Category Archives: personal flavor

personal flavor

Our turn: Ryan and Tatiana’s wedding(s).


On June 9, 2015, we got married.
On June 8, 2016, we got married.
On June 9, 2016, we got married.

Let me explain.

Tatiana and I got engaged way back in 2014, which probably already falls somewhere between “vintage” and “retro” on Spotify playlists. Given that most of the people who surround us are in the wedding industry, we knew we would have to get married on a weekday. Given that we didn’t want our non-wedding-photographer friends and family to completely uproot their lives for our celebrations, that meant having it in the summer. Planning a wedding takes time, particularly when your work-heavy lifestyle means you count an afternoon nap as your summer vacation — and so that all added up to an engagement of more than a year and a half.

As people excited to just be married to each other already, that seemed like an awfully long time. While we were starting to plan in May, I realized something: We should just get married — and if we acted quickly, we could keep the same anniversary: June 9, 2015.

And so we did. We kept it very hush-hush, thinking it would be just our parents and us, not least because that was all we had time to plan for. But some of our closest friends and relatives found out with less than 48 hours to go, and we were glad to have them. My cousin Jay drove 300 miles on a moment’s notice, and even learned “Northern Wind” by City and Colour for us … when I asked him one hour before the ceremony. (That’s him performing it at the top of this post).

Our close friend and neighbor Inbal Sivan photographed our Prospect Park ceremony, capturing my slobbering, emotional mess better than we could have asked for. We did some quick portraits after, but — with the sort of freedom photographers pray for, she very wisely said “This light is shit. Let’s come back later.” And so we did — to one of our favorite neighborhoods, Red Hook, and had a grand ol’ time taking awesome portraits that show just how very at home we feel with our dear friend Inbal.

After the ceremony, we took our family out for brunch. Being the last Foursquare addicts remaining, we turned toward the service and found a place called Frankie’s 457. We got there, saw its lush garden out back, and immediately fell in love with it. We’d been thinking of making our big wedding just an all-out raucous party, but suddenly while being at Frankie’s we could feel how nice to have a different, quieter sort of event, surrounded by our close family and friends who hadn’t been at the elopement.

We realized: what if we could have it all? It was an ambitious plan, but we moved forward deciding we’d host two completely different wedding days back-to-back. In total, it meant being able to enjoy three very different kinds of weddings. In 2015, an elopement as private as possible. At Frankie’s, a sweet celebration of our love with close friends and family. And at the Bell House party? A sheer, wild celebration.

Hopefully, to most of you this sounds sweet, romantic, and fun. Of course, many of you reading this are planning or have planned a New York City wedding, and so are also gasping in silent horror at trying to plan two at once.

It was daunting, but we had a few things going for us. Most obvious, Tatiana and I have been to more than 1,000 weddings between us, which made us better at some sorts of decisions — we didn’t need to visit a thousand venues because we’d already been to them, and knew The Bell House was the right place for a crazy dance party. Also, we’d shopped well for the elopement, and our celebrant Christopher Shelley and florist Lydia Andrien of WYLD were so amazing and perfect for us that we knew we’d have to use them both two more times.

And then, of course, happenstance led us to an amazing wedding planner, and now good friend — Sara Landon of SL Events. In 2015, Tatiana and I were still doing events separately, and after shooting one night, Tatiana came to me and said “I know who we’ll use for our wedding planner — I just worked with her and she’s amazing — Leslie Knope meets Amy Schumer.” I said “Well, I bow to your judgement, but I worked with an amazing planner last weekend who seemed great.” Of course, both of these people were Sara Landon.

We felt blessed to have Sara, Christopher and Lydia on our side. They have all become good friends and we make the effort to continue to see them— and as anyone who knows our schedule knows, that is no small thing. Chris is incredibly smart and funny — deeply entertaining even to a crowd who has seen countless weddings before. Lydia’s designs are amazing even to me, who has an anti-green thumb. The last time I grew flora before Tatiana was when I accidentally left cranberry bread in my 7th grade locker over Christmas vacation.

Ok, you say, but get to the real question: How did you hire your *photographers*? In some ways, the exact opposite way that most people do.

I started wedding photography only after years of journalism and corporate work, and I soon realized there was a big difference between getting hired by art directors, who hire photographers for a living for all sorts of jobs, and wedding clients, who are hiring someone for THE job for the first time. We were way more like art directors — if there is someone out there who has been a good wedding photographer for more than five years, we at least know of them, and have probably gone dancing with them. Of course some of our choices were friends so dear that we couldn’t bear the thought of them working our wedding, but we still had a very clear list of hundreds of photographers who are all extremely great at their jobs and whose strengths we know intimately. So we decided to pair those strengths to our individual events.

We wanted to get photographers who love telling the story of the day’s motion and emotion. For the dinner event — 88 of our closest friends and family — we chose Tyler Wirken. Tyler is an experienced photojournalist who uses the codes of journalistic ethics to tell the deep, true story of wedding days as they actually happened. He has a creative, studious eye, and was one of Tatiana’s mentors at the Foundation Workshop. We knew he’d be perfect for the quiet, more solemn ceremony and dinner — and we know that doing great work in an event with no dancing is NOT easy, so we were grateful to have his skills applied to the day.

