My assignment was to photograph 9 wine makers in Northern California. As I made initial contact with my subjects I came to realize they’re all humble men. On the phone several of them referred to themselves as simple farmers who grow grapes.
Over the course of the project I found them to be anything but simple farmers. They’re all very sophisticated men. Collectively they’re some of the best wine makers in the world. In addition, they’re a quirky set of characters. They all have unique backgrounds. As a photographer I couldn’t imagine a more interesting group of personalities to photograph.
David Del Dotto of Del Dotto Vineyards was a surfer in Hawaii when he bought 17 acres in Napa. He purchased the land because he thought it was beautiful. He never intended to be in the wine business. Now, he is one of the most well-known vintners in Napa.
Linda and Lester Schwartz of Fort Ross Vineyard came to the US from South Africa. They strongly disagreed with the government’s policy of apartheid. In good conscience the Schwartzs couldn’t stay in South Africa. In 1976 they bought 970 aces of land in California. Without guilt they grow pinotage grapes and produce wine native to South Africa.
Donnie Schatzberg of Precious Mountain Vineyard lives off the grid in a house he built. His vineyard is perhaps the most isolated of all the wineries I visited. I guessed Schtzberg hadn’t seen more than 4 human beings in a month. He looked like a mountain man out of Central Casting.
Jayson Pahlmeyer of Pahlmeyer is a lawyer turned wine maker. He’s lighthearted and kept me laughing throughout the shoot. He’s a bit less humble than most of the vintners. He insisted he was the best looking guy I photographed on this project.
I spent 3 days driving up and down mountain roads shooting these portraits. The schedule was hectic. Each shoot involved a quick location scout, equipment set up, and then a shoot. I’m sad to say there was no time for even a sip.
To see more images from this shoot visit stevelabadessa.com
I was putting together a short series of 1950′s fashion shots and struggled with the idea of a storyline for the shoot. Typically the 1950′s are idealized. It was seen as an era of happy homemakers baking apple pies and wearing poodle skirts. If there was a point in time when all was right with America it was the 1950s.
Photographically, I didn’t feel a happy housewife was the way to present these fashions. The shoot needed a modern spin. I decided to applied my 21st century sensibility to the 1950′s fashion spread. I thought a sexier look at 1950′s would relate to today’s readers. The client loved the concept and all the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
I shot an advertising campaign for BikeOne unicycles. The concept of the project was anywhere you ride a unicycle is, “the road less traveled”. The shots were a mix of realism and fantasy which is what I like. To get that, I put together the final compositions in Photoshop. The subjects were shot separate from the locations.
After showing a couple of the finished photos to one of the unicyclists, he commented, “the pictures look great but they aren’t real practical”. This got me thinking.
In my head I tried to imagine a cowboy riding a unicycle down a dusty road in Reno, Nevada. Cowboys just aren’t unicycle types. The follow-up question to this picture is, “Would the cowboy be rounding up some cattle on a unicycle.” Sounds dangerous, but it’d be fun to watch.
Then there is the Maui photo. Maui is more of a surfer town than a unicycle town. I start to think about the occasional volcano in Hawaii. I can’t imagine a unicyclist trying to out run a lava flow, not very practical.
Then I think about the San Francisco shot happening in real life, someone pedaling to work on a unicycle. A lot of people in this town bike and some don’t even bother to put on clothes. This one could definitely happen in real life. Maybe these pictures aren’t so crazy after all.
Are these images a good use of Photoshop?
Vacations are all about down time and relaxing but in Maui it’s hard to put away your camera. One evening I went to pick up some food in the town of Haiku and ran across this unusual fence made entirely of surfboards. The fence looks like a cross between Stonehendge and the Cadillac Ranch. It was a row of colorful surfboards pointing straight into the air for as long as the eye can see.
Surprising discoveries are what makes vacations fun. When you travel to Maui you should expect a few magic moments. This was one. It was late in the day and the boards were glowing amber in the Hawaiian sunset.
I hopped out of the car and started taking some pictures. Eventually, I walked down the driveway and towards the main house to get some information about the fence. Because the location was a little farm in an isolated section of Maui I wasn’t sure if I was going to be greeted with a shotgun or handshake.
