where I lived in Orlando.

I took an exploratory trip out to the track for their next race. Sitting in the grandstands and watching the race I knew this would make the perfect subject. The people were nice and welcoming, there was plenty of action and it was relatively close to home. I knew I could figure out a way to do the sport justice. 

A Few From Ethiopia

A while back I had the opportunity to shoot some images for a proposal we were submitting to an embassy here in Ethiopia. It was a fun little shoot that allowed me to get out into the community and shoot some technology-centric images.

2nd Image Library for Humana

Here's the second image library I shot late last year for Humana with the help of Skystorm. It was for their medicare division. While the first was a three day shoot in and around Orlando this one lasted two days and had us flying to Georgia for a change of scenery. This was a fun one because the locations were beautiful and it really shows in the images. 

Huge thanks to Brittany Lutz and the team at Studio Now for trusting me with this. Thanks to Rob "five minutes left" Micai, the calmest and tallest producer I know. Rocky Frazin did a great job keeping everyone alive. Wally Argueta knows his lights and is a great stand-in. Marjorie Robinson did the makeup. Jennifer Beverly made the people look pretty and Dhruv Patel made the places look pretty. And I bow down in thanks to Ben Travers, the only photo assistant who can read my mind.

Image Library for Humana

Usually my year ends rather quietly. Budgets are spent, people are gearing up for the holidays and everyone is preparing for next year. Last year was a different story for me though. I got a call from Skystorm Productions asking if I'd like to shoot a couple image libraries for Humana, the third largest health insurance company in the United States. The first library was for their small business division. A few discussions later and the dates were booked. 

This job had a quick turnaround on image delivery. It was a lot of work and several long days but we had a great crew to help pull it off.

Huge thanks to Brittany Lutz and the team at Studio Now for trusting me with this. Thanks to Rob "five minutes left" Micai, the calmest and tallest producer I know. Rocky Frazin did a great job keeping everyone alive. Wally Argueta knows his lights and is a great stand-in. Marjorie Robinson did the makeup. Jennifer Beverly made the people look pretty and Dhruv Patel made the places look pretty. Thanks to David Lawrence for making sure I was always hydrated. And I bow down in thanks to Ben Travers, the only photo assistant who can read my mind. 

Keep an eye out for the next post where I talk about the second library we shot

11 Questions with Dana Marie Roquemore of The Dinner Party Project

You can’t deny people are awesome. Who doesn’t like sitting down with good friends to ask them interesting, insightful, and funny questions? That’s what 11 Questions is for. I’ll be featuring some friends I look up to as well as people within the community I’ve always wanted to get to know. Let’s get started!

I can't remember how Dana and I first met but I'm sure it involved food in some capacity. Dana is head chief at The Dinner Party Project. TDPP puts eight strangers around a table and lets the fancy food, libations, and good conversation flow. My first experience at TDPP was a memorable one. I met some great people and have even worked with one of them on several photo projects. It didn't hurt that Chef Tony Adams was fixing the meal that night. One thing I love about Dana is she's a hustler. She's started several fun and interesting events in Orlando, all of which have added to the vibrancy of the city. I can't wait to see what's next for her.

Who do you look up to?

Anyone that has survived tragedy and still has a great outlook on life. Syrian Refugees, Holocaust survivors, women who have lost children at childbirth, etc. I love movies like Unbroken and Life is Beautiful, where these humans refuse to let horrific circumstances change their outlook on life. It makes my banal problems, like having too many emails to answer, pale in comparison. Perseverance is such an incredible human trait. I wish I had more of it.

Do you have a favorite book or album?

I am constantly reading. I wish there were more time in my life for reading. I would love to read two books at once, but I haven't been able to figure out how to do that just yet. I am currently reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. East of Eden is one of my favorite books of all time. The theme of redemption is something I always want to keep in the forefront of my mind. I am a huge fan of Anne of Green Gables. Her whimsy and ability to see & celebrate the Beauty of Life is so thrilling. I love a good spy novel or murder mystery or anything John Grisham. I am also a fan of Love Does and anything that Donald Miller writes. I also adore Shauna Neiquist's books about the connection we have to food and how sharing food around a table connects us as humans. Brené Brown brings it on the topics of shame and vulnerability. I could go on forever. This answer is way too long anyway.