We can see Tyler’s thoughtful, deliberate photography especially in our first look, one of our favorite parts of the day. You can see this story in fuller detail on Tyler’s blog. We wanted to link each part of our wedding to our beloved neighborhood of Cobble Hill, and that meant meeting Tatiana on our local subway stop (Appropriately, it is an F Stop.) We have always loved weddings with first looks, because they give a private, emotional moment without taking away one bit from the emotion of the ceremony, and Tyler took a logistically challenging first look and turned it into incisive, emotional photos — never intruding on the moment even while getting right into the emotion with his 35mm.

As for the anniversary wedding, June 9th, the big shebang – we knew this day would be, well … nuts. Really, that was the point. We knew that we easily have another thousand weddings left in our career. No way were we going to go to more weddings and keep thinking “Man, I wish we’d enjoyed our weddings as much as THESE people.” We wanted to throw a blowout party, leave all of our guests well-fed, with thighs sore from the dance floor and heads sore from the bar. We needed someone who could capture the crazy — and luckily we knew some of the best in the world at that — Two Mann Studios.

Erika and Lanny are great at capturing crazy because they ARE crazy — able to be friendly and open even while visibly intense about their work. At one point Tatiana told them they could take it easy during the getting ready and Lanny said “You don’t understand … we don’t take it easy.” I understood because I knew them better … and because it’s what we would say.

What sort of craziness was in store? Well, we decided to invite 250 people. We wanted everyone to spend their time dancing and talking and mingling, and we knew the best way to do that is to take away their chairs.

No fixed seating, a five-hour cocktail hour with a dance floor. I also knew this may not be for everyone, so I wanted to make sure that even if guests didn’t like to dance, they would go home very well-fed. That’s where CxRA came in. We’d done a wedding for one of their directors and were amazed at the quality of their food as well as their professionalism. Everyone talked about how amazing the food was … food that we, of course, did not eat. Wedding clichés? They’re all true. It does go by in a flash, and unless you make it a priority, the bride and groom are too busy to eat. We are particularly grateful to Gina DiCarlo, who headed up the staff at our event. She ran the show seamlessly … and now we’re extremely excited to shoot her wedding next year.

But there’s more. You see, Tatiana is, well, optimistic. She played a number of long-shots for the wedding, and not all of them panned out. No, Chelsea Peretti did not reply to our IG invite, and no, President Obama did not attend either. But some of them, against all odds, did. Tatiana donned two amazing dresses from fashion designer Rani Zakhem after calling him personally … in Lebanon. And we’d always loved Postmodern Jukebox, particularly with Robyn Adele Anderson, so she posed the idea of contacting Robyn to play even a portion of our wedding. “That’s silly,” I said. “That’s not the way the world works. They’re on tour in Germany anyway. It won’t work.”

I was wrong. Robyn replied — with astonishing promptness for someone touring in Europe — and she would be coming back to the U.S. shortly before. We quickly worked something out, and Robyn not only showed us she was a consummate professional throughout the planning process, but she KILLED it in a 45-minute set at the end of our cocktail hour. Seriously, just to hear this, by this singer, play right before our ceremony … was amazing.

About that ceremony. The Bell House has one of the most theatrical stages we’ve ever seen. We’d already married each other politely and solemnly … TWICE. Now it was time to have some fun with it. Christopher Shelley concocted a script for some of our closest friends to read, re-enacting our early relationship in a rhythmic, semi-musical chant. My cousin Jay performed a wedding song again, but this time it was a lyrical version of “Started from the Bottom” … very fitting if you know our early history. And we ended the ceremony by me jumping off into the audience, followed by a giant balloon drop, as one has at their wedding.

But that was not the most theatrical thing to hit the stage that night. You see, we’ve been to A LOT of weddings, and by the end of those days we are most jealous not of the couples, but of the little kids who take off their restrictive formal clothes and run around the dance floor in PAJAMAS. So we thought we could extend that comfort to our guests with a “pajama hour,” which, in deference to our often competitive friends, was also a pajama catwalk contest judged by the three J’s — my cousin Jay, Tatiana’s brother, Jason, and our friend, sexy-hair Jason.

Because you know what they say… “It’s not a wedding until the bride gets hit in the face with a rose thrown at her by a man wearing a judges’ robe because he liked how she modeled her pajamas.”

(I guess I should mention at this point that, in addition to being extraordinarily grateful to our photographers, we are also insanely jealous that they got to shoot this wedding.)

We are most grateful to everyone who came and celebrated all this madness with us. It was been wonderful to re-live this day through the pictures. Of course, having invited 96 wedding photographers, our guests photos were … not the usual, and even though we wanted for our friends to take a night off for fun, we are still over-the-moon happy to have video from our friend and videographer Seth David Cohen and the best “casual guest photos” ever taken ever from Ben and Erin Chrisman, who are simply incapable of being casual. We also got valuable help from our friend, the lovely wedding photographer Nessa Kessinger. Knowing how much would be going on at any given time, and how hard it is to choose between shooting beautiful details or all of the moments going on around you, we asked Nessa if she would photograph details on both days. Nessa does details with an eye that would make Wes Anderson proud, so we are deeply grateful for her help.