That’s when I met Brian. He was house sitting for the owner and greeted me with a big smile. He said lots of people stop by for a visit. He told me the fence was made by Donald Dettloff about 20 years ago. He had a couple of old boards he wanted to get rid of but didn’t want to put them in the landfill. Other surfers saw the small fence and started leaving their boards on his driveway so the fence grew. It now contains over 800 surfboards. It’s the largest surfboard fence in the world.
To my surprise very few stories have ever been published about this fence. On my return to California I sent a set of my pictures to some friends at USA Today. They loved the pictures. They agreed to post them in their travel section on-line. Here is the link to the USA Today gallery, http://www.usatoday.com/media/cinematic/gallery/1605591 Also, there are pictures posted on my website, www.stevelabadessa.com
I photographed Michael Clarke Duncan after he appeared in the Green Mile, his oscar nominated role. He was happy and excited to be on the shoot. He said, “Whatever you want to do let me know, you’re the boss”. He was accommodating throughout the day and with his help I got lots of great images.”
Michael never intended to be an actor. He explained that he got his start in Hollywood working as a bodyguard for Bruce Willis. Bruce recommend him for numerous film roles. With his huge muscles and deep voice Michael was a larger than life character. He had no problem getting work.
Everyone liked Michael, it was his sweet and gentle nature. I heard that when fans met him they asked for hugs not autographs.
He died last week at the age of 54. He wasn’t one of those actors you know by their first names but he might have been. I was sad to hear of his death.
I was commissioned to shoot a series of portraits of runner Michelle Jenay. My objective was to make several living breathing portraits. Portraits are too often interpreted as static photos. If you’re gong to shoot a runner, she ought to be moving. I wanted to keep it simple, colorful and believable.
I was in New York City for a series of meetings with art directors and photo editors. I took an hour off and shot some photos along The High Line in Lower Manhattan.
The city felt refreshingly colorful. It glowed in shades of orange and blue. New architecture popped up on every corner. The old city seemed alive with new energy.
Recently, I was shooting a travel story on the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA. My assignment was to make some unique images of the Frank Gehry designed building. It’s a popular stop for tourist and professional photographers a like. This building is typically photographed against the skyline of Los Angeles. You see huge panels of folded steel contrasting the straight and narrow city buildings. To make my pictures I had to find a different approach.
Rather than shoot the usual grand vista I decide to get in close. I wanted to get an intimate view. As I looked around I got the impression this structure wasn’t designed so much as a building but as a sculpture. It was meant to be viewed from many different angles. As you walk around the building you make these little visual discoveries. There are stairways hidden behind steels facades and walkway wedged between massive silhouettes. It looks as though the structure itself was pealed away to make room for the exit doors. And when you look up, you see light bounce from panel to panel projecting brilliant patterns on the structure.
I’ve always enjoyed architecture as an art form. The artist, the architect, has something to show you. It’s a visual art like photography. With architecture and photography you need to take your time and experience the art in front of you.
Photographing in a television studio is like working in a war zone. Your results will be determined by the situation on the ground at the time of the operation.
Recently, I was on the set of the Food Network photographing Cat Cora and Johnny Iuzzini. I was told I would have 30 minutes to set up and shoot. That’s a tight schedule for a soup to nuts (pardon the pun) photo shoot. My client requested 2 variations of the duo cooking together on set, and hoped for a few more situations if time permitted.
At the studio I was greeted with the words, “we’re running late today”. That’s a Hollywood producer’s way of saying hello. She did have some good news though. I would have an extra half hour on set. I can shoot just about anything given an hour.
Racing your way through a shot list doesn’t always make the best pictures. In situations like this thinking on your feet is critical. When I asked Johnny to hold a rolling pin for one of my “must have” shots, his response was, “What am I a 50′s housewife?” So, you have to adapt. I brought a case full of props anticipating this type of problem. He found something he liked.
Letting people be themselves ultimately makes the best shots. Johnny pouring dry ice on the set and Cat fixing her hair weren’t concepts on my shot list but they were honest moments. When you have a crowd of stage hands constantly asking, “When are you going to be done?” honest moments are a gift you gladly take.