Favorite place to eat in Orlando?

Not possible. I LOVE too many places around town. There is so much incredible food in Orlando. However, if you haven't had a Black Bean Arepa from Arepas & More off of Bumby, then you aren't really living.

Dana Roquemore The Dinner Party Project

If you could mate two different species of animals what would they be?

Good Lord, I would love to see a cross between an elephant and a butterfly. Little tini elephants flying around on delicate Butterfly wings. It would be an incredible paradox: Heavy & Light.

What gives you inspiration?

Kindness and Sacrifice. It's hard not to respond with a visceral reaction of how people treat you. I love when people respond in a different Spirit, looking beyond the emotion and choose kindness instead. Also selfless sacrifice always blows me away.

If you had a chance to live in a different decade, what decade would you choose?

The first thing that comes to mind is 0-10 years. I am so curious as to what life was like for Adam and Eve. They had no one else around.....and then they had their kids, but other than that the world was barren. I would love to be a fly on the wall for that time period. Like what do you talk about?

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What in your personal life has influenced you to choose your career?

People. Duh. I wanted to get to know them better. Plus I LOVE food. I really wish I could be a non technical food taster. I live for the magic that happens around the table.

How do you balance your personal and professional life?

A day of rest every week. Honestly I get overwhelmed sometimes. If I don't take a real rest / break, I start to become a little unglued. I am a real fan of naps, Netflix, the ocean, and reading. I am totally boring in real life.

Is there anything you haven't done yet that you feel compelled to achieve in the future?

I'd love to be a mother. I think nothing can replace that kind of love for another human being.

What are your other interests?

I'd love to get into painting. That is one of my next outlets for myself. Also Estate Saleing. I have this obsession of looking through other people's homes and finding cool old things. Plus tennis. I am not that great, but I love to play and I love to watch.

What rejuvenates you?

Other than my day of rest each week, being around Beauty rejuvenates me. I LIVE to travel. Nothing is like wandering around another country w no agenda. I wish I would make more $$ and find the time to do it. There is so much incredible Beauty out there to be seen and experienced. Being surrounded by nature and feeling so small, in the scheme of things, is a really good feeling. I love the beauty of flowers, gorgeous clothing, laughter of children, road trips, really good hearted people, eating my heart out, and a solid cocktail. Oh, also a really good Dance Party!

 

On a separate note you won't be seeing any Americans featured on 11 Questions for a while. I'm currently based in Ethiopia and hope to continue it here. The questions may be a little different but hopefully it will be the same format.

Big thanks to Nicki Bulgewicz on makeup and Jasmine Lopez on hair.

 

I Moved

I now live in Africa. Specifically Ethiopia. Big change, I know. No, I didn't run away. Nor am I looking for any buried treasure. I'll be sure to share the details soon. It's pretty exciting.

The Calm Persistence of Social Rights Activist Richard Lapchick for UCF

I really love working with UCF's magazine Pegasus. They always give me interesting stories that are close to my heart (like this one last year). This time around they wanted me to photograph Richard Lapchick. Not only is Richard the director of the DeVos Sport Business Management School at UCF but he's an extremely kind and gracious man. He allowed me all the time I needed to photograph him, talked with me enthusiastically about basketball, chuckled at my stupid jokes and allowed us to rearrange his whole office for the photo. I think the article does his legacy justice so make sure you give it a read.

Higher Education with Bisk and Florida Insitute of Technology

Bisk has been around for years but since '95 they have worked heavily with universities & private companies to put their educational resources online. I recently worked with them to create an image library for Florida Institute of Technology. The shot list was pretty adventurous and the days were packed but we came away with a good selection of images. I'm pretty proud of this project. And since shooting it I've been approached by several brands seeking to create an image library. Doing these kinds of jobs is fun because they involve a lot of talented people. You really form a bond with the people on set.