Just writing this stuff seems like a dream. We feel so eternally lucky to have had so much come together and to be able to celebrate with nearly everyone we love most in the world. We are so excited to share some of the photos of the weddings with you, from each of these incredible sources. And the things we learned from being in the position of our clients? That’s a whole other story, and an even longer one.

June 9, 2015: Prospect Park by Inbal Sivan


June 8, 2016: Frankie’s 457 by Tyler Wirken


June 9, 2016 at The Bell House by Two Mann studios



She said “Fine”!

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She said yes!

OK, technically she said “fine,” a private joke given that Tatiana says “fine” way too much, but you get the idea. We are going to go down the same crazy roller coaster as our clients, and we are already understanding this wedding business in different lights. Like sure, diamond rings are a massive industry scam perpetuated by devious corporations … but oh my god we love ours — it’s like a constant dance party on Tatiana’s hand — and when Tiffany & Co. asked if we wanted to trade it in for a properly sized ring we said “No, resize THIS one!” And we realize how important photos are in a different way. As soon as I knew I was going to propose to Tatiana in Montreal it was obvious that I would hire the incredible davina + daniel | wedding photography to capture the moment. Daniel sent me this last night and even with everything we paid I almost don’t even care if there are other photos or amazing portraits — this is a perfect moment from the THIRD time I got down on my knee showing how happy we were once the reality of the situation started to sink in.

The proposal: I had a lot of grand ideas, but honestly I just couldn’t wait. I wanted to do this the very second after we shot our last wedding for the year. Tatiana knew that months ago, I booked the travel for a trip that would take us through 3.5 days of vacation in Montreal before spending Thanksgiving with our families. She didn’t know that I’d booked our hotel at the Ritz-Carlton, Montréal, or dinner the first night at the incredible Maison Boulud Montreal. I’m not generally a flashy, free-spending person, so she would have known something was up … so I had a plan. I ALSO booked us rooms at the Best Western down the street for last night. That way we could come off the plane and get all dressed up “for dinner” at a restaurant at the top of Parc du Mont-Royal — a restaurant that does not, in fact, exist.

I have never been to the spot, which Daniel picked, and Tatiana has never been to Montreal at all, so Google Maps led us astray and we had to not only climb up a dark muddy mountain trail in our fancy clothes, we had to crawl over four different chained off pathways to get there. All the while I’m sending and receiving secret texts from Daniel to make sure he knew where we are — and of course me, photographer that I am, makes us wander to a spot without people in the background, a beautiful reflective rainy ground, and at least a bit of ambient light, which was in short supply.

I turned to Tatiana: “It’s been a wonderful year and I’m so happy to celebrate it. But I have a few surprises for you! First of all, we’re not staying at the Best Western tonight, we’re staying at the Ritz!”


“And we’re staying there every night!”

“Wow, wait, what?!?!”

“And there’s actually no food here, that restaurant behind us is actually a closed-off government building. Our dinner is back at the hotel.”

“Wait, what? What??”

“Also,” (and here I began to cry, as I knelt down to my bag to pull out a white-wrapped turquoise Tiffany’s box), “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, the best person I have ever met, and I want to spend as much time of every day for the rest of my life with you that I possibly can.”

“WHAT!?!?!?! WHAT?????? WHAT????”

Daniel’s video light turns on, and man, those things are bright when they are aimed at you, and we hear cheering and the sounds of hundreds of shutters, but it a ll seems to fade into the background. I wanted her to be surprised before the ring was out, and boy did that happen. She was still in shock probably an hour later while we were doing portraits, but so thrilled. We haven’t stopped smiling for the past 18 hours, and our cheeks are starting to hurt.

We are so happy to begin our forever, to let each other and the world know that we are totally, one hundred percent committed to each other in every way, and can’t wait to spend the last half of this week celebrating with our family.

Thank you to Davina and Daniel (and associate Chris) for the amazing photo, thank you to my mom for coming with me to pick out the ring and being the best all-around, and thank you to Kyle Hepp for being my on-the-ground recon, finding out Tatiana’s thoughts on proposals in general. (Her thoughts on having a photographer there? “Absolutely not.” Public proposal? “No, just on the couch.” Sometimes you have to be a bit rebellious.)

We are just going to bask in our engagement right now and no wedding planning — the only thing we know is that there will be a good dance party. No other details.


The Cove, Eleuthera: Wedding Photographers at Play

Tatiana and I are famous for the kinda-sorta-vacation. I spent my birthday in Barcelona … processing weddings. Tatiana spent Christmas in midtown Manhattan … processing weddings. We’ve done work in places we should be enjoying ourselves all around the world. But at least once we got to turn it around a bit.

One of the great things about weddings is that people tend to want them to happen in pleasant places and times, and sometimes it works out really well. Looking at my calendar, I realized I had a wedding one weekend in south Florida, and a wedding the next in the Bahamas. The stars were aligning, virtually forcing us to sit down, shut up, and just enjoy life for a few days. And there are few better places to do it than The Cove in Eleuthera, a place so magnificent in its celebration of relaxation that the only choices you can make are “Do I sit in this hammock or that one?” or “Which beautiful ocean cove should I swim in now?”

Of course, Irish people and the sun are natural enemies, and I learned after my first day paddleboating and exploring the island that sunscreen and even khaki pants can only do so much for my vampiric brethren. Still, it was a gorgeous time with a gorgeous woman … and we both took some pictures along the way. More about those weddings quite soon…

(Some of these are by me; some are by T. Some are by DSLR, and some are by iPhone.)



The Year of the T.

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I’ll do a real “look back at 2013” post on a week when I’m not shooting two weddings, but on a personal level this one is the only photo I need. 2013 had so many incredible ups and downs, but through it all it was colored and flavored by my extraordinary girlfriend Tatiana. My life has changed in so many ways … and I’ve eaten so many fantastic breakfasts … thanks to her and her spirit. And I can’t wait until 2014 and all the rest because of her.

Thank you, T.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6


A Week with My New Family: Foundation Workshops

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So this is it: I’ve been named one of the world’s top 10 wedding photographers. Wedding photography has never been a stepping stone for me onto other things — I already have my dream job. So clearly I’m exactly where I want to be, and there’s nothing left to learn.

Ha. Hahahaha…

You never stop learning in a job like this, and that’s one of the things I love about it so fiercely. I love learning, and I love a job that forces me to constantly use my brain in new ways. So I made a vow to take at least one workshop or photography class every year, forever. I’ve seen photographers like Joe McNally do their thing; I’ve been through several excellent courses at the top-notch International Center for Photography, and more. I’ve been forced to leave my comfort zone in a hundred ways for classes — I’ve used new and exotic equipment, I’ve contracted pneumonia, and I’ve been stripped naked both figuratively and literally. But in some ways this was all preparation for the Foundation Workshop.

Founded more than 10 years ago by Huy Nguyen and newspaper photographers who had transferred into wedding photography, Foundation is an intense, grinding, transformative experience that seeks to ground wedding photographers in the modes of hard photojournalism, both as a shooter and as an editor. The wedding photography experience tends to be defined by people in tears saying “Oh my god, we love our photos and we love you!” while photojournalism is defined by a coffee-chugging photo editor yelling “Hey jerk, there’s a tree coming out of this person’s head! Look at this horizon … were you drunk when you took this?” A great photo editor can make you love them and hate them at the very same time.

Foundation is about change, and in many ways the defining experience is making wedding photographers — harbinger of tears that we are — break down in tears ourselves. The 8:30 mark of this video sums it up. But it’s too reductive to think of it as a place where people will try to make you cry by being extremely hard on you. That’s one reason you might cry, sure, and people do. But I’ve been through photo school and the newsroom. While learning, I’ve had people tell me that my photos made them physically ill. I knew I could take some criticism. But Foundation brought me to tears anyway. What did it for me was that magic mix of sleep deprivation and incredible waves of emotion. You are in a small room with many of the world’s best wedding photojournalists, and there’s just no ego in sight. Strangers become colleagues, and then friends, and then family. And then, when you’re at your sleepiest, your sappiest, they hit you with the results of the week, the incredible work of your fellow students. And at least one of the assignments — Mary McHenry‘s — had the tears rolling down my face.

There are so many emotions that roll through you — I spent portions of the workshop ecstatic, exhausted, even incredibly angry — but I started with terror. I knew this would be a tough week, but staff member after staff member kept coming up to me and saying “Ryan, we’re doing our best to figure out how to kick your ass.” Oh boy.

This speaks to the incredible level of individualized attention you get at Foundation. My week there were 25 students, and 27 staff members. I don’t know anything else in the wedding world that even approximates that. You can’t get away with slinking by and giving a half-hearted effort, there are too many people looking over your shoulder … literally. By the end of two days of shooting, hours and hours of tight editing and mentoring, every single student knocked their assignment out of the park. We aren’t allowed to publicly show more than two images for some very good reasons, but there are a couple assignments that I really wish could be released to the world, because the work is so strong about sensitive subjects that they are actually important.

But they staff had a different challenge in mind for me. They work very hard to tailor assignments to the specific students’ strengths and needs, and they knew that I would relish any emotional or physical challenge, that I’d be happy to roll around for two days in dirt or blood or fire for the shots. So instead they challenged me with tedium and familiarity. I was assigned a small newsroom, the kind I started my career in. With my experience, I already knew that absolutely nothing visually interesting happens in a small newsroom. My proposed subtitle for the piece was “People threw away papers, and sometimes took a smoke break.” But it allowed me to drill down on technical aspects I never had time to really focus on during the frenetic wedding day, working on skills in layering, filling the frame with relevant information, reducing visual clutter in an extremely cluttered environment, etc. I even shot most of my assignment with the 12mm on the OM-D so I couldn’t use shallow depth-of-field as a visual crutch.

I couldn’t imagine a better team leader in this than David Murray, with his decades of experience shooting for newspapers and newswires. And imagine a workshop where staff is as packed with excellence as Erin Chrisman and Daniel Aguilar are the secondary mentors. Each of them pushed me farther to make great images from the mundane than I ever had before, and I am bursting with energy now, waiting to tear into this wedding season.

Thank you to everyone in my new family. I said this to Daniel at the end of the workshop, but it also applies to David, Erin, “team mom” Cliff Brunk and so many others: “When this started I loved your work. Now, I love you.”

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Photo by Ed Atrero


SWPB takes on WPPI

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I’m a member of a number of wedding photographer communities who have been great to me — I’ve enjoyed so much support from DWF right from when I was starting out as a wedding photographer; I’m easing my way into the staggeringly talented crowd of the Foundation Workshops (and I promise I’ll go next year!) but one community keeps grabbing my attention, my love and friendship: SWPB.

You know how KFC isn’t called Kentucky Friend Chicken anymore and the Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy has five books? It’s like that with SWPB, which until recently was called Starting a Wedding Photography Business. With so many members who have now been in the industry for years and are on lists ranging from Junebug’s Best Wedding Photographers to American Photo’s Top 10, we figured we’d expand the scope to Succeeding as a Wedding Photography Business. But really it’s SWPB, and it’s a big, crazy family. Like any family, there’s dysfunction from time to time, but overall it’s the most supportive large wedding community I’ve seen.

I just returned from a massive conference in Las Vegas, and saw so many fantastic people from all over, but the highlight for me was heading out into the desert with my friend Stephanie and members of SWPB. I can’t wait to show you what happened when these talented photographers just cut loose and had a great time.

As we finished up, I suggested a group shot with our four cars (including the rental car we covered inside and out with dust) as backlight. I used a tripod and timer to put myself in — the most important thing was the posing. Photographers know how to pose pretty well, but I also wanted to make sure all of the headlights were hidden by body parts for the exposure.

The easiest way to see the lineup is in the Facebook post, where everyone is tagged. So much more to come.

We also are already starting to plan big things for WPPI 2013. Mark the dates.

Lens: 24mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D3s


Welcome to 2012.

The other day I almost cried while shooting. Now, I’m not a weepy guy, but that’s not unheard of. You have to be something of a softie to be successful in this business, and there have been times I’ve been glad for autofocus because a beautiful moment was clouded by tears in my viewfinder.

But this was different: I wanted to cry simply because I was shooting, and it felt so good.

It takes a certain kind of personality to be a wedding photographer, to have done around 250 weddings and love the job more each time. There are certainly ways to spend your photographic talents that are more fun to talk about at cocktail parties — photographing celebrities for magazine covers, documenting the atrocities of war. Unlike the former, though, we do something that has inherent value from the start — you can make celebrity portraiture important, but it doesn’t start out that way. Does the world need another photo of Jack Nicholson grinning? War photography, ironically perhaps, is much closer to the give and take of a wedding, but there are far more pitfalls there than just getting shot. I like to use my life and my work to remember that as a people we do more than just shoot each other. We love and we laugh and we dance and we drink until maybe we regret the rest morning, but have memories and moments and connections that last us the rest of our lives. It’s life, but more so. Life is messy and chaotic and confuses the heck out of me sometimes, but that’s exactly what makes it beautiful. The unsurprised live is not worth living.

And it feels so good to take this chaotic world in through my viewfinder and make some sense of it — just enough order to be dynamic, to show the chaos and surprise pulsing against the composition and flow of a story. Moments just happen, but by the time we remember them they have become part of a story. We traffic in these memories, and shape them.

But it breaks down further. There’s something that feels so right about being good at something, about complicated tasks becoming part of your nature. There hadn’t been more than a few days in a row since March that I didn’t have my camera in my hand, and yet here I was after the holidays, after weeks of relative break and separation from my work. The camera was in my hand again and I felt whole. It was like looking down and realizing where you misplaced your kidneys. I compose photos as I look around, all of the settings and composition set before I raise the camera to my eye. I’ve developed a little shrug that, with almost no movement, can make a camera jump into my hands from its position hanging on either shoulder. I change settings as I walk, not looking down, not thinking. My thumb dances around the camera body, 1/250th becomes 1/80th, the ISO shoots up, the flash goes off, or back again, and I’m not thinking about this any more than I’m thinking about putting my right leg in front of my left. By the time I see the jumble of chaos resolve itself in my viewfinder, everything is the way I want it. It just makes sense.

And this is my life, because of you. Because of all of my amazing clients, because of my readers, because of my family, my friends, people who push me forward, who share in my joys when life is easy and keep me going when life is hard. You have gotten me here, and for you I’m going to do things in 2012 that will push it even harder. And for me, because that just makes sense.


Portraits of Help

The Catholic Guardian Society is a wonderful agency staffed by people dedicated to helping needy children, young mothers, the developmentally disabled and others in the New York are. I have photographed fund-raising efforts for them for years, and while I don’t have the exact numbers, they’ve told me their related fund-raising has taken a big boost since I started photographing for them. It’s a great feeling to meet the people that they serve and know that I am helping them in a small way, too.

This year we changed the formula and went to the group homes and private residences of some of those served, which took us to every corner of the Bronx, from Co-Op City to the neighborhoods rendered almost unlivable by the construction of the Cross-Bronx. I met kids and adults, clients and those helping them, who were funny, outgoing, ambitious (one member of a group home had logged 900 hours in culinary education!) but also with tales of the incredible costs of care, especially for conditions such as cerebral palsy.

I am saving the vast majority of the shoot for the fund-raising, but here is a taste.


Cleaning House

I’m good at being uncomfortable, so I can’t stop changing all the time…

I like to keep my work evolving, which means I go through a lot of equipment, and I leave a lot more in my wake behind me. This doesn’t work so well when you live in Manhattan, so I’m doing a summer house-cleaning sale on some equipment I have lying around. I want to be done with this and ship everything before I go to California next week, so even though the pieces retail for as much as $2,000, I’m putting them all on eBay starting at 99 cents, no reserve.

This is what’s called faith in the system.

I still have a few things I was on the fence about, but here’s what’s on the chopping block. Everything is described as honestly as I could in the listing:

RK2 2734
Panasonic LX3

RK2 2738
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

RK2 2747
Nikon 135mm f/2D DC

RK2 2748
Lensbaby Control Freak

and … last but not least…

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my Version 1 Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
Killing my children, but onward and upward….


Featured in PDN again (On Gay Marriage)

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The good folks at PDN have published my work and interviewed me again with a nice update about the business side of gay marriage. I should have mentioned that I’m in Manhattan proper these days, not Westchester, and that I don’t know whether or not my phone has been ringing with gay-wedding inquiries because during peak season my assistant handles most of the initial inquiry e-mails, but it’s a great piece and I’m always happy to be featured there.

I try to maintain a “dinner-table atmosphere” in my public dealings these days. Growing up in an Irish family where no one was shy about voicing their opinion, you soon learned that there was lots of stuff you could talk about and have a grand ol’ time, even in your disagreements. Then there were things that would lead to anger and hurt feelings … and then there were things that would lead to conversational Armageddon (like making fun of the Jets). I have friends, family, and fantastic clients along all points of the political spectrum, and have always sought meaningful conversations instead of point-scoring, because let’s face it — talk to anyone long enough, and eventually they will say something that you think is downright looney-tunes. But I have never been shy about my belief that gay people should have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.

Or, in other words: Dear awesome gay couples. There is only one NYC photographer who has been featured for gay marriage in PDN and the American, international, and Japanese editions of Newsweek. Let me document your awesomeness.

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Anyway, even though I tend to avoid controversial subjects, this is something that is not only near and dear to my heart, but central to what I do as a documentarian of people and relationships. While it doesn’t take the same sort of courage to be pro-gay marriage when you’re running a business out of Manhattan as it does in, say, Alabama, we are at a strange point where self-publishing photographers are minor-but-international public figures. Google Analytics tells me that one of my biggest fan bases is in Malaysia, for example, and one of my previous gay-marriage postings was viciously attacked by a government official from the Sudan.

When I first shot a gay wedding, I expected the experience to be similar to any other great wedding. There are slight differences in what sort of poses will look good, but that’s true from couple to couple as well. But there was an extra intensity to the emotion throughout the room, and I think I know why. I always try to let people’s history inform the shots I take. I fight for that perfect mother-son dance shot even if I’ve taken 200 before, because I know that she has spent decades thinking about just this moment. Well, for a while at least, when you shoot a gay wedding you are photographing people who grew up thinking that this whole wedding thing could never happen for them. That all the connection, the public displays, the meaningful vows, the celebrations, everything I adore about weddings — that these things could only happen to other people.

And then, finally, the doors opened to them.

That is what makes me an ardent supporter. That is why I’ve made sure to have a gay-wedding photo in my front-page portfolio ever since — because I’ve talked to gay couples about their shame and anger when they meet a photographer who photographs gay weddings but won’t display them proudly out of fear. Sometimes things are worth a little courage.

I was shooting a wedding when New York passed the gay marriage law. My fantastic (and gay) assistant Erica had been following the news closely, but while the state Senate was in deliberations, the reception was hopping like you’ve never seen, so we lost track. I mean, we’re talking three inches of wine sloshing on the floor and no one cared — I can’t wait to show it to you. When we got a quick break, I pulled her aside and said “Hey, what happened with the bill?”

She pulled out her Blackberry. “It passed. IT PASSED!” High fives and hugs. Thank God for autofocus, because her eyes filled with tears.

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She tapped a gay couple on the shoulder. “It happened. Gay marriage is legal.”

They stared, “What … just now?” More celebration.

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I mentioned it to another guest whose wedding I had photographed, and we high-fived. It spread like a ripple of excitement in an already raucous reception.

I don’t care about the politics. I don’t care about trying to score points and argue with someone who believes differently from me — my grandfather is one of my greatest role models and favorite people, and let’s just say he felt differently about the issue. What I care about is that feeling, that joy, that incredible connection. That is what I seek to capture and I’m so glad that so many more people can experience it now.


Stories and Problems

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A Fordham University employee tells stories about her 9/11 experience in an interview to mark the upcoming 10th anniversary.

Whether it’s just the time I’ve put in or that, according to back-of-the-napkin calculations, I’ve crossed the threshold of taking more than a million photographs for professional jobs, I feel like I finally have reached a mature understanding of what I do as a photographer. It’s been a long process of simplification. When you start out, what you do, basically is point your camera at stuff, push a button and hope for the best, so you rattle everything that applies to: “I specialize in portraits and weddings and photojournalism and sunsets and flowers and families and dogs and babies and sports and travel and macro and did I mention sunsets?”

And then you look back and say, “What do I actually like? What am I actually good at? OK, maybe I do weddings with a photojournalistic aesthetic and portraits with a bias for dynamic light and emotions.” Or whatever.

But then you realize that’s both too complicated and too simple, and the real question as a long-term professional is what is it that beats through your heart? What keeps you going, keeps you from calcifying, keeps you from that death knell of photographic careers … déjà vu and boredom? A bored photographer is doomed for mediocrity or professional failure, and generally both. Why do you think wedding photography has such a high turnover rate? Too many people didn’t understand how to make their 100th or 1000th wedding as exciting as their first, how to keep pressing themselves forward when improvement is slower and harder than figuring out how your flash works.

Maybe that’s when you become an artist, and keep chasing your aesthetic down the rabbit hole. But I don’t know much about that. Too subjective. Once you take a photo, in my opinion, you are merely the first viewer of it. Your opinion about whether it is art or good is no more important than anyone else’s, except if it makes you happy or excited. But I know what I can do: Tell stories and solve problems. Simple as that, but also complicated and challenging and exciting to keep my blood pumping until I can’t hold a camera any longer.

Here I faced a problem long familiar to me from my days as a photographer for Columbia University — how do you take a bunch of people sitting around a conference table and photograph them in a way that’s in any way as visually exciting as the words they are saying? You could go down the artistic rabbit hole (“I call this set … “All Of Your Ankles”), but that’s not a great way to serve your clients. Here I solved the problem as simply as possible but no simpler. I put an SB-900 on each side of the room, bouncing toward the wall and ceiling, but close to it, so the light surface isn’t as huge as your traditional bounce. That allowed me to get the contrast and clarity I wanted wherever I stood with my 70-200, lighting what I wanted enough to bring out the reflections, and not lighting a distracting background. Even the water glasses — the bane of event shooters everywhere, serve a purpose with crispness and perspective, and setting the scene with a handy logo.

It’s not a fantastic wedding in Aruba (keep an eye out in November for that), but it keeps my brain churning with “How can I solve this problem better?” And that’s always exciting to me.

Lens: Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II
Camera: Nikon D3s


Osama is Dead; Photos from a historic party at Ground Zero

On a gorgeous September day almost ten years ago, I had just started my morning as the editor-in-chief of an upstate newspaper when one of my reporters told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Five minutes later, he told me about the second one, and I knew everything was about to change. Every impulse in me in a reporter told me to drive the 300 miles and be in the thick of it, but I had to manage everything, including an afternoon edition, so I sent out someone else.

Now, I finally strapped on a camera and headed for Ground Zero, but I was met with a site of raucous celebration, not despair. Osama is dead; we even have the body so there won’t be Osama sighting for the next 50 years, and New Yorkers were in the mood to celebrate. Given that it was 1 a.m., most of the ones really ready to celebrate in public were the college kids who were ready to go anyway, which ensured the atmosphere would be of revelry, not contemplation, though we were among the graves of Osama victims.

But if any city is ready for an impromptu rally at 1 a.m., it’s this one. And I’m glad to call it my home.

UPDATE: I wasn’t there to do video, but here’s a quick one I took to just get a sense of the crowd. Also, my friends at B&H Photo asked how I did this technically, given that it was 1 a.m. under low and very tricky lighting. Images have very little editing as befits photojournalism, but I knew I’d have to capture action in near-darkness, so I brought my “night vision” set-up: Two Nikon D3s‘s with the Nikon 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, and Sigma 85mm f/1.4. Under sodium-vapor streetlights, white balance gets truly wacky, so I used Nikon Capture NX2 to process, as it has the best white balance control of any program I’ve used.

Otherwise, the main skills were things I learned in years as a newspaper photographer, such as how to politely elbow your way through a surging crowd and get where the action is.

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Students, including a girl on her 21st birthday, use street poles to show their patriotism.

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Revelers spray champagne onto the crowds below

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After spraying the crowd, he enjoys some of the champagne for himself

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Who knew New Yorkers had so many spare flags?

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And the crowd goes wild for the cameras

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A woman walks past a one-man candlelight vigil

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Nothing says pride like face paint

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The crowd chants for peace

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Marching past the 9/11 memorial

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Scaling Mount Patriotism…

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“Lady, do NOT go up there! You are wearing a DRESS!”

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City worker takes it in…

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Moments like these are more important than car hoods

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The only time I have ever seen a New Yorker happy to be stuck in traffic.

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The sign of the night…

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Let your colonial flag fly…

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Tossed toilet paper hangs above as the crowd surges

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Texting in the USA…

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I can’t get enough of these guys.

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Carried above the crowd

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UPDATE: There’s a lot going on in the comments, some of it I find quite distasteful. Here’s my view as someone who was there, in it if not of it:

I would prefer Osama have come quietly, but, he didn’t. I don’t really trust these events to be related truthfully given the value of propaganda, but the whole “firing back and using a wife as a human shield” thing, if true, makes me pretty comfortable with their decision to fire back.

One thing I was VERY proud of. Nowhere in all of the NYC revelry that I saw in person or on the news was there the scarcest bit of anti-Muslim sentiment. A guy with an “I’m a Muslim, don’t panic” t-shirt was cheered everywhere he went. No one denigrated or desecrated Islam except for OBL himself. (Online and in some other parts of the country, yes, but that’s not what these celebrations were about)

What’s hard to understand if you weren’t there is that there’s a very simple reason for the atmosphere … it was 1 a.m. These were 90 percent college kids who decided to hook a left instead of heading to the bars. No hatred, no burning people in effigy, just good news meaning an excuse to hang from a light pole on a day where the cops would cheer you on for doing so. Does it really make sense to set a car on fire because your team won a basketball game? Sure, if you listen to your id.

I didn’t think it was the tone I would have wanted, but the more I see people give high-handed criticism of a bunch of people gathering in the streets just to sing songs and share a sense of glad togetherness, the more protective I feel.

I mean, dude. I saw a hippie go up to a military offer and say “Do you mind if I just … give you a hug?” And they hugged. I saw police officers laughing gleefully at people committing (victimless) crimes, yelling “just don’t get hurt!” And 400 people cheering on a Muslim guy waving an American flag I saw New Yorkers not caring about a traffic jam. No hatred, but a sense that we did something right, something we said we’d do, and brought him to justice. (And if the raid went down the way they said, it seemed to have been handled justly).

The atmosphere was joyous and inclusive. When someone shouted “Hooray for the troops!” everyone cheered, then chanted “Bring them home!” The chant merged into “End the wars!” and someone responded with their own chant: “Don’t get greedy!” Everyone laughed. This is how it felt. While the wars aren’t funny, while death isn’t funny, and while the people here took their convictions seriously, even when they opposed each others’, you laugh when anything happens that relaxes your tension just a little bit. You put 1,000 people together who are happy about anything, and it becomes a party.

Do you think none of the celebrations would have happened if he’d come along quietly? If the announcement was “We’ve got him!”

I think there would be countless debates later about what to do with the guy, but I think there would have been just as many people in the streets, and if so, then they weren’t really there cheering for death, and sanctimoniousness must be tempered.

We did the conga when Hitler died, but we also went out into Times Square and kissed nurses when Hirohito … didn’t die.

Personally, I am cheering one of the most successful, precise military actions in history. It would have been easy, but terrible and a disaster, to just send in a Predator and destroy the place. We finally made a series of right, difficult decisions after a series of incredibly competent intelligence gathering. I mean … incredible effective government decisions? Incredibly competent intelligence agencies? And it all worked together to absolutely minimize any impact on civilians? That’s a stopped clock worth cheering.

In short, Americans aren’t particularly obsessed with death — we’re absolutely obsessed with WINNING. And in asymmetric warfare, the events of May 1, whether he had come quietly or not, is as close to a win as we can possibly come.


Rambling: “Send cameras”

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This story, about Japanese earthquake survivors looking for their photos of friends and family, got me thinking. I try to remember the inherent importance of what I do, of why I’d rather shoot a wedding than spend all day shooting rockstars and celebrities, and it comes down to this — I have a lot of photos. I’m performing a catalog sync right now on 200,000 photos from last year. But there are some photos that are actual treasures to me, some that I would throw all my camera gear away just to save a single one. All of these are of moments with people that I can never get back, but when I I look at the photo, I remember them, and I remember how I felt. They’re treasures, and if I can create at least one photo at a wedding that would make my clients feel the same way, then I’ve done my job.

I’ve seen this sad story before. The only place I’ve lived outside New York state was New Orleans — I’ve traveled back and forth there so many times over the years that it felt like a second home, and so Hurricane Katrina brought a personal sense of shock. I did a number of stories about people who had taken up refuge in New York, and I went down as soon as I could to survey the city and work with the people putting it back together. In particular, I remember every word of what a principal in a Jefferson County parish school said to me:

“People around the country and the world have been wonderful — they’ve sent us so much help. They’ve sent blood, they’ve sent food, they’ve sent clothing. But we don’t need blood or food now. Please, send cameras. All of these people, they’ve lost their homes, but it’s even worse because they’ve all lost their photos. They’ve lost their history, their memories — and it’s devastating them. They can get a new home, but now they have to start piecing their history back together. Send cameras.”